As the New Eastern Outlook has frequently stated, the communication among the top players in the current stage of the Big World Game is extremely vital, indicating that the game process is ongoing. Regardless of the issues that arise, the participants continue to honor the current agreements and refuse to overturn the table with a “continue the policy by other means” clause.
One may assess the current relationships between the main players and the prospects for the future based on the signals we can see from the outside and what flows along these lines. These main players obviously include the People’s Republic of China and Japan. Furthermore, the significance of their bilateral interactions will only grow with time. As it will in the other two sides of the strategic triangle formed by the PRC, Japan, and India.
Meanwhile, the overall picture of Japan-China relations is, to put it mildly, not encouraging. And this applies to almost all of its issues. One of these issues, which began at the end of August and involves the process of releasing more than a million cubic meters of wastewater used in the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, has drawn a lot of attention recently. This water has now filled approximately a thousand special containers to the brim.
This action continues to be watched by all neighbors with varying degrees of wariness. The PRC, in particular, expresses its strong and vocal opposition. In doing so, it refutes the Japanese leadership’s statements, which cite various “authoritative” judgments, such as those of the IAEA, about the “necessary level of purification” of the wastewater gathered in the containers. In turn, Tokyo prefers to ignore the advice not to dump “well-treated” wastewater into the ocean, but rather to use it for irrigation of agricultural areas, if not as drinking water.
Beijing’s special engagement in this issue could be explained by the very negative background of bilateral relations. Putting aside the gravity of the situation caused by the unknown consequences of the Fukushima wastewater release, Almost half of the Japanese are concerned about all of this ambiguity. Those whose businesses or daily lives are in some way related to the sea, in particular. Fishermen, hotel owners, and other service providers in coastal resort locations, for example.
Nevertheless, one of the biggest problems was the discharge of wastewater gathered close to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean. The newly appointed Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, and his Japanese counterpart, Yoshimasa Hayashi, had a discussion about the full spectrum of bilateral relations at the ASEAN Summit in Jakarta in mid-July. According to the statements made on the summit’s outcomes, the parties continued to disagree on all of the points brought up, including the one just addressed.
That is to say, another exchange of signals in one of the lines of bilateral relations, established in this case as though “on occasion” in the Indonesian capital, did not significantly improve the overall, let us reiterate, unfavorable picture of bilateral relations.
The prospect of resuming the trilateral platform with the Republic of Korea’s participation, which was first proposed back in 2008, has come up frequently in recent months. In order to foster mutually beneficial cooperation, the leaders of all three nations—China, Japan, and the ROK—were specifically expected to meet once a year.
However, due to the apparent causes of the worsening political climate in the Indo-Pacific area in general and Northeast Asia in particular, which commenced at that time, no such meetings have been organized since 2019. The rising hostilities between Japan and the ROK are a significant factor in this unfavorable scenario.
Considering that each of these two nations has allied relations with the United States that are defined not in words but rather in the form of relevant documents “with signatures and seals.” And the problem of clearing up misunderstandings between the two Asian allies has been a source of longstanding tension for Washington.
The election of a new ROK government led by President Yoon Suk-yeol this spring marked a step forward in resolving this issue. However, the process of strengthening the country’s relations with Japan is taking place despite a variety of problems, the majority of which are of internal Korean origin, and it is too early to declare it irreversible. Nevertheless, the long-standing notion of creating a triple political-military alliance incorporating Japan and the ROK appears to have once again motivated Washington. And it appears that Washington has made significant progress in this direction following the August 17 US-Japan-South Korea summit at Camp David.
Naturally, Beijing is not pleased with such a scenario, and it has been claimed that while in Jakarta, Wang Yi urged his Japanese counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi that they get ready for the restart of the Japan-China-South Korea platform, including holding meetings of its leaders. Yoshimasa Hayashi’s response to this proposition, on the other hand, was ambiguous. The story isn’t even mentioned in the Xinhua news agency’s report on the Jakarta summit.
In this case, one is inclined to use some verbal “niceness” in the form of “which reflects the general state of uncertainty in bilateral relations.” But regrettably, in this instance, it does a terrible job of reflecting reality because there is only increasing certainty in the process of darkening the overall image of Japan-China relations. It also didn’t get any better following the brief discussions between the two prime ministers on September 6 in Jakarta.
This unfavorable trend is especially seen in the Taiwan issue, which is critical for the PRC and the wider India-Pacific Region scenario and in which Japan is becoming increasingly involved. Tokyo and Taipei’s developing relationship now encompasses more than just humanitarian and business interests. Japan’s interest in preserving stability in the Taiwan Strait is stated clearly in the new National Security Strategy for the next 10 years.
Recent events indicate that the issue extends beyond a few broad conceptual recordings in official papers. Beijing specifically drew attention to Tokyo’s recently announced actions to guarantee the protection of the people of Miyako Island, a part of Japan’s Ryukyu Arc, in preparation for a potential unanticipated crisis in Taiwan. What this “crisis,” might mean is explained here. It should be noted that the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, the subject of Japanese-Chinese ownership disputes, and Miyako Island are both relatively close to Taiwan.
The release of a “updated standard map package” by the PRC mapping agency in late August was a further factor contributing to the escalation of the ownership issue involving these islands. On September 6, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno condemned Beijing’s claims to the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands once more.
In mid-July, the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, or, in other words, one of Japan’s premier think tanks, working in close collaboration with his American counterparts held a war game scenario simulating a hypothetical conflict in the Taiwan Strait and the prime minister’s response to it. Former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera took on the role of Prime Minister.
Also worth noting is a declaration by one of the country’s two top deputy defense ministers regarding “providing some support” to Taiwan “in case mainland China uses force.” This was met with the expected reaction in the PRC.
Finally, it appears appropriate to call attention to the “American” presence in the entire complex of Japan-China ties. Japan recently put export restrictions on some technological equipment as part of Washington’s infamous de-risking policy, for example, to exclude China from international processes for manufacturing the most advanced items, primarily advanced semiconductors. The Global Times in China responded to the decision by illustrating the motivations behind it.
Of course, the complexities of Japan-China relations are not entirely due to the circumstances reflected in this illustration. However, there is little doubt that Japan would have behaved far more rational and restrained in the international arena if it had stopped acting as a “second number,” transferring a substantial portion of responsibility for the repercussions to its overseas “big brother.”
Such a magnificent vision may become a reality if this last one eventually quits caring about the world’s troubles and focuses on curing his own. The Americans should proceed with the “shifting of foreign policy helms” without delay. Otherwise, the puppeteers of the current half-witted liberal government, who appear to be guided by the renowned Après nous le déluge credo, will lead the country to the brink of civil war.
The nature of the relationship development between China and Japan will be determined by the signals that, hopefully, continue to be sent between the two major Asian nations.
While maintaining two-way lines of communication.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.