April 24, 2012, Bridge Café (Wudaokou)
Speaker: Prof. Dr. GUI Yongtao 归泳涛, Associate Professor, School of International Studies, Peking University
Sino-Japanese relations have a long history. It is certainly a difficult relationship, mostly due to the Second World War. Whereas this surely still plays a role in explaining the mutual attitudes of Chinese and Japanese people and governments, Prof. Gui’s core message was that Sino-Japanese relations have undergone tremendous change due to the rise of China in world politics, especially the speed thereof. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, scholars and commentators first predicted the ‘collapse of China’ as part of the communist world. With the increasing economic and political importance of China, this prediction changed into a ‘China threat theory’. However, not just the US but also Japan felt a need to constructively engage with China, not least because China is now the biggest trading partner of Japan. This has led to a period of ‘strategic opportunity’ for China, especially in the 2000s.
Nevertheless, Prof. Gui explained that Japan is still uneasy about China’s increasing role in the world. International relations commentators, such as Robert D. Kaplan, predict a resistance of Chinese influence in East Asia, for instance by deepening relations with countries such as India or Vietnam. The reasons are mainly to be found in the mutual mistrust of the two states, notably at three levels: public opinion, domestic politics, and strategic environment. The latter is closely related to US-American relations with Japan and the role of the US in the Asia-Pacific region. When it comes to public opinion, Prof. Gui presented surprising results, such as that the Chinese view of Japan is actually more positive than vice-versa. Also the view of China in Japan was quite positive in the 80s and 90s and has only seen a sharp decline since 2003, mainly in connection with a debate about China taking over Japan’s place as ‘No. 1 in Asia’.
Still, the QnA after the speech focused on the critical public opinion in China about Japan and how to solve the resulting tensions. The length of the event, notably the QnA, underlines the vivid interest of the public in Sino-Japanese relations. We had to cut the QnA short with still many questions unanswered, since we had already used over 90 min of time.
Participants continued the debate during a very successful after-party at EATalia, where also a lot of new faces – people we had invited before the start of the speech – accompanied us.