Risks to the Japan-China ‘Tactical Detente’

Risks to the Japan-China ‘Tactical Detente’

Devin Stewart

Security, Asia

Reuters

Long-standing tensions between China and Japan thus could reemerge and threaten the current detente. One area of risk that gets less attention is China’s influence operations, which can spark a backlash in Japan and throw relations back off track.

Japan is preparing for Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s spring 2020 state visit, which will serve as a litmus test of the historically fraught bilateral relationship. The meeting could produce a signed “fifth political document” defining the relationship. While Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is known as a China hawk, he has been taking a pragmatic approach toward Japan’s neighbor since the nadir in the relationship in 2012. Over the past two years, China and Japan have established a superficial “tactical detente” or “new start” to hedge against the uncertainty from the U.S. trade war with China. Oddly, President Donald Trump’s unpredictability has worked to reduce some tensions in Asia as big rivals seek to reduce risk. Meanwhile, Japan and the United States have switched their positions on China with the United States growing more hawkish, creating anxiety in Japan about being out of sync with its ally. Long-standing tensions between China and Japan thus could reemerge and threaten the current detente. One area of risk that gets less attention is China’s influence operations, which can spark a backlash in Japan and throw relations back off track.

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