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Reviewed by:
  • Sino-Japanese Relations: Interaction, Logic, and Transformation
  • Erik W. Esselstrom (bio)
Ming Wan. Sino-Japanese Relations: Interaction, Logic, and Transformation. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006. xvii, 477 pp. Hardcover $60.00, ISBN 0–8047– 5459–4.

The tension and anxiety that characterize relations between China and Japan today are certainly a matter of vital importance to observers of the contemporary regional political economy of East Asia. Anyone seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the most recent causes behind this crisis-prone relationship will gain immensely from reading Ming Wan’s fine book. This work is an exhaustive exploration of the social, political, and economic forces that have shaped Sino-Japanese relations since the normalization agreements of 1972 and particularly in the post-Tiananmen era. While the study generally offers more breadth of content than depth of analysis, it is a highly useful and valuable guide to comprehending the complicated issues that continue to foster bitter and divisive sentiments between Chinese and Japanese societies today.

After a brief introduction, part 1 features two chapters that lay out the broad patterns Wan locates in politics, security, economy, and culture. In charting statistical data related to such events as the frequency of visits by high-level officials, intensity of diplomatic disputes, and contours of bilateral security agreements, Wan plots a cyclical, but clearly downward, trend in the Sino-Japanese relationship since 1972. The trend in economic interaction, however, has been quite different. Japanese investment in China and the increasing interdependence of the two [End Page 254] national economies has only grown since the 1970s. Patterns in social interaction are a mixed bag of sorts. While the frequency of personal interactions through private travel and government exchange programs has increased, opinion polls reveal that people in both nations feel less affinity and more hostility for their neighbors now than at any other time in the postwar era.

Part 2 follows with five chapters that offer Wan’s explanations for the trends identified in part 1. After an overview of the objectives and approaches of both sides between 1972 and 1989, Wan turns more precisely to the 1990s. The author concludes astutely that what differentiates the post-1989 relationship from that shaped by the 1972 system is the shared aspiration of both states to attain genuine great power status in the post–Cold War world, which contributes to the intensity of their rivalry since Tiananmen. Some of Wan’s most thoughtful analysis comes in chapter 6, which explores the politics of identity formation in China and Japan during the 1990s and the ways in which each society often defines itself through reflection on the other. In fact, when the editors at China Review International asked me to review this book, I had just begun reading Zhenping Wang’s fascinating exploration of the formative centuries in early Sino-Japanese relations from the later Han dynasty until the mid-Tang dynasty.1 One of Wang’s most insightful conclusions in that book is that even as early as the third century c.e. the ruling elites of “China” and “Japan” consciously manipulated perceptions of their relationship with one another largely for the purpose of facilitating their respective grasps on the domestic societies they were striving to control. Ming Wan here helps us to see quite clearly that the same process is still at work in Sino-Japanese relations more than 1700 years later. In the case of China, for example, because the spectacular economic growth of the 1990s has made it impossible for the CCP to use communism as a legitimizing ideology, patriotic nationalism (a force often defined by its anti-Japanese rhetoric) has become ever more important for the party’s ability to maintain its stranglehold on political power. In Japan, Wan points out, today’s young Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Diet members have far less sense of guilt over Japan’s wartime conduct than most Japanese politicians of the 1960s and 1970s, and as such see no legitimate reason why Japan should continue to bow to Chinese pressure over issues such as history textbook revision. In this sense, then, a broadly defined conservatism in recent...