Chinese Foreign Relations: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

‘The further “rise” of China is likely to enhance the level of friction with its neighbours in Northeast Asia. Sino–Japanese rivalry is here to stay and little can actually be done to eliminate the actual source of distrust between the two.’

Sadly these words ring as true today as they did over seven years ago when they were first published in Politics. With the headlines dominated by the rise of ISIS and the war in Ukraine, it is perhaps easy to forget the deep-seated tensions that underlie the giants of Northeast Asia.
Territorial disputes surrounding the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and associated fishing rights and energy resources, close encounters between military planes, and US regional security alliances are only some of the issues which divide China and Japan. Public opinion polls indicate that approximately 90% of the public in each country have a negative impression of the other and nearly half that many in each country believe that military confrontation between the two is inevitable.
In many cases, Chinese foreign relations are defined by a sense of ruthless economic pragmatism. With Japan, however, politics and history take precedence. These issues are highlighted nicely in a special section run by Politics in 2007. It is well worth turning back to these articles to remind ourselves how little has changed in Northeast Asia and how much work remains to be done in order to change the narrative and improve relations. Importantly, these are topics which Politics will return to in 2015/16 with the publication of a special issue on ‘The Soft Power of Hard States’.

Michael Barr

Michael Barr

Michael Barr is a Senior Lecturer in International Politics with interests in narrative, autoethnography, and the rise of China.

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