CSIS: “Assessing the Future Trajectory of Japan-China Relations”

At the invitation of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), I wrote a brief (800-word) reaction to and critique of three recent academic articles on Japan-Taiwan relations by PRC-based scholars. It was published alongside my colleagues Madoka Fukuda (Hosei University) and Yasuhiro Matsuda (University of Tokyo).

You can read our analysis at the CSIS website (*open access*) by clicking the link below.

Madoka Fukuda, Adam Liff, and Yasuhiro Matsuda, “Assessing the Future Trajectory of Japan-China Relations,” Center for Strategic and International Studies. March 2, 2023.

A partial excerpt:

What do these three articles tell us about the future of China-Japan relations? To be frank, it is difficult to say. For starters, it is unclear how much, if any, policy influence these four authors have, much less whether their analysis reflects prevailing thinking in high-level policy circles. Additionally, China-based scholars expressing concern about deepening U.S.-Japan cooperation vis-à-vis Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait is not at all a new phenomenon, dating back at least to the 1997 U.S.-Japan Guidelines for Defense Cooperation.

That said, within these articles one can find grounds for both pessimism and optimism. On the one hand, the articles clearly indicate that “the Taiwan issue” is an extremely sensitive one in China-Japan relations, bemoan what they consider Japan’s significant influence and increasing “intervention” in it, flag rising “mutual distrust” and “intensifying competition” between Beijing and Tokyo, identify the two as “natural geopolitical rivals,” and suggest that the “contest between China and Japan over Taiwan will not stop, and may even escalate.”

On the other hand, none of the articles argue that these frictions are likely to fundamentally undermine China-Japan relations, much less that they will become a casus belli. While reflecting a clear frustration with Japan’s increasing “intervention,” they also grudgingly grant Japan respect as an important and influential actor, a tacit admission that suggests Beijing should factor in Tokyo’s concerns. Perhaps most optimistically, at least two of the articles’ conclusions highlight Beijing and Tokyo’s “common interests” and the importance of “pragmatic” promotion of bilateral cooperation.

On these last points, one can only hope top leaders in Beijing are listening.