- Soft Power in Japan-China Relations: State, Sub-state and Non-state Relations
The complex and tricky relationship between Japan and China is extremely important for the future of Asia. For this reason, research on this topic has increased tremendously in recent years. With the growing Chinese economy and a more outward-oriented China taking an active part in international relations, the power balance has changed, and this is affecting politics. Some researchers have focused on the trilateral relationship among the United States, Japan, and China. There are also numerous studies in Japanese, Chinese, and English on the bilateral relationship between Japan and China using various theoretical perspectives such as realism, neorealism, liberalism, and constructivism. Often they focus on a specific issue in the relationship such as memories from the war, textbook issues, or territorial disputes.
Utpal Vyas furthers our understanding of the Japanese-Chinese relationship by using the concept of “soft power” (that is, the ability to obtain what you want through option and attraction) as developed in the 1990s by Joseph Nye and then further developed in his 2004 book.1 It quickly becomes obvious that the research in Vyas’s book is not about “soft power” in Japan-China relations in general, as the title indicates, but about Japanese soft power and how it is used to influence developments in China as well as in Japanese-Chinese relations. Due to constitutional restraints, Japan does [End Page 178] not have a military force that it can send abroad to enforce its will and has had to look for other ways of securing its position in international society. The exercise of soft power has been one means, and Japan is considered to possess such power to a considerable degree. Today Japan ranks first in the world in the number of patents registered, third in expenditure on research and development as a share of GDP, second in book sales and music sales, and highest for life expectancy. The long economic slowdown of the 1990s tarnished Japan’s reputation in the field of economic development. It did not, however, affect Japan’s global cultural influence, which has been constantly growing in the field of cartoons and animated films, fashion, food, and pop music as well as the games industry.
Although this does not exactly translate into stronger state power, Japan has been an important norm setter, particularly in Asia. Vyas argues that in recognition of the increased complexity of global society, when so many factors not controlled by the state can lead to changes in international relations, constructivist theories must be used. He uses such tools combined with the concept of soft power and argues that this is particularly relevant for the Japanese-Chinese relationship not only during the postwar era when there were no official relations between the two countries but also more recently when lack of good relations has often led to official contacts being suspended. In such a situation, it is important to highlight aspects of communication and links that provide an alternative perspective to conventional contacts. Vyas claims that, while politicians and their official statements are relevant to international relations, they are not necessarily more important than many other actors that also influence international relations. Thus, he wants to contribute to international relations theory by studying such actors. He does this by presenting case studies on three different levels of actors: a state agent (the Japan Foundation), a substate agent (Kobe City), and a nonstate agent (the Japan-China Friendship Association). After a chapter explaining what soft power is and how it functions, and another about Japan’s political and cultural relations with China, we come to these three case studies of how Japanese soft power has been applied in its relations with China.
The choice of the Japan Foundation as a case study of a state-level agent must be questioned as many more important state-level agents are drivers of Japanese soft power. Some of the aid agencies would have been excellent examples with much...