temporarily deferred

People's Republic of China–Japan relations

China and Japan have had a long official and non-official relationship. China has strongly influenced Japan with its writing system, architecture, culture, religion, philosophy, law, and political and economic interaction. When Western countries forced Japan to open trading in the mid-nineteenth century, Japan moved towards modernization (Meiji Reformation), viewing China as an antiquated civilization, unable to defend itself against Western forces (Opium Wars and Anglo-French Expeditions from 1840s-1860s). Japan's long chain of invasions and war crimes in China between 1894 and 1945 as well as modern Japan's attitude towards its past are major issues affecting current and likely, future Sino-Japanese relations.


First evidences of Japan in Chinese historical records AD 0-300

The first mention of the Japanese Archipelago was in the Chinese historic text Book of Later Han, in the year 57, in which it was noted that the Emperor of the Han Dynasty gave a golden seal to Wa (Japan). The seal itself was discovered in northern Kyūshū in the eighteenth century. From then on Japan was repeatedly recorded in Chinese historical texts, at first sporadically, but eventually continuously as Japan matured into a notable power in the region.

There is a Chinese tradition that the first Chinese Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, sent several hundred people to Japan to search for medicines of immortality. During the third century, Chinese travelers reported that inhabitants of Japan claimed ancestry from Wu Taibo, a king of the Wu state (located in modern Jiangsu and Zhejiang) during the Warring States era. They recorded examples of Wu traditions including ritual teeth-pulling, tattooing and carrying babies on backs. Other records at the time show that Japan already had the same customs recognized today. These include clapping during prayers, eating from wooden trays and eating raw fish (also a traditional custom of Jiangsu and Zhejiang before pollution made this impractical). Kofun era traditions appear in the records as the ancient Japanese built earthen mound tombs.

The first Japanese personage mentioned by the Wei Dynasty is Himiko, the female shaman leader of a country with hundreds of states called Yamataikoku. Modern historical linguists believe Yamatai was actually pronounced Yamato.

Introduction of Chinese political system and culture AD 600-900

During the Sui Dynasty and Tang Dynasty, Japan sent many students on a limited number of Imperial embassies to China, to help establish its own footing as a sovereign nation in northeast Asia. After the fall of the Korean confederated kingdom of Baekje (with whom Japan was closely allied) to combined Tang and Silla forces, Japan was forced to seek out the Chinese state on its own, which in those times was a treacherous undertaking, thus limiting the successes of Japanese overseas contacts during this time.

Important elements brought back from China (and some which were transmitted through Baekje to Japan) included Buddhist teachings, Chinese customs and culture, bureaucracy, architecture and city planning. The capital city of Kyoto was planned according to Feng Shui elements from the Chinese capital of Chang'an. During the Heian period, Buddhism became one of the major religions, alongside Shinto.

The Chinese model of Imperial government did not last long in Japan. Its use ceased by the tenth century, overtaken by traditional Japanese clan and family rivalries (Soga-Mononobe, Taira-Minamoto).

First Sino-Japanese battle

In AD 663 the Battle of Baekgang took place, the first Sino-Japanese conflict in recorded history. The battle was part of the ancient relationships between the Korean Three Kingdoms (Samguk or Samhan), the Japanese Yamato, and Chinese dynasties. The battle itself came near the conclusion of this period with the fall of Baekje, one of the Samguk or three Korean kingdoms, coming on the heels of this battle.

The background of the battle involves Silla (one of the Korean kingdoms) trying to dominate the Korean Peninsula by forging an alliance with the Tang Dynasty, who were trying to defeat Koguryo, an ongoing conflict that dated back to the Sui Dynasty. At the time, Koguryo was allied to Baekje, the third major Korean kingdom. Baekje was also closely allied with the Yamato court (sharing blood lineage through King Muryeong, as well as through other Baekje and Yamato blood ties). Yamato Japan supported Baekje earnestly with 30,000 troops and sending Abe no Hirafu, a seasoned general who fought the Ainu in campaigns in eastern and northern Japan. As part of Silla's efforts to conquer Baekje, the battle of Baekgang was fought between Tang China, Baekje, Silla, and Yamato Japan.

The battle itself was a catastrophic defeat for the Yamato forces. Some 300 Yamato vessels were destroyed by a combined Silla-Tang fleet of half the number of ships, and thus the aid to Baekje from Yamato could not help on the land, having been defeated at sea. Baekje fell shortly thereafter, in the same year.

Once Baekje was defeated, both Silla and Tang focused on the more difficult opponent, Koguryo, and Koguryo fell in 668 AD. For the most part, Silla, having been rivals with Baekje, also was hostile to Yamato Japan, which was seen as a brother state to Baekje, and this policy continued (with one pause between roughly AD 670-730) after Silla united most of what is now Korea and repelled Tang China from what is now the Korean peninsula. Yamato Japan was left isolated for a time and found itself having to forge ties with mainland Asia on its own, having been obstructed in the most easiest pathway by a hostile Silla.

The prosperities of marine trading 600-1600

Marine trades between China and Japan are well recorded, and many Chinese artifacts could be excavated. Baekje and Silla sometimes played the role of middleman, while direct commercial links between China and Japan flourished.

After 663 (with the fall of allied Baekje) Japan had no choice (in the face of hostility from Silla, which was temporarily deferred in the face of Tang imperialism - as Tang imperialism posed a threat both to Japan and unified Silla - but resumed in after 730 or so) but to directly trade with the Chinese dynasties. At first the Japanese had little long-range seafaring expertise of their own but eventually (some suggest with the aid of Baekje expatriates who fled their country when it fell) the Japanese improved their naval prowess as well as the construction of their ships.

The ports of Ningbo and Hangzhou had the most direct trading links to Japan and had Japanese residents doing business. Besides Korea during the Korean Three Kingdoms period (i.e. roughly AD 300-670), the Ryukyu Islands, once subjugated by the Japanese crown, also served as a stopover for Sino-Japanese trading. Commodities included fine porcelain, sandalwood, tea and silk. As a result of the close proximity to China (especially Jiangsu and Zhejiang), Kyushu and Ryukyu Island traditions have Chinese influences in addition to influences from Baekje. Kagoshima and Okinawa cuisine have a dish called kakuni similar to Dong Po Rou or "Su Dongpo's Pork" from Hangzhou: stewed pork (with fat) in sugar, rice vinegar, ginger and soy sauce. Fried fish or meatballs (such as Satsuma age are also traditionally from Southern China (mainly Zhejiang and Fujian). Noodle dishes (such as Hakata Ramen) and clay-pot casseroles are also Chinese influences. Okinawan palaces and dress show Chinese color styles, which use red, green, blue and gold adorned with mythical animals as opposed to naturalistic and simplistic traditional Japanese designs.

Direct trade with China was limited by the Tokugawa Shogunate after 1633, when Japan decided to close all direct links with the foreign world. Some trading was conducted by the Shimazu clan of Satsuma province through the Ryukyu Islands. Significant trading between China and Japan did not resume until the twentieth century, well into the modern age.

Japanese piracy on China's coasts and Mongol invasions from China and Korea 1200-1600

Japanese pirates (or Wokou) were a constant problem, not only for China and Korea, but also for Japanese society, from the thirteenth century until Hideyoshi's failed invasions of Korea at the end of the sixteenth century. Japanese pirates were often from the undesirable parts of Japanese society, and the Japanese were just as happy to be (for the most part) rid of them as they were raiding more prosperous shores (at the time, Japan was ravaged by civil wars, and so while Korea, China, and the Mongol Empire were enjoying relative peace, prosperity, and wealth, the Japanese were upon hard times).

Wokou were also a major part of the reason why Kublai Khan of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty decided to invade Japan. Originally, Kublai Khan sent embassies to Hojo Tokimune (who was head of Japanese government) for the curtailment of Japanese piracy. Only after he received inadequate or disrespectful replies (one of the messengers was beheaded by the Japanese government) did Kublai Khan decide to send the Mongol Invasions of Japan. Fortunately for Japan, many of the invasion troops sabotaged the boats and the Kamikaze destroyed much of the fleets. The vast majority of the Mongol fleet that was destroyed was not built by Koreans or Chinese who had seafaring knowledge built up over centuries, nor was the part of the Mongol fleet captained by seasoned Korean or Chinese captains who knew the seas and turned back when it became clear that staying moored off of Kyushu was dangerous.

Japanese piracy intensified in the sixteenth century. In response, Ming Dynasty created a series of coastal forts and special troops to fight the marauders. A general renowned for fighting Japanese pirates is Qi Jiguang.

During Hideyoshi's invasions of 1592-96 and 1597-8, the Japanese used their pirates to help them in naval battles and transport, but were defeated by Korean admiral Yi Sun Shin's relatively small number of armored ships and turtle ships.

Ming Dynasty's involvement to defeat Hideyoshi's Korean invasions of 1592-1598

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was one of the three unifiers of Japan (Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Hideyasu were the others). After subduing the Mōri and Shimazu clans, Hideyoshi had the dream of eventually conquering China but needed to cross through Korea.

When Hideyoshi received refusals to his demands by Korea to cross the country to Ming Dynasty China, he invaded Korea. In the first year of invasion in 1592, the Japanese reached as far as Manchuria under Kato Kiyomasa and fought the Jianzhou Jurchens. King Seonjo requested aid from the Ming Dynasty, but since Japanese advances were so fast, only small Ming forces were initially committed. Konishi Yukinaga, who garrisoned in Pyongyang in winter 1592, first encountered and defeated a force of 5,000 Chinese soldiers. In 1593, greater Chinese participation under General Li Rusong with an army of 45,000 took Pyongyang with artillery and drove the Japanese to the south, but the Japanese counterattacked at Pyokjekwan.

As it turned out, the Japanese were unable to keep their supply lines clear and the Korean navy, under the command of Yi Sun-shin, was able to cut off supply lines between Japan and Korea frequently, eventually causing the Japanese forces in Korea to stall for lack of supplies. By 1593, it was clear to all that the Japanese forces would be unable to continue with their advance under the conditions, and the Japanese, for the most part, retreated into a few strongholds they still controlled on the Korean mainland.

After 1593, there was a truce of about four years. During that time, Ming granted Hideyoshi the title as "King of Japan" as withdrawal conditions, but Hideyoshi felt it insulted the Emperor of Japan and demanded concessions including the daughter of the Wanli emperor. Further relations soured and war reignited. The second invasion was far less successful for Hideyoshi. The Chinese and Koreans were much more prepared and quickly confined and besieged the Japanese in the south until they were finally driven to the sea and defeated by the great Korean admiral Yi Sun Shin. The invasion was a failure but severely damaged the Korean cities, culture and countryside with huge civilian casualties (the Japanese massacred civilians in captured Korean cities). The invasions also drained Ming China's treasury and left it weak against the Manchus, who eventually destroyed the Ming Dynasty and created the Qing Dynasty in 1644.

Afterwards, Japan, under the Tokugawa Shogunate adopted a policy of isolationism until forced open by Commodore Perry in the 1850s.

The Meiji Restoration, imperialism, wars and atrocities from 1868 to 1945

After the arrival of Commodore Perry and the forced opening of Japan to western trading, Japan realized it needed to modernize to avoid the humiliation of China during the Opium Wars. Anti-Tokugawa tozama (major clans who sided against Tokugawa Ieyasu during the battle of Sekigahara in 1600) from the Shimazu and Mori clans overthrew the bakufu during the Meiji Restoration and restored the Japanese Emperor as head of state. Afterwards, military and government positions were taken by Mori and Shimazu clan members who institutionalized rapid modernization, militarization and imperialism based on Western countries. The first countries to feel Japanese Imperialism were China and Korea.

Friction between China and Japan arose from Japan's control over the Ryukyu Islands from 1870, annexation of Taiwan after the First Sino-Japanese war of 1894. China was almost forced to cede more territory in Manchuria but was saved by Russian intervention. Despite this, China still paid a huge indemnity and relinquished Taiwan. During the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, Japanese troops beheaded and executed many Chinese civilians in Liaoning and Manchuria after capturing cities, such as Port Arthur, but treated Russian prisoners with respect. Japanese troops participated in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 and defeated the Boxers and Qing imperial troops. The Chinese were again forced to pay another huge indemnity to Japan, but Japan was pressured to accept much less by the U.S. Rivalries between the imperialist Western nations and Japan prevented China from being carved up into many colonies. During World War I, the Japanese attacked and occupied the German colony in Qingdao. The Japanese also issued the infamous Twenty-one Demands in 1915. After World War I, China felt betrayed by the Allied countries as China was an Allied nation but was forced to give territory in Shandong to Japan and accept the Twenty-one Demands. This culminated in the May Fourth Movement. However, Japanese imperialistic aims steadily increased over the 1920s, focusing on Manchuria.

In the beginning of the Showa era, the Japanese wanted to occupy Manchuria for its resources, but the powerful warlord, Zhang Zuolin stood in their way. His train was bombed by Japanese agents in 1928. In 1931, Japan fully occupied Manchuria and created a new state called Manchukoku (Manchukuo), after a series of incidents culminating in the Mukden Incident and came to full scale invasion of China in July 1937. Japan was soon able to gain control over all Chinese outlying territories.

The period between the Mukden Incident in 1931 and the official beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 involved constant regional armed resistance to Japanese advances in Manchuria and North China, and Nanjing's efforts in stopping further encroachments through diplomatic negotiations. This era was turbulent for the Nationalist government, as it was mired in a civil war with the Chinese Communists and maintained an uneasy truce with remnant warlords, who nominally aligned with Chiang Kai-shek, following the Northern Expedition. This period also saw the Nationalist government's pursuit in modernizing its National Revolutionary Army, through the assistance of Soviet, and later German, advisors.

The Japanese invaded Beijing after accusing Chinese troops of shooting at Marco Polo Bridge. This marked the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Chinese nationalist aircraft then bombed Japanese positions in Shanghai and marked the beginning of the Battle of Shanghai. The best equipped and German-trained nationalist troops fought to the death against the Japanese. The stubborn resistance caused about 122,000 Japanese to be killed or wounded. However, the Chinese expected Western support due to the heroism of the battle, and none arrived. Afterwards, the Japanese advanced and faced little resistance as the best Chinese troops were sacrificed in Shanghai. Angry Japanese troops, who didn't expect such a resistance, massacred Chinese prisoners of war (considered shameful by Japanese Bushido) and civilians over the course of two months during the Rape of Nanking. Actual numbers of killed vary according to Chinese or Japanese sources. Chinese sources accept 300,000 or more killed.

The war became a struggle of attrition after 1940 as major Chinese forces were exhausted. After US involved itself in World War II, the Chinese received more supplies, but Chiang Kai-Shek hoarded the money and weapons for himself to fight the communists after the Americans defeated Japan. Due to Chiang's selfishness and ineffective leadership, Japanese troops were able to make advances in China as late as 1944 and 1945 during Operation Ichi-Go. After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet invasion of Japanese occupied Manchuria during Operation August Storm, the Japanese finally surrendered.

The Republic of China (ROC) exercised belligerent occupation of Taiwan after Japan's unconditional surrender in 1945, following decision of the Allied Powers at the Cairo Conference in 1943. Thus when the ROC moved its central government to occupied Taiwan in December 1949, it became a government in exile. Later, no formal transfer of the territorial sovereignty of Taiwan to China was made in the post-war San Francisco Peace Treaty, and these arrangements were confirmed in the Treaty of Taipei concluded by the ROC and Japan in 1952. At the time, the Taiwan-based KMT government was recognized by Japan, not communist PR China. As such, the KMT did not accept Japanese reparations only in the name of the ROC government. Later, PR China also refused reparations in the 1970s. See more details in the section about World War II reparations and Maruyama Apology.


After the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, relations with Japan changed from hostility and an absence of contact to cordiality and extremely close cooperation in many fields. Japan was defeated and Japanese military power dismantled, but China continued to view Japan as a potential threat because of the United States presence there. One recurring PRC's concern in Sino-Japanese relations has been the potential remilitarization of Japan. On the other hand, some Japanese fear that the economic and military power of the PRC has been increasing.

The Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance included the provision that each side would protect the other from an attack by "Japan or any state allied with it," and China undoubtedly viewed with alarm Japan's role as the principal United States base during the Korean War. The security agreement between Japan and the United States signed in 1951 also heightened the discouragement of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Japan pushed dissension between the two countries even further by ending a peace treaty with China and establishing diplomatic relations with the Taiwanese government.

Like most western nations at the time, Japan continued to recognize the Republic of China government in Taipei as the sole legitimate Chinese government. Initially, neither country allowed its political differences to stand in the way of broadening unofficial contacts, and in the mid-1950s they exchanged an increasing number of cultural, labor, and business delegations.

Although all these things complicated the relationship between the two countries, the Chinese government orchestrated relations with Japanese non-governmental organizations through primarily the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA). The CPIFA would receive Japanese politicians from all parties, but the Japanese left-wing parties were more interested in the Chinese initiatives. In 1952, the Chinese Commission for the Promotion of International Trade was able to get a trade agreement signed by the Japanese Diet members. Liao Chengzi, the deputy of directors of the State Council’s Office of Foreign Affairs, was able to arrange many other agreements “such as the repatriation of Japanese prisoners of war with the Japanese Red Cross (1954), and the Fishery Agreement with the Japan-China Fishery Association (1955).” Although during this time, the relationship between the two countries were primarily non-official, the agreements were essential in bringing together a more amalgamated environment.

China began a policy of attempting to influence USA through trade, "people's diplomacy," contacts with Japanese opposition political parties, and through applying pressure on Tokyo to sever ties with Taipei. In 1958, however, China suspended its trade with Japan-- apparently convinced that trade concessions were ineffective in achieving political goals. Thereafter, in a plan for improving political relations, China requested that the Japanese government not be hostile toward it, not obstruct any effort to restore normal relations between itself and Japan, and not join in any conspiracy to create two Chinas. After the Sino-Soviet break, economic necessity caused China to reconsider and revitalize trade ties with Japan.

Trade resumes (1960s)

The Soviet Union suddenly withdrew Soviet experts from China in the 1960’s, which resulted in an economic dilemma for China. China was left with few options one of which was to have a more official relationship with Japan.

Tatsunosuke Takashi, member of the Liberal Democratic Party and of the Diet and Director of the Economic Planning Agency of the Japanese, went to China in order to sign a memorandum that would further the trade relations between the two countries, better known as the Liao-Takasaki Agreement. Under its terms, Chinese purchases of industrial plants were to be financed partly through medium-term credits from the Japan Export-Import Bank. The accord also permitted the PRC to open a trade mission in Tokyo and in 1963 paved the way for Japanese government approval of the export to mainland China of a synthetic textile manufacturing plant valued at around US$20 million, guaranteed by the bank. Subsequent protest from the ROC caused Japan to shelve further deferred-payment plant exports. The PRC reacted to this change by downgrading its Japan trade and intensified propaganda attacks against Japan as a "running dog" (Chinese:"走狗") of the United States.

Sino-Japanese ties declined again during the Cultural Revolution, and the decline was further exacerbated by Japan's growing strength and independence from the United States in the late 1960s. The PRC was especially concerned that Japan might remilitarize to compensate for the reduced United States military presence in Asia brought about under president Richard Nixon. As the turmoil subsided, however, the Japanese government already under pressure both from the pro-Beijing factions in the LDP and from opposition elements sought to adopt a more forward posture.

Official relations and friendship treaty (1970s)

In the early 1970s the U.S. officials shocked Japanese officials by developing a relationship with China. A new school of thought developed within Japan to consider having better relations with China. This strategy, which happened soon after the Cold War, “reflects the sense of uncertainty and anxiety among the Japanese about China’s future course, given the country’s sheer size and robust economic growth, as well as the fact that a considerable portion of the fruit of that growth is allocated for defense.” The Japanese soon followed the Americans' lead by also deciding to change its policies towards China. In December 1971, the Chinese and Japanese trade liaison offices began to discuss the possibility of restoring diplomatic trade relations. The retirement of Premier Sato in July 1972 and the arrival of Tanaka Kakuei paved the way for a change in Japanese-Chinese relations. The visit to Beijing of Japan's newly elected Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei, culminated in the signing of a joint statement (Joint Communiqué of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People's Republic of China) on September 29 1972 that ended nearly eighty years of enmity and friction between Japan and China, establishing diplomatic relations between the states. The negotiations consisted of 3 principles,

“On that occasion the Chinese negotiators tabled three principles as the basis for normalizing relations between the two countries: (a) the government of the People’s Republic is the sole representative and legal government of China; (b) Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People’s Republic; and (c) the treaty between Japan and Taiwan is illegal and invalid and should be abrogated.”

In this statement, Tokyo recognized the Beijing government over the Taipei government as the only legal government of China, stating at the same time that it understood and respected the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) position that Taiwan was a part of China. Japan had little leverage in the negotiations, because of China’s relations with the UN and the U.S. President Richard Nixon. But Japan’s most important issue was the continuation of its security arrangements with the United States, which China was implicit about condemning. The Chinese authorities surprised the Japanese by adopting a pacifying attitude on the issue of relations between Japan and the U.S. A compromise was attained on September 29 1972, which gives the impression that the Japanese agreed to most of China’s demands, including the Taiwan issue. This caused interaction between the two countries, in terms of trade, to grow rapidly: 28 Japanese and 30 Chinese economic and trade missions visited their partner country. Negotiations for a Sino-Japanese peace and friendship treaty also began in 1974 but soon encountered a political problem Japan wished to avoid. The PRC insisted on including in the treaty an anti-hegemony clause that was directed at the Soviet Union. Japan, wishing to not get involved in the Sino-Soviet confrontation, objected. The Soviet Union made clear that a Sino-Japanese treaty would prejudice Soviet-Japanese relations. Japanese efforts to reach a compromise with China over this issue failed, and the talks were broken off in September 1975. Matters remained at a standstill until political changes in China after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 brought to the fore front a leadership dedicated to modernizing the economy and was interested in accommodation with Japan, whose investment was essential. A changing climate of opinion in Japan that was more willing to ignore Soviet warnings and protests and accept the idea of anti-hegemony as an international principle also helped lay the foundation for new efforts to conclude the treaty.

In February 1978, a long-term private trade agreement led to an arrangement by which trade between Japan and China would increase to a level of US$20 billion by 1985, through exports from Japan of plants and equipment, technology, construction materials, and machine parts in return for coal and crude oil. This long-term plan, which gave rise to inflated expectations, proved overly ambitious and was drastically cut back the following year as the PRC was forced to reorder its development priorities and scale down its commitments. However, the signing of the agreement reflected the wish on both sides to improve relations. In April 1978, a dispute rising from the sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, a cluster of barren islets north of Taiwan and south of the Ryukyu Islands flared up and threatened to disrupt the developing momentum toward resuming peace treaty talks. Restraint on both sides led to a resolution. Talks on the peace treaty were resumed in July, and the agreement was reached in August on a compromise version of the anti-hegemony clause. The Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People's Republic of China was signed on August 12 and came into effect October 23 1978.

Development of complementary interests (1980s)

Sino-Japanese relations made considerable progress in the 1980s. In 1982, there was a serious political controversy over a revision of Japanese textbooks dealing with the history of imperial Japan's war against China in the 1930s and 1940s. Beijing also registered concern in 1983 about the reported shift in U.S. strategic emphasis in Asia, away from China and in favor of greater reliance on Japan, under Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro, warning anew against possible revival of Japanese militarism. By the mid-1983 Beijing had decided coincidentally with its decision to improve relations with the U.S. Reagan administration to solidify ties with Japan. The Communist Party of China general secretary Hu Yaobang visited Japan in November 1983, and prime minister Nakasone reciprocated by visiting China in March 1984. While Japanese enthusiasm for the Chinese market reached highs and lows, broad strategic considerations in the 1980s steadied Tokyo's policy toward Beijing. In fact, Japan's heavy involvement in China's economic modernization reflected in part a determination to encourage peaceful domestic development in China, to draw China into gradually expanding links with Japan and the West, to reduce China's interest in returning to its more provocative foreign policies of the past, and to obstruct any Sino-Soviet realignment against Japan. Many of Japan's concerns about the Soviet Union duplicated China's worries. They included the increased deployment in East Asia of Soviet armaments, the growth of the Soviet Pacific fleet, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the potential threat it posed to Persian Gulf oil supply routes, and an increased Soviet military presence in Vietnam. In response, Japan and China adopted notable complementary foreign policies, designed to isolate the Soviet Union and its allies politically and to promote regional stability. In Southeast Asia, both countries provided strong diplomatic backing for the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to bring about a Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia. Japan cut off all economic aid to Vietnam and provided substantial economic assistance to Thailand to help with resettling Indochinese refugees. The PRC was a key supporter of Thailand and of the Cambodian resistance groups. In Southwest Asia, both nations backed the condemnation of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan; they refused to recognize the Soviet-backed Kabul regime, and sought through diplomatic and economic means to bolster Pakistan. In Northeast Asia, Japan and China sought to moderate the behavior of their Korean partners South Korea and North Korea to reduce tensions. In 1983 both the PRC and Japan strongly criticized the Soviet proposal to redeploy some of their armaments to Asia.

Japan encountered a number of episodes of friction with the PRC during the rest of the 1980s. In late 1985, Chinese officials complained harshly about Prime Minister Nakasone's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan's war criminals. Economic issues centered on Chinese complaints that the influx of Japanese products into China had produced a serious trade deficit for China. Nakasone and other Japanese leaders were able to reduce these official concerns during visits to Beijing and in other talks with Chinese officials. They assured the Chinese of Japan's continued large-scale development and commercial assistance. At the popular level in China, it was not easy to allay concerns. Student led demonstrations against Japan, on the one hand, helped reinforce Chinese officials' warnings to their Japanese counterparts. On the other hand, it was more difficult to change popular opinion in China than it was to change the opinions of the Chinese officials. Meanwhile, the removal of party Chief Hu Yaobang in 1987 was detrimental to smooth Sino-Japanese relations because Hu had built personal relationships with Nakasone and other Japanese leaders. The PRC government's harsh crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in the spring of 1989 caused Japanese policymakers to realize that the new situation in China was extremely delicate and required careful handling to avoid Japanese actions that would push China further away from reforms. Beijing leaders reportedly judged at first that the industrialized countries would relatively quickly resume normal business with the PRC after a brief period of complaint over the Tiananmen Square Incident. When that did not happen, the PRC officials made strong suggestions to Japanese officials that they break from most industrialized nations by pursuing normal economic intercourse with the PRC, consistent with Tokyo's long-term interests in mainland China. Japanese leaders like West European and United States leaders were careful not to isolate China and continued trade and other relations generally consistent with the policies of other industrialized democracies. But they also followed the United States lead in limiting economic relations to the PRC.


Japan had been investing in China during the early 1990s, and trade decreased during the late 1990s, but resurged at the millennium. The resurgence might have been because of the prospect of China becoming a part of the World Trade Organization (WTO). “By 2001 China’s international trade was the sixth-largest in the world” and over the next several years it is expected to be just under Japan, the fourth largest.


Today, Japan is beginning to invest in China less; a growing movement to cease Official development assistance support is beginning to flourish within the Japanese public. Many argue Japan should cease aid to China for two major reasons: First, giving China economic assistance effectively subsidizes China's military buildup, which increasingly is becoming a threat to Japan’s security. Second, China gives assistance to many other developing countries, particularly in Africa, and there is no need to assist any country that can afford to assist others.

Many arguing against cutting developmental on support to China note that by aiding China, the Chinese government is more likely to play by the rules of the international system, and that aid is an atonement for Japan's pre-war and World War II damage.

Tension erupted periodically, however, over trade and technology issues, Chinese concern over potential Japanese military resurgence, and controversy regarding Japan's relations with Taiwan. In early 2005, Japan and the United States had issued a joint declaration calling for a "peaceful solution" to the Taiwan issue, a declaration which angered the PRC, which protested the interference in its internal affairs.

In May 2008, Hu Jintao was the first Chinese President in over a decade to go to Japan on an official State visit, and called for increased "co-operation" between the two countries. A joint statement by President Hu and Japanese prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda read: "The two nations agreed that Japan and China both share larger responsibilities for the world's peace and development in the 21st century.

Modern "Big Three" Controversies: Yasukuni Shrine visits, history textbooks, and Rape of Nanking

China joined other Asian countries, such as South Korea, North Korea, and Singapore, in criticizing Japanese history textbooks that whiten Japanese war crimes in World War II, claiming that the distortion was evidence of the rise of militarism in Japanese politics. Much anti-Japanese sentiment has risen in China because of Japanese history textbooks. This has been exacerbated by burgeoning feelings of Chinese nationalism and former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto shrine that honors war dead including 14 Class A war criminals. There also remains the dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which has resulted in clashes between Chinese protesters and the Japanese government. The latest disputes, in April 2005, have led to anti-Japanese protests and sporadic violence across China, from Beijing to Shanghai, later Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shenyang. Although Koizumi openly declared in a statement made on April 22, 2005 in Jakarta "deep remorse" over Japan's wartime crimes (the latest in a series of apologies spanning several decades), many Chinese observers regard the apology as insufficient and not backed up by sincere action, with more than 80 Parliament members and a Cabinet minister making a pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine just hours earlier.

Furthermore, China and Japan continually debate over the actual numbers killed in the Rape of Nanking. China allege at least 300,000 civilians were murdered while Japan argues it to be far less. Some question if the Rape of Nanking even occurred; a Japanese-produced documentary film released just prior to the sixtieth anniversary of the massacre, titled The Truth about Nanjing, denies that any such atrocities took place. These disputes have stirred up enmity against Japan from the global Chinese community, including Taiwan. There is a Japanese newspaper article from 1937 that reports a murdering contest between two Japanese officers who killed more than 200 Chinese civilians combined. Both soldiers survived the war and were executed by the Chinese government after extradition.

Japan's Compensation

One of the many factors contributing to the bankruptcy of the Qing government was the requirement for the payment of war reparations. During the Qing dynasty, the Chinese continually paid huge amounts of silver to Western powers including Japan. Japan was a recipient of compensation as a result of the outcome of many treaties, including the Sino-Japan Amity Treaty, Treaty of Shimonoseki, the Treaty of 1901, and Liaodong Return Treaty.

After the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95, according to the Chinese scholar, Jin Xide, the Qing government paid a total of 340,000,000 taels of silver to Japan for both reparations and "booty", equivalent to (then) 510,000,000 Japanese yen, or about 6.4 times the annual revenue of the government of Japan. Similarly, the Japanese scholar, Ryoko Iechika, calculated that the Qing government paid total $21,000,000 (about one third of revenue of the Qing government) in war reparations to Japan, or about 320,000,000 Japanese yen, equivalent to (then) two and half years of Japanese government revenue. The payments from the Qing government were used by Japan for expansion of its Navy (38.2% of the payment), ad hoc military expenditures (21.6%), direct expansion of the Army (15.6%), and development of Naval battleships (8.2%).

On 3 September 1995, Jiang Zemin, the core-leader of the third generation of the CCP, states, “China suffered economy loses directly about $100,000,000,000 and about $500,000,000,000 indirectly by the Japanese military invasion" (Iechika 2003, p. 18). Given these facts, when Japan normalized relations with Taiwan, Jiang Jieshi (or Chiang Kai-shek) waived reparations for the Second World War. Similarly, when Japan normalized relations with mainland China in 1972, Mao Zedong waived Japan’s reparations for WWII (see Article 5 of Sino-Japanese Joint Statement in 1972). According a Japanese Sinologist calculation Japan would have to pay 52 trillion yen (note: Today's Japanese annual budget (2006 data) is about 80 trillion yen (about 40 trillion yen tax revenue + 40 trillion yen "red" national debts), with Japan’s GDP about 9.4 trillion yen in 1971. However, when the Qing dynasty lost the war in 1894-95 and Boxer Rebellion in 1900, According to Yabuki Susumu, China paid a total 289,540,000 taels (1 tael = 38 grams or 1 ⅓ ounces) of silver to Japan, despite the weak economy of the Qing dynasty. Even though Japan had great economic power in 1972 (GNP $300 billion), Japan did not pay any money to China for the war. War reparations are a constant thorn aggravating Sino-Japanese relations today.

Despite the Japanese Prime Minister's apology on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the war's end for Japanese crimes during the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, many Chinese feel there is a lack of true remorse for the wartime crimes. This has been reinforced by Japanese Prime Ministers' continued visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a symbol of Japan's past fanaticsm and militarism. Current Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, however, has vowed never to visit the Shrine while in power.


  • Hunt, Michael H. (1996). The Genesis of Chinese Communist Foreign Policy. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10311-5.
  • Stegewerns, Dick (Ed.) (2003). Nationalism and Internationalism in Imperial Japan. New York: RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 0-203-98905-8.
  • Jian, Sanqiang (1996). Foreign Policy Restructuring as Adaptive Behavior: China’s Independent Foreign Policy 1982-1989. Maryland: University Press of America.

Further reading

  • Hunt, Michael H. (1996). The Genesis of Chinese Communist Foreign Policy. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Iechika, Ryoko. (2003). Nitchu Kankei no Kihon Kozo [The Fundamental Structure of Sino-Japanese Relations]. Tokyo: Koyo Shobo.
  • Kawashima, Yutaka. (2003). Japanese Foreign Policy at the Crossroads: Challenges and Options for the Twenty-First Century. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
  • Barnouin, Barbara and Yu Changgen. (1998). Chinese Foreign Policy During the Cultural Revolution. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Stegewerns, Dick (Ed.). (2003). Nationalism and Internationalism in Imperial Japan. New York: RoutledgeCurzon.
  • Jian, Sanqiang. (1996). Foreign Policy Restructuring as Adaptive Behavior: China’s Independent Foreign Policy 1982-1989. Maryland: University Press of America.
  • Jin, Xide. (2004) 21 Seiki no Nitchu Kankei [21st Century of Sino-Japanese Relations]. Tokyo: Nihon Chohosha.
  • Yabuki, Susumu. (1988). Posuto Toshohei [After Deng Xiaoping]. Tokyo: Sososha.
  • "China & Japan: Rival giants", BBC, May 7, 2008. An overview of Sino-Japanese relations, including historical background and current key issues.

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