By Amy McCreedy
Program Associate

David Arase, associate professor of politics, Pomona College
Joshua Fogel, professor of history and chair of the East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies Department, University of California, Santa Barbara
Mike Mochizuki, associate professor of political science and chair of Japan-U.S. Relations, George Washington University
Quansheng Zhao, professor of international relations and director of the Comparative and Regional Studies Division, American University

Japan and China are near neighbors, economically interdependent, and share cultural ties going back 17 centuries. Yet relations between them are tense and uncertain. This two-hour seminar brought together four experts to help illuminate the complex ties between the two Asian giants and the implications for U.S. foreign policy.

David Arase of Pomona College argued that the discord between the two countries will not be easy to dispel. 65 percent of Chinese call Japan their "least favorite" country. Meanwhile, the number of Japanese who are pessimistic about future relations with China has grown to 48 percent. China continues to oppose any U.S.-Japan cooperation on Theater Missile Defense (TMD), and Japan wants China to stop demonizing Japan in its public diplomacy. According to David Arase, in the future Japan may use fewer carrots and more sticks to influence China. For example, Japan is likely to curtail foreign aid, feeling that China is insufficiently grateful for $20 billion over the past two decades.

Mike Mochizuki of George Washington University maintained that geopolitics goes a long way to explain the current state of affairs. Relations between Japan, China, and the United States are often described as a triangle, but it is important to remember that the U.S.-Japan side is by far the more robust. This has the result of weakening the other two sides. The more the U.S.-Japan alliance deepens (for example, Japan has agreed to provide "logistical support" to the United States in the case of a regional conflict), the more the U.S. and Japan must take care not to alienate China.

Quansheng Zhao of American University conceptualized East Asia's power reconfiguration as "two ups" and "two downs." The "ups" are the promotion of the United States to sole superpower and the remarkable rise of China. The "downs" are the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 10-year recession in Japan. Thus, the geopolitical landscape was transformed by the disappearance of a Soviet threat, while China's full-steam economic advancement is alarming to a Japan that cannot seem to extricate itself from economic recession. Gaps in GDP, trade, and foreign investment between China and Japan have all narrowed.

Joshua Fogel, a historian from the University of California at Santa Barbara, was a bit more upbeat than his colleagues, giving an overview of more than 1000 years of generally friendly China-Japan ties. Dr. Fogel pointed out that several difficult decades is, after all, "only a blink of an eye" to a historian. For most of its history, Japan looked to China with awe and respect. More recently, China has seen Japan as a model for "modernizing without losing your soul."

All the panelists expressed hope for a better future, partly on the basis of increasing interdependence. After all, China is Japan's number-two trading partner, and Japan is China's number-one trading partner. However, Taiwan remained the big "if" in everyone's scenarios. Trade and prosperity will continue to grow if a conflict over Taiwan can be avoided. Meanwhile, the Korean peninsula is an "overlapping concern" that will unite neighboring nations rather than divide them-at least in the near future.

The speakers also agreed that the United States is crucial to maintaining stability in the region. By playing the role of "balancer" whenever possible, by continuing to engage Beijing, and by mediating to prevent calamity in the Taiwan Strait, the United States can help China and Japan to overcome their differences.

Following the seminar, two of the four speakers, David Arase and Quansheng Zhao, repeated their presentations at a December 7 Capitol Hill breakfast, attended by congressional staffers.