Saturday Readings

China And Japan Share Long, Complicated Relationship
Ian Buruma, a professor of human rights and journalism at Bard
College, explores how history and politics have shaped the complex – and potentially dangerous – relationship between China and Japan.

Today, the two countries are walking a fine and tension-filled line as the ongoing dispute over a tiny group of islands, which the Japanese call the Senkaku and the Chinese call the Diaoyu.

On the surface, the dispute is about history, about which country has the best historical claim to sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu. In fact, it is more about politics, domestic and international, revealing the tangled relations in a region where history is frequently manipulated for political ends,” says Buruma.

The 20th century would begin with the nations on friendlier terms, but relations took a dramatic turn when the Japanese invaded China in the 1930s, and was further complicated during World War II when the Japanese committed horrific crimes against Chinese nationals.

“Eight years of Japanese occupation, leaving more than 10 million Chinese dead, devastated the country. And memories of Japanese atrocities—biological warfare in Manchuria, the massacres and mass raping in Nanking, among other places—are still kept fresh in what’s called ‘patriotic education,'” writes Buruma.

He does note that it was not until the 1980s when the “memories of Japanese barbarism were deliberately stirred up” for political advantage.

According the Buruma, the irony is that the US, which has now “pivoted” to Asia, may be more of a hindrance. For decades China tolerated the US presence in the region “because the prospect of a more independent, fully rearmed, even nuclear Japan would be worse.”

Moving forward he argues a balance of power between China and Japan needs to be reached. Unless things change, he contends, the “arrangements made after World War II to create stability in the region will help to undermine it.”

Related Resources:
The Carnegie Endowment has released a report on the impact of China’s growing military on the future of US-Japanese relations.

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