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Complexity of the Japan - China Relationship

Fred Stakelbeck provides a glimpse of the complexity of the relationship between Japan and China as the newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes the reigns. In Sino-Japan relations remain complex, a very good look at the situation that Abe steps into is provided.

The Sino-Japan relationship remains one of the world’s most complex; defined by one-hundred years of mutual hostility and unremitting suspicion.

Adding to the precarious nature of Sino-Japan relations, Tokyo has expressed growing reservations concerning China’s meteoric global rise and the country’s ultimate intentions in “Greater Asia”. In particular, Beijing’s continued military modernization; energy pursuits in the East China Sea and unprecedented economic expansion have gained the attention of Tokyo, forcing the country’s leadership to affix greater urgency to the development of a revised China policy.

In July, Japan’s Defense Agency released its much anticipated annual report. The 429- page report urged China to provide more information to neighboring countries about its growing military buildup, saying China’s navy had become “active” in the region. The Defense Agency report was released at a time when calls have intensified at home for Japan to transform its own military. The country currently spends US$43 billion on defense each year, placing it behind the U.S., Russia, China and Britain. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has pushed hard for the country to revise its pacifist Constitution to address perceived regional threats such as a nuclear-armed North Korea, saying, “It is time to deepen the debate on a constitution for a new era.”

Yet, exemplifying the intricate and complicated nature of the relationship, Fred Stakelbeck later shows that there are positive developments in the Sino-Japan relationship as well, especially in the trade arena.

Despite the continued military posturing, accusations and disagreements, positive signs of an improvement in bilateral relations between the two Asian powers have begun to surface.

In January, Prime Minister Koizumi told the Diet, the country’s legislative body that he planned to move forward with a variety of measures aimed at strengthening relations with both China and South Korea. “While there may be differences in opinion or disputes in certain areas, China and South Korea are very important neighbors,” Koizumi said. Over the past several years, China has become one of Japan’s largest trading partners and the destination for billions of dollars of Japanese foreign direct investment. Bilateral trade between the two countries increased almost 13 percent in 2005 to a record US$189.3 billion, marking the seventh straight year of double-digit growth. During the same period, Japan’s trade deficit with mainland China reached a record US$28.6 billion, offering further proof of the island nation’s voracious appetite for cheap Chinese goods.

Fred's analysis is excellent on its own merits, but brings value added also in the sense that there are security developments abound beyond that which is related to the War on Terror.

Fred Stakelbeck is a good friend to ThreatsWatch and is the Senior Asia Fellow at The Center for Security Policy, where today is also found an interesting article on Hugo Chavez.