Even before World War II, there was tension between Japan and China. After the war, that tension only accelerated. First there was the trouble regarding Japanese occupation of China as in the Nanking Massacre. With that in the past, Japan and China found themselves on opposite sides of the Cold War. China aligned itself with Communist Soviet Union while Japan aligned itself with Capitalistic United States. That enhanced the rivalry. As Asia pulled out of the Cold War, Japan and China began to interact more. Though on the surface things improved, the underlying fear was still present. Japan surged forward as an economic leader in Asia. China in the last few decades has begun to challenge that standing. After WWII, Japan took a very pacifist stance in regard to war and military. China has continually sought to grow the military which has in turn caused Japan to keep a wary eye on the country due to its determination to modernize the military and because China is so large. (1)
Japan has grown to become a solid nation standing on its own two feet. The politics has had slight turmoil over the years as younger generations have moved into power and forced politics and society to change. When it comes to military, Japan has focused less on military might than on economics and politics. While it has a military presence, it has focused that on defense rather than offense. Economically, Japan has skyrocketed since the end of WWII and the rebuilding of the nation by the West. Through alliances, three in post war history, Japan has moved to a super economic and political power. It began in 1902 with Great Britain, 1943 with the Axis powers, and in 1951 with the US. Though these did not last, they were instrumental in creating the Japan of today. Culturally, Japan is moving forward into the twenty-first century as it sees the advantages of joining the West and grasping resources it can use to improve the nation. (2)
China on the other hand has taken a longer road to becoming a power in the world that went beyond population numbers. After WWII, China aligned with the Soviet Union. From there it found itself pushing all Western ideas away which included political alliances. This occurred as China was developing internal conflicts on how to create a future for China. The result was several purgings of the ones who looked to create a more capitalistic China. Over the decades after the war, China remained communist but pulled away from the Soviet Union as it found itself being treated more as a step-child than a partner in the Cold War. China saw the military as its source of power in the world. The desire to have a large and modernized military has been in the forefront of China’s progressive moves. Economically, China has only moved forward in the last twenty years as it has bowed to internal and external pressure. More companies have found investment opportunities including Japan within the Chinese borders. That has given China more money and more status on the economic world stage. During that time, China has begun to see the advantages to being more lenient in society and politically. (3)
While it appears that China is moving forward to a position where both Japan and China will be able to bury the hatchet in the past, the undercurrents are still too tense to see an easy less confrontational relationship in the past between the two nations. For one, Japan is refusing to fully acknowledge its role in past conflicts such as the Nanking Massacre. China has yet to fully embrace a Western process. It still has too much of the communist blood running in its political veins. Until these issues can be resolved, neither nation will be able to forge a bond that would strengthen Asia as a whole.
Due to the changes, the United States could have stronger relationships with both. China is changing. Economically, the US is moving in there and making strong ties. Japan will always have a strong relationship with the US due to the recovery after the war and the investments the US has done to create a stronger Japan. China has still too many with ties to the communist regimes. Until they are gone, a true tight relationship will be hard. In twenty-five years, China might be in a position to create a strong bond with the US.
China and Japan’s history is deep. Their future will be much deeper. As each country chose different paths over the years, it will take many more years before they converge onto a similar path that will benefit them both. When they do, they will create a powerful alliance in the East and throughout the world. It will be a matter of newer generations rising up to rule the nations and the ability to face the past freely.
(1) Mark Borthwick, Pacific Century: The Emergence of Modern Pacific Asia, Third Edition, (Westview: New York, 2007), 529-535.
(2) Ibid, 533-534.
(3) Ibid, 534-538.