May 6, 2019
By Shin Kawashima, University of Tokyo Professor.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an official visit to China in October 2018, and it has been said that Japan-China relations are back on “the road to normalcy.” In reality, however, bilateral relations, which dramatically declined while the Democratic Party of Japan was in government, are only now recovering to baseline conditions.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s scheduled June visit of Japan was set up to coincide with the Group of 20 summit. However, China’s leader will need to make a trip solely for the purpose of visiting Japan before bilateral relations can truly be said to have “normalized.”
On the Japanese side, there are expectations that once relations have normalized, there will be a return to conditions in 2008, when both countries’s leaders interacted frequently and solid cooperation even on issues related to the East China Sea was apparent. However, China is seeking Japanese confirmation that Chinese government vessels can continue their brisk activity around the Senkaku Islands. There are gaps in the two countries’ perceptions on what constitutes normalization.
Both the existence of historical issues and the tensions concerning national security remain unchanged. China will not compromise on territorial or national security matters. It would appear that all Japan can do is push for the adoption of the Maritime and Aerial Communication Mechanism to prevent the emergence of provocative situations, and the continuation of the status quo.