Are Japan and China really getting along?

China's President Xi Jinping is greeted by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, 28 June 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque).

Author: Tsuyoshi Minami, Shanghai Normal University

Following the 2019 Osaka G20 summit, Japan–China relations appear to have entered a new period. While improved Japan–China ties are in the national interests of both countries, the ongoing US trade war with China is beginning to have significant effects on the relationship. Can Japan and China continue to improve relations? What benefits does this rapprochement offer the two countries?

Both Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Premier Li Keqiang argue that the Japan–China relationship has returned to a normal track. The G20 summit last June marked President Xi Jinping’s first visit to Japan as General Secretary. Following Abe’s invitation, Xi’s state visit to Japan was confirmed for spring 2020. In October 2018, Abe visited China for the China–Japan summit.

Amid trade negotiations with the United States, Japan–China rapprochement could benefit the economic policy of both governments.

Although Japan originally wanted the United States to return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trump administration is known for insisting on bilateral rather than multilateral agreements. Japan resisted signing a new trade accord with the United States because Washington is demanding market opening greater than what was expected under the TPP but is now expected to sign a bilateral agreement in late September 2019.

Abe and Xi’s promotion of ‘free and fair trade‘ during the G20 summit was a statement of opposition to US protectionism. The United States has threatened additional tariffs on automobiles imported from Japan. In 2017, 75 per cent of Japan’s trade surplus with the United States came from car exports. Any further US tariffs pose serious risks to Japan’s economy. Japan aims to offset the risk of one-sided trade deals with the United States by increasing its economic cooperation with China.

Economic cooperation with Japan serves three …continue reading