Analysis: China reaches out to Japan to mark diplomatic milestone

This year is the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. The two countries are fostering economic ties, but Japan tends to share the United States’ unresolved concerns about China's military expansion and human rights issues.

As relations between China and the US grow increasingly tense, Beijing wants to strengthen bonds with Japan. It’s a bid to prevent Tokyo from growing more closely aligned to Washington.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio in a phone call last October that he wants to use the 50th anniversary to kick off a new phase in bilateral relations.

Xi Jinping image
Xi Jinping wants to foster a new phase in Japan-China relations.

China hopes to further strengthen economic ties through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free-trade agreement that came into effect this month. China and Japan are among its 15 member nations.

A Chinese international affairs expert says the Kishida administration is siding with the US in its tough stance against Beijing on security and human rights issues.

Renmin University of China Professor Shi Yinhong says there is little celebratory mood surrounding the diplomatic anniversary. "Japan's strategic confrontation with China is extremely fierce in the military field, especially over the Taiwan issue and the East China Sea,” he says. “Japan says it will not take any specific action in relation to the Beijing Olympics, but what it is actually doing amounts to a diplomatic boycott.”

Beijing Olympics image
Japan will not send a government delegation to the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics

Regarding US-China relations, Professor Shi says there is little chance that the Biden administration will make any concessions on major issues. That's because its approval ratings remain low ahead of midterm elections this fall.

President Xi is expected to step up efforts to boost his authority at the Communist Party National Congress later this year. Part of that is a tough approach towards the outside world.

Professor Shi explains that “a historical resolution was adopted at a plenary meeting of the party's Central Committee last year, and a policy to counter the US was presented in a very clear way. There are very few points on which clear improvements can be expected in the relationship between China and the US."

Professor Shi Yinhong
Professor Shi Yinhong regards building a stable relationship between China and Japan as a challenge.

Professor Shi sees the status of Taiwan as the most contentious issue. He warns that building a stable relationship between China and Japan is likely to be a major challenge.