Amelioration of the Sino-Japanese Relations at the APEC Summit?: Driving Forces, Opportunities, and Risks of an Abe-Xi Meeting


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When: Sep 17 2014 - 12:00pm until Sep 17 2014 - 1:30pm
Where: 1819 L St, NW, Washington, DC. Sixth Floor Conference Room

Amelioration of the Sino-Japanese Relations at the APEC Summit?: Driving Forces, Opportunities, and Risks of an Abe-Xi Meeting

An Asia Pacific Seminar featuring:

Dr. Yasuhiro Matsuda
Professor, Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, University of Tokyo

Dr. Ellen Frost (Moderator)
Adjunct Senior Fellow, East-West Center in Washington
Visiting Distinguished Research Fellow, National Defense University

Amelioration of the Sino-Japanese Relations at the APEC Summit?: Driving Forces, Opportunities, and Risks of an Abe-Xi Meeting from East-West Center on Vimeo.

Dr. Yasuhiro Matsuda outlines his predictions for the possibility of a meeting between President Xi and President Abe at the upcoming APEC summit.

It is likely that Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, will meet when the region’s leaders gather in Beijing for the APEC Summit in November. The governments of both Japan and China have been seeking amelioration of bilateral relations after the serious diplomatic and military row over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. However, similar attempts in the past nineteen months have failed. Will the meeting really happen? What will the preconditions be? What is the risk of the meeting? What are driving forces for the improvement relations? What is the future direction of the Sino-Japanese relations? Dr. Yasuhiro Matsuda attempted to offer some answers to this string of questions surrounding the most important and controversial bilateral relationship in East Asia.

 China-Japan bilateral relations continue to be lackluster at best. According to Dr. Matsuda, mutual distrust pervades the relationship, with tensions around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands contributing greatly to feelings of resentment on both sides. According to the vast majority of Chinese citizens, Japan continues to be revisionist towards its history; public opinion against Japan is at an all-time high in China despite the strong numbers of Chinese tourists visitng Japan. On the Japanese side relations are not see as favorable either. China's "outlaw behavior" has contributed to tensions as well as its use of "physical means to change the status quo," which include dangerous military exercises. 

These tensions have set the stage for what is sure to be, at least at the outset, a tense meeting at the upcoming APEC Summit in November. As the summit approaches, China has armed itself with numerous preconditions that Japan must meet before a bilateral meeting between Abe and Xi can take place. They include: admitting the existence of a dispute; for officials to stop going to Yasukuni; and for a return to "a new type of strategic mutually beneficial relationship" where Japan admits that China's rise is also good for its own prospects. Japan, in turn, comes with no preconditions but a wish to also return to a mutually beneficial relationship which would entail discussions of a crisis management system and less provocative behavior from China.

Since both sides wish for a return to a mutually beneficial relationship, Dr. Matsuda saw APEC as a perfect venue from which China and Japan could move towards amelioration. Such a move would be good for both sides as it would increase economic cooperation and allow both to improve relations with their neighbors, contributing to stability in the region. However, he recognized that the greatest obstacle to amelioration would be domestic criticism. If either leader is seen as being conciliatory he could be labeled a traitor, leaving little room for maneuver no matter how much he wanted to improve ties with his counterpart. 

With this caveat in mind, Dr. Matsuda outlined some prescriptions that both sides could take should a meeting take place. Rather than try and get agreement on contentious issues such as the islands, China and Japan should instead agree to disagree and respect the others side while at the same time working on areas of mutual cooperation that would be easier to swallow. For its part Japan need to be more "modest" about its history and not draw attention to contentious actions like Yasukuni visits. China could in turn scale back its coast guard patrols as a sign of good faith. What was most important was that rather than continuing to dwell on the past, China and Japan should look to the future. 

 For more images, please visit the album for this event on the East-West Center's Flickr page. 

Dr. Yasuhiro Matsuda is a Professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia at the University of Tokyo. His research specialties include the political and diplomatic history of Asia, politics and foreign relations in the PRC and Taiwan and cross-strait relations, and Japan’s foreign and security policies. Prior to joining the faculty at Tokyo University, he spent sixteen years as a Research Fellow at the National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS), part of the Japan Defense Agency (now Ministry of Defense.) He was a member of the Council on Security and Defense Capability in the New Era, the advisory group of the Prime Minister in 2010. He is the winner of the seventh Yasuhiro Nakasone Award of Excellence in 2011 and has published numerous books and articles in Japanese and English. His most recent English-language publication is “Taiwan in the China-Japan-US Triangle,” in Getting the Triangle Straight: Managing China-Japan-US Relations, [Japan Center for International Exchange, 2010]. He received his Ph.D. in Law in 2003 from the Graduate School of Law at Keio University and his MA in International Studies in 1990 from the Graduate School of Area Studies, Tokyo University.

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Grace Ruch Clegg
Phone: 202-327-9762