After 50 years of complicated ties, are Japan and China friends or foe?


As China and Japan celebrate 50 years of normalised diplomatic ties amid rising tensions, the ties between the two Asian countries remain complicated and often contradictory.

In 1972, Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai signed the treaty to terminate the state of war between them and establish diplomatic relations.

From the legacy of Japan’s wartime occupation of part of China to conflict over regional influence, ties between them have long been strained.

After US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, Beijing launched missiles near Taiwan and into Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Taiwan, which happens to be a former Japanese colony, is currently self-ruled but claimed by China. Another bone of contention is the Senkaku Islands located in the East China Sea which have been claimed by both countries.

Also read | Japan is ‘behaving very badly on Taiwan’, says China

While Japan says it owns them under international law, China insists they were stolen by Japan in 1985. The dispute persists and fishing boats from both sides routinely clash in the waters of these islands.

With Japan joining Western allies to oppose Russia and China avoiding criticising Moscow at any cost, the war in Ukraine has further deepened the divide.

Following a two-year hiatus, the Japan-China Exchange Festival returned last weekend and despite tense political ties organisers hope it will help restart cultural exchange.

Shortly before the anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, Chinese police detained a woman posing for photos in a kimono in a Japanese-style commercial area in the city of Suzhou in August.

Also read | Japan may deploy 1,000 long-range missiles to counter China: Report

With some accusing the woman of hurting the feelings of the Chinese people close to a wartime anniversary, and others saying that love for Japanese culture doesn’t make a person unpatriotic, the incident sparked a heated discussion online.

Because of his association with nationalists who deny or minimize the atrocities committed by Japan’s military in China, tens of thousands of people left unfavourable comments about former Japanese leader Shinzo Abe after his assassination in July.

The world’s second and third-largest economies, which are considered vital to Asia’s stability and prosperity, did a total volume of trades worth $372 billion in 2021.

In the last 25 years, China’s exports to Japan have risen by 7 per cent annually and have gone from $22.5 billion in 1995 to over $133 billion in 2020.

prior the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Japan and China also enjoyed incredible people-to-people ties. 

The number of people travelling to China from Japan stood at 12 million. While Tokyo welcomed nearly 10 million visitors from the mainland. This is the highest number among all foreign visitors to the two countries.

In the last 50 years, Japan and China have signed more than 250 friendship city agreements. Besides this, both countries are a part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and Beijing-Tokyo Forum.

While 66 per cent of Chinese have a negative image of Japan, 90 per cent of Japanese felt the same way about China as per a survey last year by the Japanese think tank Genron NPO.

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