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  • "China and Japan and their Region"
  • Edward Friedman (bio)
Ezra F. Vogel. China and Japan: Facing History. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2019. x, 523 pp. Hardcover $39.95. isbn 978-0-674-91657-9.

Regions differ. There are more than twice as many Vietnamese as all the people of the entire Caribbean. China attempting to dominate a maritime Asia full of major powers such as Japan therefore is not the same as America in the early twentieth century dominating the Caribbean where little Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic are the biggest states. Japanese national identity, according to June Dreyer's brilliant and illuminating history of China–Japan relations,1 requires Japan to preserve its dignity and independence by not submitting to subordination to China. Japan, the world's third largest economy, actually, wants more. It seeks to rival China for influence in the region.

In contrast, no Caribbean nation can even imagine rivaling the United States. Yet Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders, wishing to copy America's global rise, imagine regional dominance, as with America and the Caribbean, as the prelude to the CCP state's global centrality. A key question then is what happens when regional nations, for example, Pakistan versus India, Ukraine versus Russia, Tonga and Fiji versus Australia, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam versus China, or even little Cuba versus the superpower United States, resist a would-be regional hegemon, in our case, Japan versus China. Regional resistance to a would-be hegemon is pervasive.

It would be a catastrophe if the CCP state's attempt to dominate Japan and the region led to a major military conflict. Ezra Vogel's book is a well-written and well-informed effort to contribute to the noble purpose of avoiding such a regional war. He offers, in place of a history where conflict pervades the relationship, a narrative in which the two people have done best when they have cooperated with each other, as "from 600 to 838 when Japan borrowed . . . from China, and from 1905 to 1937 and 1978 through the 1990's, when China borrowed from Japan" (p. 412). Vogel vividly describes these three periods as well as the long history of China and Japan in general. His important book is also a wonderful read.

Vogel is surely correct that the national narrative of China's chauvinistic rulers omits times of China–Japan cooperation. Yet, even Vogel ignores some periods of Japan's cooperation with Chinese. In the Meiji era, Sun Yat-sen's anti-Manchu rebels cooperated with Japan at a time when the Qing Empire of Manchu militarism was aligned with an expansionist Tsarist Russia. China joining with Russia worried Japanese ruling groups. They sought a partner in [End Page 228] Sun Yat-sen. Another China/Japan entente that Vogel does not discuss was a Mao era quest for cooperation with democratic Japan from 1971 to 1981 as part of a global CCP united front policy against Soviet Russian expansionism. In these two instances of cooperation of Japan with Sun and Mao, the political source of alignment was a perceived need of both sides to join against a common threat, Russia.

But, military superpower Soviet Russia imploded in 1991, leaving behind a much-weakened Russia. The CCP state's military then could change its focus from a now militarily secure continental Asia, no longer occupied by USSR troops, to maritime Asia. It could promote the People's Republic of China (PRC) maritime expansion. Whatever Japan's continuing problems with Russia occupying Japan's four northernmost islands, the immediate threat to Japan's territorial integrity became an ambitious CCP state. In the post-Soviet era, Russia and China became partners. There no longer was a common Russian enemy of both Beijing and Tokyo to provide a solid basis for deep cooperation and peace between China and Japan. This is not a lesson that Vogel draws from his magnificent study of China–Japan relations.

Regions change. China–Japan relations require contextualization. An imperial era Confucian East Asia of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam is without substance in an age where market imperatives and technological capabilities place China and Japan in the Indo...


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