The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), published an article on September 8, 2017, entitled, “Why China Can't Stop Hating Japan”, authored by Richard McGregor. This article also appeared in the Journal's print edition next day but re-titled as “China's Self-Defeating Feud with Japan”. Mr. McGregor is the author of “Asia’s Reckoning: China, Japan, and the Fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century,” (Viking). He was born an Australian in 1958, worked as a journalist in Asia, UK and came to Washington DC in 2011 as the Bureau Chief of Financial Times. Although McGregor's opinion does not represent all Americans' views about Sino-Japan relationship, but it does echo many pro-Japan and anti-China American political analysts’ essays, particularly in the American right-wing camp. The fact that this article was re-titled with a bias blaming and predicting China to fail in Sino-Japan relations, those of us Americans not agreeing with the above view must speak out.
Ever since the U.S. initiated a Pivot to Asia policy, Japan seems to be eager to be the surrogate of the U.S. in Asia Pacific to rebalance the powers in the region. This can be seen from several developments involving Japan. These developments provide a deeper understanding of the current stressed Sino-Japan relationship and the so-called hostility between the two nations discussed by McGregor. McGregor posted an intelligent question: Why doesn't China be friend with Japan to disentangle Japan-US long-time security alliances to devastate American interests in Asia Pacific region? China does and actually tries very hard to alleviate the U.S. and Japan’s worry of a rising China. McGregor then proceeded to analyze why China hates Japan and vice versa. Unfortunately, he didn’t answer his intelligent question and his account for explaining the hostility between the two nations was outdated. The fact that Chinese suffered from Japanese brutality and atrocities during WW II did contribute to their unforgettable memory but did not deter their willingness to forgive. After Japan surrendered, China did not ask for war reparation was already a way of showing forgiveness (in contrast with the huge war reparation Japan demanded from China in 1895). Yes, Japan's insincere apologies were annoying to the Chinese people, but the real crocks of the matter is that Japan's way of denying their war crimes by white washing history and putting lies in their school textbooks. When these dishonorable deeds coupled with a purpose of reviving an Imperial Japan and practiced in a double-faced diplomacy, it cannot help but infuriate China and her people.
Let's take a few recent developments that have caused more tension in the Sino-Japan relationship. Japan orchestrated and rekindled the Diaoyu Islands dispute in 2012 (which had been tabled by an agreement between the Chinese leader Deng Xiao Ping and the Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuyama) making those uninhabitable rocky islands a hot spot in the East China Sea. The U.S. gave Japan the administrative rights of those islands under protests from both Mainland China and Taiwan. So Japan had de facto control, why Japan wanted to rekindle this dispute? Why did the U.S. let it happen? From this issue alone, one can see that any China's effort to befriend with the U.S. or Japan would be in vain since Japan would do anything to embrace the U.S. to advance Japan's ambition to return to a dominant power in Asia again. The U.S. never had any second thought to improve US-China relationship at the expense of US-Japan relationship in the past three decades, until today, such strategic thinking sounded like a wake-up call. As China is rising as a significant trading partner with most nations in the world, and while Japan's right-wing government is busy with weapon sales and military alliances, shouldn’t the U.S. adjust her relationship with China and Japan appropriately?
As McGregor pointed out, Japan cannot handle China alone, thus Japan wants the U.S. to place troops in Asia and eagerly engages the U.S. to strengthen the US-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty allowing Japan to expand military forces, endorsing her right-wing government's intent to revise its pacifist constitution to permit Japan military to attack as well as to engage in more war exercises with the U.S. in the Pacific. However, the presence of the U.S. in Asia should not raise the tension in Asia leading to war. As China is making effort to demonstrate to her neighbors and the world that her rise is peaceful not hegemonic, then shouldn’t the U.S. think twice before placing a threatening military power in Asia? What for? To have a war with China? Or to assist Japan to counter China again? These are unethical thoughts. What does the U.S. gain in assisting Japan to return to her pre-war glory? History showed us there was a brutal Imperial Japan attacking the U.S. but never a war-monger China. In the two Asian wars the U.S. involved in, China was forced into the Korean War by the Soviet and Soviet-US confrontation. In the Vietnam War, China actually disengaged with the Soviet and ultimately helped the U.S. in ending the war.
Another recent development can also illustrate the delicate Sino-Japan relationship. Though not a party in the South China Sea (SCS), Japan arbitrarily took sides against China (support the arbitration court case filed by the Philippines who discarded it later). Japan openly advocated a ‘China Threat’ theory and diplomatically trying to build defense treaties with Asian nations to form a Japan-centric military alliance, presumably with permission of the U.S. The SCS was peaceful; the disputes of small islands were old fishing right issues which China sensibly preferred to handle them through bilateral negotiations. Hindsight, the island constructions made by China would never got accelerated if the U.S. did not threaten China and SCS with Freedom of Navigation Operation (FON OP) which developing into military confrontation would potentially choke China’s trade route transporting 60% or more goods to and fro China. Why has Japan been busy building military alliances and beating war drums for the U.S.? As a great power, China is inviting Asian nations to engage joint developments. The real balance of power the Asian countries wished for is for peace not for tension, thus what will the U.S. gain by playing with Japan in a ‘China Threat’ drama, not crafted by rational thoughts?
Japan should realize that accepting honest historical facts and a rising peaceful China is not a bad thing. Japan eagerly promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a trade agreement excluding China, but ultimately the U.S. pulled out. On the other hand, many of the Chinese initiatives like the One Belt and One Road (OBOR) program, obviously beneficial to the world economy and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), surely helpful to Asia, have received overwhelming global support including EU powers. Japan as the third largest economy ought to join the effort for mutual advantages. Recently, the BRICS Summit was held in Xiamen, China, where many political and industrial leaders attended. The 2017 BRICS Summit promises a great future for those participated. Because of BRICS, India and China rationally buried their dispute in Bhutan. This is a bright example that Japan and the U.S. can learn from.
The U.S. is still a superpower. Her behavior has a great influence on other countries. McGregor mentioned that China is building a Sino-centric club, but that is no reason for Japan to be jealous, a business club is not a military alliance like NATO. It opens to everyone. In assessing Sino-Japan relationship, McGregor is partially right about the domestic issues in Japan may be the culprit. China has grown up with sufficient confidence to rely on 'Japan' sentiment to guide her diplomacy. The U.S., reshaping a new administration, is in an excellent position to renew her China policy and revise her legacy strategy based on outdated assessment of China, Russia and Japan. Both the U.S. and China stand to gain if joining hands to pursue economic development for mutual benefits and for world peace.