Sino-Japanese Relations Remain Tense Amid Ongoing Disputes

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida often met Chinese officials during his time as foreign minister, such as this 2016 meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing

Hot Economics, Cold Politics: The relationship between China and Japan has often been characterised as “hot economics, cold politics,” highlighting their economic interdependence despite political tensions and historical disputes.

In the complex realm of international diplomacy, the relationship between China and Japan has often been described as “hot economics, cold politics.” This enduring theme encapsulates the intricate dynamic between these two Asian giants. Despite simmering political tensions and historical disputes, their economic interdependence remains robust and influential. Japan, renowned for its advanced technology, high living standards, and commitment to education, holds the distinguished title of the world’s third-largest economy. China, the second-largest economy in the world and a worldwide economic powerhouse is Japan’s one of the most important trading partners. This economic complementarity has fuelled a thriving trade relationship that spans various sectors, including automotive, electronics, and robotics. The historical ties between China and Japan date back centuries, with ancient trade routes like the Silk Road facilitating exchanges of goods, culture, and ideas. However, their history is fraught with political tensions, territorial disputes, and security concerns, casting shadows over this economic partnership. Recent incidents, such as China’s missile launches into Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, have raised alarm bells among the Japanese public, evoking memories of World War II and stoking fears of potential military conflict.

In the coming year, tensions between China and Japan are expected to worsen as both countries continue to engage in assertive actions and responses that strain their already fragile relationship. China’s recent decision to increase patrols around the disputed Senkaku Islands, also known as the Diaoyu Islands, has further exacerbated the ongoing tensions in the region.

In 2023, there were numerous points of contention between the two countries, and it is anticipated that the situation will escalate further. Japan is implementing strategies to address the growing tensions with China, resulting in an increasingly strained relationship between the two countries.

Japan has expressed concerns over China’s growing military presence in the Indo-Pacific region, specifically with regards to the Senkaku Islands, which are under Japan’s control. The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has strongly emphasised the importance of protecting China’s sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands. He has made a firm commitment to ensure that not even a single millimetre of Chinese territory will be compromised.

The installation of a buoy by China inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone near the Senkaku Islands has only served to heighten tensions, as Xi has shown no willingness to remove it. In 2023, Chinese naval forces violated Japan’s contiguous zone for 352 days, according to the Japan Coast Guard. This has raised concerns about China’s use of “salami tactics” to assert control over the disputed islands.

The ban on Japanese seafood by China due to the discharge of treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station into the sea has further strained relations between the two countries. Japan’s fishing sector was significantly impacted by the ban, despite the approval of the water discharge by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Chinese individuals even used offensive language when contacting local businesses in Japan, further aggravating the Japanese populace.

According to a survey conducted by the Cabinet Office, there has been a notable rise in the percentage of Japanese individuals holding negative opinions about China. The survey indicates that this figure has increased by 4.9 percentage points, reaching a staggering 86.7 percent in 2023. A mere 12.7 percent of respondents viewed China as ‘friendly,’ while an unprecedentedly low percentage believed that good relations between China and Japan were ‘important.’

China’s growing ambitions have led to disapproval from Beijing regarding Japan’s relations with Taiwan. China expressed its discontent when Japan congratulated Taiwan’s newly elected president, Lai Ching-te. Beijing has expressed concern over the strong historical ties between Japan and Taiwan.

Japan’s decision to assign a current defence ministry official as its de facto defence attache in Taiwan has also upset China. Japan’s readiness to intervene in the event of China’s potential annexation of Taiwan with the mainland is evident in this move.

Japan is taking steps to enhance its defence capabilities in response to China’s growing military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. Japan has announced plans to increase its defence spending to 43 trillion yen, citing concerns over China’s growing maritime ambitions and military assertiveness. Japanese Defence Minister Fumio Kishida emphasised the importance of counterstrike capacity in response to China’s increasing military threat.

Japan’s efforts to strengthen ties with ASEAN countries have further exacerbated the already strained relations between China and Japan. These nations are aiming to address China’s growing influence, both economically and militarily, which is seen as a regional threat. Several Southeast Asian governments may have reservations about accepting security assistance from Japan due to shared concerns. The longstanding rivalry between China and Japan has intensified as China’s global ambitions have sparked alarm in Japan. Tensions have been escalating due to unresolved historical and territorial issues, as well as differing worldviews, leading to a standstill in bilateral communication. it is crucial to closely monitor the delicate dynamics between these two nations, with the international community eagerly anticipating peaceful resolutions and a de-escalation of tensions.

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