China and Japan are undoubtedly the most important countries in East Asia. The two nations are regional superpowers due to their economic and military might. Their geographical proximity means that they have a cultural connection and economic interdependence. However, the relationship between Japan and China is strained, and there is mutual hostility in their association. While the bilateral relationship between the two countries has improved significantly over the decades, mutual suspicion still exists.
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China remains suspicious of any action that suggests that Japan is adopting an assertive security position in the continent while Japan is wary of China’s growing military might. The lack of trust between the two nations can be attributed to the actions of Japan against China in the 20th century. This paper will show how Japan’s aggressive war against China in the early 20th century influenced future relations in East Asia.
Chinese-Japanese War History
Up until the 19 century, China had established itself as a leading civilization in the world. For centuries before the 1800s, China had been the dominant force in Asia. Chanlett-Avery, Dumbaugh, and Cooper confirm that Japan relied on China for its cultural and religious development (3). However, both nations experienced great changes following the invasion of East Asia by Western nations. The Asian countries were unable to defend themselves against the European forces, which had superior weaponry. China and Japan responded to Western imperialism in markedly different ways. Japan embarked on a path to rapid modernization.
The nation began large-scale modernization efforts during the Meiji era (Wilson 35). The modernization efforts that began in 1868 led to the strengthening of Japan, and by the end of the 19th century, the nation was a regional power. The Chinese also tried to modernize in order to match the technological advances of the West. However, China’s government was corrupt, and these efforts were not effective. By the end of the 19th century, China had not achieved significant modernization.
Therefore, the 20th century began with a strong Japan that had successfully modernized itself and established a strong modern army on one side and a weak China that had not succeeded in effectively modernizing itself on the other side. Throughout the early 20th century, Japan adopted an expansionist strategy in East Asia. China was the victim of most of these efforts by the Japanese. Japan’s superior military made it possible for the relatively small island nation to overwhelm China. (Goodman 167).
The most aggressive military actions by Japan against China were carried out between 1930 and 1945. The country was eager to colonize China in order to control the natural resources in the country. In 1931, Japan invaded and occupied the North-Eastern region of Manchuria (Wilson 40). These invaders destroyed the local governments and set up their own colonial administrations. After the invasion of Manchuria, Japan set out to occupy all of China and other East Asia countries. These actions aggravated the Chinese who engaged in numerous military operations against the Japanese invaders.
Bilateral relations between Japan and China began to improve in 1972 following the official normalization of relations. During this decade, the two countries increased their bilateral trading activities, and there was an overall cordial atmosphere between the Chinese and Japanese governments. However, this relationship was constantly derailed by political disputes between the nations. Yinan reveals that in spite of their many share geopolitical and economic interests, China and Japan have never developed genuine strategic cooperation (7).
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Instead, these two nations have treated each other with mutual suspicion and even hatred. Historians agree that the major problems and conflicts in Sino-Japanese relations have their roots in the aggressive military actions of Japan in the early 20th century. It would appear that time has failed to heal the wounds of past conflicts, and instead, the official and popular relations between the two nations are influenced by the bitter history shared by Japan and China (Gustafsson 71).
The economic relationship between these Asian giants has been influenced by Japan’s aggressive war against China in the early 20th century. After the Second World War, Japan concentrated on its economic growth, and it grew to be an economic power in the world. China’s economic development was delayed, and it has only been in the past three decades that the country has shown significant progress. However, China has managed to demonstrate great economic growth, and the country has grown to become an economic power. Ohashi notes that the economic emergence of China has had an impact on the Japanese economy (175).
To begin with, China’s emergence has caused many Japanese companies to rely on this country for their economic well-being. While Japan suffered from an economic recession over the course of the last decade, China continued to exhibit growth. Japan’s recovery from the recession was partly because of its increased trade relations with China. The increased importance of China for Japan’s economic prosperity has led to some uneasiness among the Japanese. Due to the bitter history between the two nations, some Japanese view China’s rise as one of the reasons for Japan’s economic difficulties (Hideo 175). The suspicion between the two nations has prevented them from cooperating fully in the matters of economic development.
China has constantly expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which Japanese historians portray the war. The international community acknowledges that Japan was the aggressor and that it engaged in numerous war crimes against China.
However, the Japanese government has over the decades downplayed the atrocities that the country perpetrated during the war. Chanlett-Avery, Dumbaugh and Cooper document that the Chinese government has frequently criticized Japanese history textbooks for minimizing the scale or even denying Japan’s wartime atrocities (7). Japan has over the decades attempted to underplay the severity of its war crimes. Yongming confirms that Japan’s interpretation of its aggression against China during the war is a cause of conflict between Sino-Japanese relations (376).
Diplomatic relationships between China and Japan have been influenced by the atrocities carried out by Japanese forces in the early 20th century. After the end of the Second World War, Japan built a number of shrines to commemorate the people that died during the conflict. One of the most famous shrines is the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japanese war dead. Among the individuals commemorated in this Shrine is Class-A war criminals from World War II (Yinan 8).
These are the individuals who were responsible for the greatest atrocities against Chinese civilians during the second Sino-Japan war. High ranking officials in the Japanese government have gone to worship at this Yasukuni Shrine. The Chinese see this as praising the war criminals that perpetrated many atrocities during the war (Gustafsson 71).
Sino-Japanese relations are also affected by territorial disputes between the two nations. These disputes can trace their roots in Japan’s aggressive war. During the Sino-Japan war, Japan was able annex Taiwan from China and rule over the territory. Japan was forced to give up this colony at the end of the Second World War. However, the legal status of Taiwan is a controversial issue. Japan claims that when it surrendered, it did not return Taiwan to China, but rather bestowed sovereignty to the people of Taiwan. While China views Taiwan as a part of the mainland, Japan is directly or indirectly encouraging Taiwan’s independence (Yongming 376).
The disputes over Taiwan’s status have led to competing claims between China and Japan over a number of islands in the East China Sea. Conflicts over territory have led to the deterioration of relations between the two countries.
The two countries are suspicious of military advances made by each other. Following the end of the Second World War, Japan reduced its military spending and focused on economic development. In the decades immediately following the end of the Second World War, Japan was not concerned about the Chinese military. The reason for this was that the Chinese military was not advanced and the Japanese had the military protection of the United States. However, China has over the past two decades engaged in significant upgrading of its military. During the 1980s, China voiced its concerns about a militarily strong Japan as it was wary of Japanese hegemony in East Asia. At the same time, Japan has also expressed concerns over China’s defense spending. Over the past decade, Japan has shown a great interest in the military activities of china.
It has expressed concerns over the significant increases in China’s military spending and weapons modernization programs. Rose reports that in Japan’s view, China’s military capabilities “surpass its legitimate needs for national defense” (158). Japan has been alarmed by the upgrading of China’s defensive and offensive capabilities. The increase in China’s military strength compared to Japan’s had led to the weakening of Japan’s political status in East Asia. Yinan states that due to its sense of insecurity, Japan has engaged in a quiet arms race with China since the mid 2000s (9). This arms race is aimed at restoring the political status of Japan in the region.
China and Japan are the most important players in East Asia and the relationship between the two countries influences the politics in this region. This paper set out to show that Japan’s aggressive war against China in the early 20th century influenced the future relations between the two nations. It began by providing a brief overview of the war history of the two countries. Japan was the aggressor that embarked on a violent expansionist campaign in China.
This campaign led to the development of a deep enmity between these neighbors. The feeling of animosity and suspicion lingered on even after the end of the war. This paper has shown that Sino-Japanese relations remain strained due to Japan’s interpretation of its aggressions against China during the war. The nations are also engaged in territorial disputes that have led to a deterioration of relations. The mutual suspicion has led to a quiet arms race in East Asia as the two countries attempt to match each other’s military might.
Chanlett-Avery, Emma, Kerry Dumbaugh and William Cooper. Sino-Japanese Relations: Issues for U.S. Policy. Washington: Congressional Research Service. Print.
Goodman, David. “Reinterpreting the Sino–Japanese War: 1939–1940, peasant mobilization, and the road to the PRC.” Journal of Contemporary China 22.79 (2013): 166-184.
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Gustafsson, Karl. “Memory Politics and Ontological Security in Sino-Japanese Relations.” Asian Studies Review 38.1 (2014): 71-86.
Hideo, Ohashi. The Impact of China’s Rise on Sino-Japanese Economic Relations. Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchangem, 2004. Print.
Rose, Caroline. “Managing China: Risk and Risk Management in Japan’s China Policy. Japan Forum.” 22.1 (2010): 149-168.
Wilson, Sandra. “The discourse of National greatness in Japan, 1890–1919.” Japanese Studies 25.1 (2005): 35-51.
Yinan, He. “Forty Years in Paradox.” China Perspectives 4.1 (2013): 7-16.
Yongming, Fan. “Searching for Common Interests between China and Japan: a Chinese view.” Journal of Contemporary China 17.55 (2008), 375–382.