Alan D. Romberg gave this presentation at a roundtable discussion at the Atlantic Council entitled “The Japan Factor in Cross-Strait Relations” on April 22, 2005.
The dramatic complaints on China’s part against Japan is not only an issue of history, but also involves Taiwan, given Japan’s “2+2” statement with the United States. It should be recognized that the approval of a new history textbook and the visit paid by Koizumi to the Yasukuni Shrine are partly due to Japan’s domestic constraints. And the threat of Japanese militarism is far less prominent than China’s military modernization. Taiwan has a long-term affinity to Japan, with whom it enjoys a strong tie as originated from colonization and fostered by U.S. intention to contain China. China’s direct objectives on the relations with Japan lie in: (1) getting some sense of satisfaction, if not closure on the past; and (2) keeping Japan on the defensive as much as possible. Furthermore, it wishes to maintain a constructive relationship with Japan, both in the economic front to create a peaceful international environment conducive to its economic development, as well as turn the domestic public dissatisfaction to other directions.
In the short-term, China and Japan shall take steps to ease the tension, exert self-control and increase mutual communication and understanding. However, the more strenuous and challenging task is how to overcome the rawness in their feelings about each other, a sense of mutual grievance overlain by some mixture of fear and distain, which may take some time. As for Taiwan, it is highly unlikely that Japan will support Taiwan independence, but Japan may deem the importance of Taiwan has been on the rise given China’s military modernization. In this sense, it is important that the governments on both sides try to disentangle the historical and related issue from national rivalry.