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In Session: Democratization, Nationalism, and Reconciliation in East Asia: Challenges to Reconciliation Study
1: Challenges in Japan’s Bilateral Relations in the Regional Context
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Middlebury Institute of International Studies, United States
Japan’s multiple conflicts with its East Asian neighbors are rooted in the prewar and wartime history of the regional relations concerned. Ideally, resolution of these conflicts requires a common understanding among the parties about the historical facts, causes, and consequences of those conflicts but, at a minimum, recognition of the need to resolve the conflicts peacefully for the future benefit of all concerned. Unfortunately, the moral, legal, and political implications of the conflicts are exceedingly complex and the national perspectives on them have been mutually irreconcilable and continue to frustrate attempts at reconciliation. Contemporary political dynamics in and between the nations also compound the situation. This paper discusses the main factors behind Japan’s strained relations with China and ROK at four levels of analysis: the individual level (i.e., Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his nationalist beliefs and revisionist view of modern Japanese history); the domestic level (i.e., the political context characterized by a succession of weak leaderships (until Abe’s premiership) and growing nationalist sentiment among the public and their largely negative attitudes toward China and Korea; the bilateral level (i.e., Japan’s contentious relations with China and Korea); and the regional level (i.e., the changing balance of power relations in East Asia, particularly the rise of China and the uncertain but indispensable military role of the United States, complicated by the deeply integrated economies of East Asian countries). The paper then proposes some principles to guide Japan’s regional relations with a view toward ameliorating the existing tensions.