On Tuesday, September 27th, the 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI*) and the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Public Policy hosted a joint virtual seminar reflecting on the 50th anniversary of Japan’s September 29, 1972 decision to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei (ROC) to Beijing (PRC), as well as the historical and contemporary legacies of that decision. The virtual event featured an expert panel of six U.S.- and Japan-based experts and attracted roughly 100 live attendees from around the world.
The event began with welcome remarks from 21JPSI Director Adam P. Liff (Indiana University) and Professor Akio Takahara (University of Tokyo). These were followed by prepared remarks from each of the six panelists. The first three speakers focused on the 20th century historical legacies of 1972, and the second three speakers discussed contemporary issues affecting Japan-China relations today.
Prof. Robert Hoppens (University of Texas) led off the historical segment with a reflection on the landmark 1972 Japan-China normalization communique. Dr. Hoppens noted how the most significant result was that Japan normalized diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China and severed official ties with the Republic of China (aka Taiwan). He also emphasized, however, that the approach Beijing and Tokyo adopted in order to get to “yes” meant that major sources of friction in the relationship went unresolved, including Japan’s vague position on Taiwan’s status and issues related to the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. The policy legacies of these decisions can still be seen in the bilateral relationship today. Finally, he noted that Japan-China relations stagnated in the latter half of the 1970s due to domestic issues in China but expanded once more in the 1980s as China entered its reform period and began receiving Official Development Assistance among other forms of support from Japan.
Next, Prof. Wendy Leutert (Indiana University) introduced her research examining the impact of increased Japan-China economic exchange in the 1970s and 1980s on China’s economic development and political economy. During her remarks, Prof. Leutert introduced three main mechanisms of bilateral exchange from this period: formal and informal Japanese advisors; exchanges in the form of study tours, knowledge exchange meetings, written correspondence, etc.; and the example that Japan provided based on its own economic success. She emphasized that the bilateral movement of people and ideas had a transformative impact on China’s early economic development, and that the PRC’s combination of economic planning and market reforms during this time drew heavily from Japan’s experience.
Following Prof. Leutert’s remarks, Prof. Shin Kawashima (University of Tokyo) discussed public opinion and history issues in the 1980s and 1990s. Dr. Kawashima introduced a variety of statistics on Japanese public opinion toward China over several decades and linked major shifts in popular sentiment to key historical developments, such as the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square and the 2005 anti-Japan demonstrations in China. Additionally, he explained how certain sentiments in Japan, such as remorse and “atonement consciousness” regarding World War II, have gradually shifted concomitant with generational changes. Dr. Kawashima concluded by highlighting that Japanese public opinion toward China has seen a downward trend since 1995, while attitudes toward Taiwan have improved markedly since the 1980s.
The final three panelists focused their remarks on major issues affecting contemporary Japan-China relations today.
First, Prof. Yinan He (Lehigh University) discussed China’s policies toward Japan, with a focus on developments since the Trump administration. Dr. He explored the reasons behind a recent thawing in China-Japan relations, which has occurred despite Japan’s criticism of China’s policies in Xinjiang and the East China Sea. She argued that while some of China’s differential treatment toward Japan can be explained by the country’s clever diplomacy as a countermeasure against worsening U.S.-China relations, Japan’s unique bargaining position with China due to its economic and technological strength and its crucial role in Indo-Pacific geopolitics provide yet another lens through which to understand this phenomenon.
Next, Prof. Akio Takahara (University of Tokyo) discussed Japan’s contemporary foreign policy toward China. He highlighted several sources of friction in the two countries’ relationship since 2020, such as COVID-19, Beijing’s crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong, and the repeated appearance of Chinese vessels in the waters surrounding the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which has had a particularly negative impact on Japanese public opinion toward China. He noted that Chinese public opinion toward Japan has worsened concomitant with the beginning of the pandemic and the resulting drop in tourism, suggesting the importance of people-to-people exchange in shaping more positive Chinese perceptions of Japan. Finally, he noted that although the two countries remain major trade partners, economic interests are not as much of a stabilizing factor in Japan-China relations as they used to be.
Lastly, 21JPSI Director Prof. Adam P. Liff (Indiana University) spoke on the contested meaning of “One China” internationally. Noting a considerable surge in misinformation and disinformation regarding the U.S., Japan’s, and other countries official positions on “One China,” especially as it concerns Taiwan’s status, Prof. Liff outlined several arguments that contradict Beijing’s increasingly proactive assertionsof a “universal consensus” regarding its so-called “One China Principle.” For example, though media outlets frequently claim that the U.S. recognizes that Taiwan is part of China, this is not true. In fact, several countries—including the U.S. and Japan—maintain ambiguous stances on the issue of Taiwan’s status. However, he noted that what that means in practice (policy) concerning the extent to which countries actively engage Taiwan has varied widely across countries and over time. However, in recent years both the U.S. and Japan have sought to counteract deepening pressure from Beijing by bolstering “unofficial” ties and practical cooperation with Taipei.
After concluding their individual remarks, the panelists engaged in a brief exchange with moderator Prof. Takahara, which was followed by an open Q&A with the global audience that was moderated by Prof. Liff.
*The 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI) was launched at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies in 2018. Under the leadership of Founding Director and HLS faculty member Adam Liff, 21JPSI aims to invigorate and expand research, teaching, and programming on contemporary Japanese politics, society, and international (esp. U.S.-Japan) relations, and to educate, raise awareness, and debate policy responses to the various political, social, and foreign policy challenges that Japan faces in this extremely dynamic era of 21st-century change. Seeded by a generous $900,000 grant from the Japan Foundation, in its first five years 21JPSI has enabled a new tenure-track faculty line in contemporary Japanese politics and society; facilitated the creation of four new courses on contemporary Japan; launched a new multidisciplinary speaker series on Japanese Politics and Society, national conferences and webinars on U.S.-Japan relations, and academic manuscript workshops; and funded graduate fellowships and faculty travel grants to support field research in Japan. For more information, please see https://jpsi.indiana.edu/ or write to email@example.com.