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Goals and nature of relations
Japan is the most important to China of the nonsuperpower developed nations. Among the reasons for this are geographical proximity and historical and cultural ties, the People's Republic of China's perception of Japan as a possible resurgent threat, Japan's close relations with the United States since the end of World War II, and Japan's role as an industrialized power in the world.
Japan's invasion and occupation of parts of China in the 1930s was a major component of the devastation China underwent during the "century of shame and humiliation." After the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, Chinese relations with Japan changed several times, from hostility and an absence of contact to cordiality and extremely close cooperation in many fields. One recurring Chinese concern in Sino-Japanese relations has been the potential remilitarization of Japan. On the other hand, some Japanese fear that the economic and military power of China has been increasing.
The priority that policy toward China has commanded in Japanese foreign affairs has varied over time. During the period of United States-backed "containment" of China, there was a sharp divergence between official policy and popular attitudes in Japan. As a loyal ally of the United States, the Japanese government was committed to nonrecognition, whereas popular sentiments favored diplomatic relations and expanded trade. The Japan Communist Party and the Japan Socialist Party sought to capitalize on this situation in their propaganda efforts to promote closer relations with Beijing. Pro-Chinese sentiment found support not only in the desire of the business community for a new source of raw materials and a profitable market but also in the popular feeling of cultural affinity with the Chinese. Japanese leaders spent considerable effort trying to manage this tension.
Economic relations are the centerpiece of relations between China and Japan. Japan has been a top trading partner since the 1960s. Despite concern over a trade imbalance in Japan's favor, the volume of Sino-Japanese trade have continued to grow.
Unofficial relations and hostility (1950s)
At the time of the founding of the PRC, Japan was defeated and Japanese military power dismantled, but China continued to view Japan as a potential threat because of the United States presence there. The Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship , Alliance, and Mutual Assistance included the provision that each side would protect the other from an attack by "Japan or any state allied with it," and China undoubtedly viewed with alarm Japan's role as the principal United States base during the Korean War. Like most western nations at the time, Japan continued to recognize the Republic of China government in Taipei as the sole legitimate Chinese government. Initially, neither country allowed its political differences to stand in the way of broadening unofficial contacts, and in the mid-1950s they exchanged an increasing number of cultural, labor, and business delegations. China in the 1950s began a policy of attempting to influence Japan through trade, "people's diplomacy," contacts with Japanese opposition political parties, and through applying pressure on Tokyo to sever ties with Taipei. In 1958, however, China suspended its trade with Japan-- apparently convinced that trade concessions were ineffective in achieving political goals. Thereafter, in a plan for improving political relations, China requested that the Japanese government not be hostile toward it, not obstruct any effort to restore normal relations between itself and Japan, and not join in any conspiracy to create two Chinas. After the Sino-Soviet break, economic necessity caused China to reconsider and revitalize trade ties with Japan.
Trade resumes (1960s)
The PRC resumed its trade with Japan in late 1960. Important provisions were attached to the arrangement, however, stipulating that trade was to be based on formal government-to-government agreements and the private trade was to be sanctioned indirectly by the Japanese government. Only Japanese firms that pledged to support the three political principles of 1958 were to be allowed to participate. In November 1962, Sino-Japanese relations were elevated to semiofficial status--still far short of diplomatic recognition-- with the signing in Beijing of a five-year trade memorandum (1963-67), better known as the Liao-Takasaki Agreement . Under its terms, Chinese purchases of industrial plants were to be financed partly through medium-term credits from the Japan Export-Import Bank. The accord also permitted the PRC to open a trade mission in Tokyo and in 1963 paved the way for Japanese government approval of the export to mainland China of a synthetic textile manufacturing plant valued at around US$20 million, guaranteed by the bank. Subsequent protest from the ROC caused Japan to shelve further deferred-payment plant exports. The PRC reacted to this change by downgrading its Japan trade and intensified propaganda attacks against Japan as a "lackey" of the United States.
Sino-Japanese ties declined again during the Cultural Revolution, and the decline was further exacerbated by Japan's growing strength and independence from the United States in the late 1960s. The PRC was especially concerned that Japan might remilitarize to compensate for the reduced United States military presence in Asia brought about under president Richard Nixon. As the turmoil subsided, however, the Japanese government--already under pressure both from the pro-Beijing factions in the LDP and from opposition elements--sought to adopt a more forward posture. Japan's efforts to set its own China policy became particularly evident after July 1971 when Nixon, according to Japanese sources, "shocked" the Japanese by announcing his forthcoming visit to Beijing. Relations remained complicated, however, because of Japan's diplomatic and substantial economic ties with the Republic of China and the presence of a powerful pro-Kuomintang faction in the LDP. After the beginning of Sino-American rapprochement in 1971, however, the PRC's policy toward Japan immediately became more flexible.
Official relations and Friendship treaty (1970s)
The September 1972 visit to Beijing of Japan's newly elected prime minister, Tanaka Kakuei, culminated in the signing of a historic joint statement (Joint Communique of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People's Republic of China) that ended nearly eighty years of enmity and friction between the two sides. In this statement, Tokyo recognized the Beijing government over the Taipei government as the sole legal government of China, stating at the same time that it understood and respected China's position that Taiwan was "an inalienable part of the territory of the People's Republic of China." For its part, China waived its demand for war indemnities from Japan at the intergovernmental level (this demand was first made in the mid-1950s; the war reparations claims totaled as much as the equivalent of US$50 billion). Diplomatic relations were to be established as of September 29, 1972. Japan and China also agreed to hold negotiations aimed at the conclusion not only of a treaty of peace and friendship but also at agreements on trade, shipping, air transportation, and fisheries. Sino-Japanese trade grew rapidly after 1972. In January 1974, a three-year trade agreement--the first of several working agreements covering civil air transportation, shipping, fisheries, and trademarks--was signed. Arrangements for technical cooperation, cultural exchange, and consular matters were also undertaken.
Negotiations for a Sino-Japanese peace and friendship treaty also began in 1974 but soon encountered a political problem Japan wished to avoid. The PRC insisted on including in the treaty an antihegemony clause, clearly directed at the Soviet Union. Japan, wishing to adhere to its "equidistant" or neutral stance in the Sino-Soviet confrontation, objected. The Soviet Union made clear that a Sino-Japanese treaty would prejudice Soviet-Japanese relations . Japanese efforts to reach a compromise with China over this issue failed, and the talks were broken off in September 1975.
Matters remained at a standstill until political changes in China after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 brought to the fore a leadership dedicated to economic modernization and interested in accommodation with Japan, whose aid was essential. A changing climate of opinion in Japan that was more willing to ignore Soviet warnings and protests and accept the idea of "antihegemonism" as an international principle also helped lay the groundwork for new efforts to conclude the treaty.
In February 1978, a long-term private trade agreement led to an arrangement by which trade between Japan and China would increase to a level of US$20 billion by 1985, through exports from Japan of plants and equipment, technology, construction materials, and machine parts in return for coal and crude oil. This long-term plan, which gave rise to inflated expectations, proved overly ambitious and was drastically cut back the following year as the PRC was forced to reorder its development priorities and scale down its commitments. However, the signing of the agreement reflected the wish on both sides to improve relations. In April 1978, a dispute involving the intrusion of armed Chinese fishing boats into the waters off the Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyutai in Chinese), a cluster of barren islets north of Taiwan and south of the Ryukyu Islands, flared up and threatened to disrupt the developing momentum toward a resumption of peace treaty talks. Restraint on both sides led to an amicable resolution. Talks on the peace treaty were resumed in July, and agreement was reached in August on a compromise version of the antihegemony clause. The Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People's Republic of China was signed on August 12 and came into effect October 23, 1978.
Development of complementary interests (1980s)
Chinese domestic political problems and uneven progress in mainland China's reform programs at times dampened Japanese enthusiasm for economic relations with the PRC. Yet Sino-Japanese relations made considerable progress in the 1980s. In 1982 there was a serious political controversy over revision of Japanese textbooks dealing with the history of imperial Japan's war against China in the 1930s and 1940s. Beijing also registered concern in 1983 about the reported shift in United States strategic emphasis in Asia, away from China and in favor of greater reliance on Japan, under the leadership of the more "hawkish" prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro, warning anew against possible revival of Japanese militarism. By mid-1983, however, Beijing had decided — coincidentally with its decision to improve relations with the Reagan administration — to solidify ties with Japan. Communist Party of China general secretary Hu Yaobang visited Japan in November 1983, and prime minister Nakasone reciprocated by visiting China in March 1984.
The Chinese had long looked on Japan--by then a major trading partner — as a leading source of assistance in promoting economic development in China. The growth of Soviet military power in East Asia in the early 1980s prompted them to consult with Japan more frequently on security issues and to pursue parallel foreign policies designed to check Soviet influence and promote regional stability. While Japanese enthusiasm for the Chinese market waxed and waned, broad strategic considerations in the 1980s steadied Tokyo's policy toward Beijing. In fact, Japan's heavy involvement in China's economic modernization reflected in part a determination to encourage peaceful domestic development in China, to draw China into gradually expanding links with Japan and the West, to reduce China's interest in returning to its more provocative foreign policies of the past, and to obstruct any Sino-Soviet realignment against Japan. Thus, common strategic concerns, as well as economic interests, held the two nations together. Until the late 1970s, China appeared more alarmed than Japan about the Soviet military buildup in Asia. But as the Soviet Union increasingly sought to impede strategic cooperation among Japan, the United States, and possibly China, in part by stepped-up intimidation of Japan, the Nakasone government became more concerned about the Soviet military buildup.
Many of Japan's concerns about the Soviet Union duplicated China worries. They included the increased deployment in East Asia of Soviet SS-20 missiles, Tu-22M Backfire bombers, and ballistic missile submarines; the growth of the Soviet Pacific fleet; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the potential threat it posed to Persian Gulf oil supply routes; and an increased Soviet military presence in Vietnam.
In response, Japan and China adopted strikingly complementary foreign policies, designed to isolate the Soviet Union and its allies politically and to promote regional stability. In Southeast Asia, both countries provided strong diplomatic backing for the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to bring about a Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia. Japan cut off all economic aid to Vietnam and provided substantial economic assistance to Thailand to help with resettling Indochinese refugees. The PRC was a key supporter of Thailand and of the Cambodian resistance groups. In Southwest Asia, both nations backed the condemnation of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, refused to recognize the Soviet-backed Kabul regime, and sought through diplomatic and economic means to bolster Pakistan. In Northeast Asia, Japan and China sought to moderate the behavior of their Korean partners--South Korea and North Korea, respectively--to reduce tensions. In 1983 both the PRC and Japan strongly criticized the Soviet proposal to redeploy some of their European-based SS-20 missiles to Asia.
Complementary economic interests also strengthens Sino-Japanese relations. Japan is a major source of capital, technology, and equipment for China's modernization drive. In fact, Japan has been mainland China's largest trading partner since the mid-1960s, accounting for more than 20 percent of mainland China's total trade. Bilateral trade exploded in the 1970s and early 1980s, from US$1 billion in the early 1970s to more than US$8 billion in 1982. Japan became China's largest creditor, accounting for nearly half of the estimated US$30 billion in credit China lined up from 1979 to 1983.
Although its share of Japan's global trade was still small (3 percent in 1982), mainland China became Japan's sixth largest trading partner. Japan regarded China as a significant source of coal, oil, and strategic minerals, such as tungsten and chromium, and as an important market for Japanese steel, machinery plant equipment, chemical products, and synthetic textile fibers. The optimism that marked the economic relationship in the late 1970s had given way to a greater degree of realism on both sides by the early 1980s. Businesspeople in Japan came to appreciate the problems China faced and revised their expections of the growth of economic ties as the Chinese experimented with various economic policies. The Japanese continued to hope that they would profit from China's potentially huge domestic market, whenever its modernization began to pick up speed.
Japan encountered a number of episodes of friction with the PRC during the rest of the 1980s. In late 1985, Chinese officials complained harshly about Prime Minister Nakasone's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan's war dead, and in mid- 1986 they complained about the latest revision of Japan's history textbooks to soften accounts of World War II atrocities. Economic issues centered on Chinese complaints that the influx of Japanese products into China had produced a serious trade deficit for China. Nakasone and other Japanese leaders were able to reduce these official concerns during visits to Beijing and in other talks with Chinese officials. Notably, they assured the Chinese of Japan's continued large-scale development and commercial assistance. At the popular level in China, it was not easy to allay concerns. Student- led demonstrations against Japan, on the one hand, helped reinforce Chinese officials' warnings to their Japanese counterparts. On the other hand, it was more difficult to change popular opinion in China than it was to change the opinions of the Chinese officials. Meanwhile, the removal of party chief Hu Yaobang in 1987 was detrimental to smooth Sino-Japanese relations because Hu had built personal relationships with Nakasone and other Japanese leaders.
The PRC government's harsh crackdown on prodemocracy demonstrations in the spring of 1989 caused Japanese policymakers to realize that the new situation in China was extremely delicate and required careful handling to avoid Japanese actions that would push China further away from reform. At the same time, these policymakers were loath to break ranks with the United States and other Western countries, where popular opinion and domestic pressures to varying degrees required that officials condemn the crackdown and take action to restrict economic or other interaction of benefit to the Chinese regime. Beijing leaders reportedly judged at first that the industrialized countries would relatively quickly resume normal business with the PRC after a brief period of complaint over the Tiananmen Incident. When that did not happen, the PRC officials made strong suggestions to Japanese officials that they break from most industrialized nations by pursuing normal economic intercourse with the PRC, consistent with Tokyo's long-term interests in mainland China. Japanese leaders--like West European and United States leaders--were careful not to isolate China and continued trade and other relations generally consistent with the policies of other industrialized democracies. But they also followed the United States lead in limiting economic relations notably advantageous to the PRC. In particular, they held back for one year the disbursement of ¥810 billion in aid, which Japan had promised in 1988 to give the PRC in the 1990-95 period.
Japan was in the forefront among leading industrialized nations in restoring closer economic and political relations with China. Resumption of Japan's multibillion dollar aid to China and increased visits to China by Japanese officials, culminating in the October 1992 visit of Emperor Akihito, gave a clear indication that Japan considered closer ties with China in its economic and strategic interest.
Chinese relations with Japan in recent years have been generally close and cordial. Tension erupted periodically, however, over trade and technology issues, Chinese concern over potential Japanese military resurgence, and controversy regarding Japan's relations with Taiwan. In early 2005, Japan and the United States had issued a joint declaration calling for a "peaceful solution" to the Taiwan issue, a declaration which angered the PRC, which protested the interference in "internal affairs."
Japanese history textbooks controversy
See main article: Japanese history textbooks controversy
China joined other Asian nations (mainly, South Korea and North Korea) in criticizing Japanese history textbooks that de-emphasized past Japanese aggression, claiming that the distortion was evidence of the rise of militarism in Japan. There remains much Anti-Japanese sentiment in China. This has been exacerbated by burgeoning feelings of Chinese nationalism and visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. There also remains the three-sided dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which has resulted in clashes between Chinese protestors and the Japanese government. The latest disputes, in April 2005, have erupted to anti-Japanese protests and sporadic violence across China, from Beijing to Shanghai, later Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shenyang. 
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