U.S. washes its hands of ‘poisonous’ China-Japan relationship

It’s clear that China-Japan relations are in a truly desperate state these days – and doesn’t look like improving anytime soon, if ever. China and South Korea have both taken a very hardline stance over, for example, the Yakasuni Shrine visits and it looks likely that Koizumi will be succeeded by an even more right-wing leader in the future.

It’s no surprise then, that Mr. Cui Tiankai, the head of the Chinese foreign ministryโ€™s Asian affairs department, recently said that it was “impossible” for Premier Wen Jiabao to meet with Prime Minister Koizumi at the next ASEAN summit in December. Not only will a China-South Korea-Japan summit not take place for the first time in 6 years, but the rift is also making it almost impossible to set an agenda for the larger ASEAN meeting. The same goes for the ongoing territorial disputes involving oil and gas deposits in the East China Sea.

Despite the fact that relations between Asia’s 3 largest economies are clearly undermining broader regional co-operation, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Mr. Tom Schieffer, also said yesterday that the U.S. was intending to ‘wash its hands’ of the poisonous China-Japan relationship, telling the two countries to sort it out between themselves:

“We are not the last arbiter of every dispute. I don’t think we have a direct role to play but the U.S. hopes that Japan and China can work out their differences. It’s important to the whole region that people get along out here. One of the reasons (the U.S.-Japan relationship) is extraordinary is that we were able to put our differences in the past behind us. We were able look forward. Sixty years is a long time and history didn’t stop 60 years ago, history has continued. And in that 60 years Japan has been a model international citizen people should take that into account when they try to resolve this whole historical issue.”

Although many people might agree with ambassador Schieffer’s comments, the chances of China and Japan sorting out anything remains remote. It’s also arguable that the current China-Japan rift provides the U.S. with it’s very own ‘Great Britain in Asia’ by pushing Japan even more closely to the U.S.

This was almost certainly why the ambassador described U.S. foreign policy in Asia as “the untold success story of the Bush Administration”. Pointing to the growing strategic trilateral relationship between the U.S., Japan and Australia that will almost certainly become a ‘linchpin of regional security’. It will also be interesting to see just how closely Taiwan will fit into this relationship. While many might baulk at the above quote about U.S. foreign policy in Asia, it’s fair to say that the U.S. is enjoying considerably more diplomatic success in Asia than the rest of the world.

The Discussion: 41 Comments

The US position on this is no surprise. There’s no chance in hell the Bush administration is going to support China at the risk of damaging their relationship with Japan. They won’t support Japan because they don’t want to piss off China AND, at least this is my hope, they see that China isn’t in the wrong here. It’s a simple decision to do nothing.

November 30, 2005 @ 9:22 am | Comment

China isn’t in the wrong because China hasn’t actually done anything yet. If china continues to support nationalistic racism they may be pressed in the future to actually put their money where their mouth is, and do something awful. Which will be wrong.

Japan, on the other hand, hasn’t done anything wrong (in the last 40 years) and won’t do anything wrong in the future.

china is a powderkeg. Japan is a progressive turtle.

November 30, 2005 @ 10:45 am | Comment

Right, so I understand that my last comment was a bit insensitive, in terms of Yasukuni. But isn’t paying respects to war-dead an internal issue?

Regardless, I pay no attention to the amount of respect that should be given “internal issues” and I’m pretty critical of the Yasukuni shrine visits. That being said, I stand by my “progressive turtle” statement.

November 30, 2005 @ 11:02 am | Comment

Why would the US get involved in such a matter? I think that Hu probably lost some diplomatic credit in essentially begging Dubbya to step in.

November 30, 2005 @ 11:35 am | Comment

it’s fair to say that the U.S. is enjoying considerably more diplomatic success in Asia than the rest of the world.

Oh, so it’s better than “abysmal”. Great!

November 30, 2005 @ 12:08 pm | Comment

It surprises me that the US is wavering between Japan and China. Wavering between Japan and China is an analogy to wavering between democracy and civilized world and murder and dictatorship. If US is doing this for strategic reasons, then I would understand. But it is also worth noting that no gov’t who were friendly with China ended up well in history.

Until China becomes a democracy, supporting the Chinese means supporting dictatorship, supporting murder, and most importantly supporting terrorism (the Washington Times has reported many times that China has been funding Bin Laden for years, as a way to “play against” the US).

I don’t understand why the Yasukuni Shrine is an issue. Perhaps this is new to the Chinese: but in a democratic society, you are guaranteed rights to say and like whoever you choose (other than terrorism), and won’t be shot for that. You may agree or disagree with the Japanese Prime Minister’s visits to the shrine, but it is his right to do so, and that’s the end of it. Anyone who complains should take a class in Democracy 101.

Also, honoring a country’s war heroes is a normal thing to do in any country. Regardless of what war it is for, the soldiers are heroes to gave their lives. This is call “Memorial”. Are the Chinese saying that the US should remove the Vietnam War Memorial or the Korean War Memorial?

Also, the Chinese murdered tens of millions of their own people in successive movements like the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Massacre. So who are they to take the moral highground and accuse anyone?

November 30, 2005 @ 1:22 pm | Comment

Bush just said on TV,and I quote:

“America is a weak and unreliable ally”


“America will cut and run and abandon it’s friends.”

I kid you not people, he’s speaking da troot.

November 30, 2005 @ 1:30 pm | Comment

“but in a democratic society, you are guaranteed rights to say ”

It is a crap to use speech freedom to justify prime minister’s shrine visit. Someone actually write a long passage for this kind of argument. Unbelieveable.

Shrine visit will not damage China one bit. I wish the line to visit shine grows each year, and make it a show like Macy’s parade. I wish Japan to re-write WWII history as self-defense. In that case, the bombing of Tokyo is a pure barbarism. Is that wonderful?

November 30, 2005 @ 4:21 pm | Comment

Laowai said, “China isn’t in the wrong because China hasn’t actually done anything yet.”

Seems you have one of the prophets in “Minority Reports” ๐Ÿ™‚

Raj said “Why would the US get involved in such a matter? I think that Hu probably lost some diplomatic credit in essentially begging Dubbya to step in.”

I agree with your first sentence that US is right in washing its hand. But I have explained Hu’s request in my post. It is to prove that China sincerely wants Japan to not do something, and that it is not using this as an excuse to hate (as many of the commentators here have chosen to believe)


November 30, 2005 @ 4:45 pm | Comment

Sun Bin, I may be lecturing to an american born person, I don’t know, but “yet” doesn’t really mean that it will happen. There is the implication that it could in the future happen, but it doesn’t overly emphasise it’s probability.

In all truthfulness, I don’t think China will do anything awful to Japan on a country to country basis. I think there will be an undercurrent of racism and hate for a while, then when Chinese people get rich and well educated and more international they’ll probably stop. At which point they’ll be better off than the Japanese, who are rich and well educated but not very international, and therefore are can come off as being culturally insensitive, snobby and insular.

Anyway, here’s to a peaceful rise, let’s all fricking hope that it is, in fact, peaceful.

November 30, 2005 @ 5:10 pm | Comment

Steve, this year he didn’t attend as prime minister. while I think this is a somewhat moot point, and I think you’ll agree.

While I do think freedom of speech is important, I’m not really against what Germany has done to limit certain freedoms of speech when it leads to racially biased violence. I think Japan is kind of in the same boat, except Japanese ascendency to aggression was very different than Germany’s and Japan will not ever let those people ascend again, just like Germany is limiting Neo-Nazis. Japan has a different motive though, in the sense that Germans truly believe that they were wrong, whereas Japan just is much more pacifistic now, probably more than just about any other nation. Except Canada, perhaps.

November 30, 2005 @ 5:16 pm | Comment


i think your elaborated assessment is fair enough. ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks.

it is natural to be suspicious when you do not understand someone. it is the same reason china is suspicious of japan.
the chinese who had studied in japan have a more rational view (if you can read Chinese), i can show you the link to some of the discussion from these people.

November 30, 2005 @ 5:24 pm | Comment

Ummm … did nobody here notice that the US is actually backing the Japanese position here? Have you all got carried away by the headline?

It’s NOT stepping away from the problem … it’s saying “time to move on, and forget about the past.” That is the JAPANESE position in the dispute.

November 30, 2005 @ 5:36 pm | Comment

I don’t think it is US foreign policy as a success so much as everyone is waking up to the fact that China wants to be a regional hegemon. The US is just benefiting from the fact that it is the only other game in town.


November 30, 2005 @ 7:03 pm | Comment

oh, haven’t you heard, china said it would never be a hegemon (chengba)? As always, I’m ready to take China’s word for it! ๐Ÿ™‚

November 30, 2005 @ 7:52 pm | Comment

Lots of good points. FS9 is right when he says the US is endorsing the Japanese position.
“Honoring a country’s war heroes is a normal thing to do in any country.”
Not in Germany for either world war where families have no public memorial to honour their losses. Not in the Republic of Ireland where those who fought in the Great War, Napoleonic campaigns or others are erased from history. Not in Spain or Greece. Such a simplistic and ill-thought out assertion discredits any other argument you make.
I don’t believe that freedom of speech permits its users to do whatever they want such as is the case with Holocaust deniers. To equate the Yasakuni shrine with the Vietnam memorial where the remains of Nixon or Westmoreland or actual COMMANDERS are interred is ridiculous.

November 30, 2005 @ 9:03 pm | Comment

Daily linklets 1st December

For World AIDS Day, the cover-up in Henan. As I said a couple of days ago, AIDS/HIV is the killer virus already in China. Start worrying more about that and less about bird flu. Fons reports on Shanghai's first AIDS themed restaurant. Does society…

November 30, 2005 @ 10:21 pm | Comment

Sun Bin, I would VERY MUCH like to see those links. I’m going to Beijing soon and would like to get in contact with interesting academics while I’m there.

December 1, 2005 @ 12:33 am | Comment


this is one for chinese living in japan. many students and ex-pats.


December 1, 2005 @ 12:59 am | Comment

In light of the thousands of innocent civilians raped and murdered by Russian troops in Berlin in 1945, perhaps the new chancellor should have the Russian war memorials at Treptow and in the Tiergarten demolished, and refuse to have anything to do with Russia or other former members of the Soviet Union?

Israelis certainly shouldn’t have any contact with Germans or Austrians. And as for Britain and France, well …

December 1, 2005 @ 7:14 am | Comment



Germans did more than its share in apologizing and regretting to Jews.

As for Russian astrocity, Hitler is the one to be blamed, even though that does not justify the wrongs of the Red Army.

December 1, 2005 @ 2:02 pm | Comment

i thought there was a shrine to honour Himmler in Berlin…? no? that must be the mirror universe earth.

December 1, 2005 @ 3:47 pm | Comment

Michael. Thurton,

——————–I don’t think it is US foreign policy as a success so much as everyone is waking up to the fact that China wants to be a regional hegemon. The US is just benefiting from the fact that it is the only other game in town.

Dream on,


oh those damn frenchie eh, but what did u brethrens say about u,






jeeze, there are tons of it, anyway I gotta go now, see ya quite later,
Kevin u have got mail.

December 1, 2005 @ 10:51 pm | Comment

You mean Japan want to be the hedgemony in Asia? The Chinese would have no interest in becoming a hedgemony. All China wants is to become a better off country so that the 1.3 billion people can have a decent life! Its going to take China another 40 years to attain a decent living standard that the developed countries enjoy at the moment.
The Chinese race has no desire to spend their energy on wars they jsut want to get a better life. However it seems that some countries/races want to keep the Chinese pinned down for the next millenium!

December 2, 2005 @ 12:03 am | Comment

Sun Bin:

Sorry, I left the end off my comment:



December 2, 2005 @ 8:50 am | Comment


December 2, 2005 @ 3:42 pm | Comment

‘Its going to take China another 40 years to attain a decent living standard that the developed countries enjoy at the moment.’

this will nver, ever happen. are you kidding me? the average chinese farmer having a car, a house, and a carpeted living room? give your head a shake boy. it will be more than forty years before the average chinese has anything better than a concrete floor, and a hard bed.

December 2, 2005 @ 6:29 pm | Comment

See, I don’t know. My family on my father’s side, who’d lived by farming in their “xian cheng” (town) for generations, have seen their living standards greatly improved in the last, oh, ten years. Lately my uncles built a two-story house for my grandparents to reside in comfortably in their old age (not carpeted, though), and each of my uncle’s families have had their own apartment and car for quite a while now.

So I’m not convinced that the story of the “average” Chinese is doomed to be one of abject poverty.

December 2, 2005 @ 11:17 pm | Comment


they will be doomed for another century, if the right wing in japan and US are successful in convincing the world that china’s effort to remove poverty is one for world domination, and in waging a war against china.
fortunately and hopefully people in the world are a lot smarter today than 70 years ago.

December 3, 2005 @ 12:20 am | Comment

Like it or not, one of the reasons for continued Sino-Japanese tension is Japan’s alliance with America.

China has several gripes, including the fact that Japan and the US are now buddies and equals, despite the fact that they were once enemies, and that Japan was beaten by the US, while China remains pretty much out in the cold.

Plus the fact that there are 50,000 or so armed Americans living on Japanese teritory, waiting for the workd to go to war with China.

If Japan had been beaten and was now completely subserviant to the US, China could see Japan as a defeated brother under the heal of whites, and it would be more acceptable for it to let go of some of the hatred, and for it to blame Japan’s attitude more squarely on the US influences. It could move in as a big brother and try to ‘save’ Japan from America, thereby restoring the old system where Japan looked up to China as being its bigger, stronger, older neighbor.

Also, having that many US soldiers in Japan tars Japan with the same brush as Ameirca and makes Japan a threat.

I can’t see the US reacting well if 50,000 Chinese troops were to be invited to stay in Cuba or Mexico.

December 3, 2005 @ 7:49 am | Comment


While I agree that China has no real interest in becoming a hegamony, it does have a boudries problem.

Right now, China only wants to control territory that it already owns. Unfortunately this includes East Turkistan. Tibet; which don’t want to be part of China, Taiwan; which is autonimous, but which China wants to be under Beijing’s control, and Hong Kong; which was promised sufferage in 2007, and which has now had its hopes of democracy crushed.

These four places would all consider China to be hegamonistic, even if countries like Korea and Vietnam aren’t afraid of China invading them.

During the last 60 years Japan hasn’t made an extra teritorial, it has no long ranged military capabilities to make such a move with, despite calling from the US to rearm, and neither the people nor the government are expansionist or have any desire to be so.

December 3, 2005 @ 7:56 am | Comment

Sun Bin,

I think your last comment was much to simplistic. If china weren’t nashing its teeth over Japanese history, and if China were more honest about atrocities committed in the name of the CCP, and if they weren’t so secretive, I’d be more reassured. I know you’ll shoot back that this can’t happen because of the risk of unrest, but I believe that the unrest is already there – it’s not the honesty that provokes it, and trying to cover it all up, or being secretive doesn’t make it go away. it just exacerbates matters.

I’m also in the camp that says that China can’t pull 1.3 billion people’s incomes to anywhere near the average of France or the UK or US. They could, however, keep 800 million people at around the income of a poor EU member state’s average, and have the other 400 million follow a distribution akin to that of the USA – 20% poor by western standards, 50% without health care, and 10% owning 90% of the wealth. And this is exactly what I think will happen. It will be two worlds – a stratified first world country lording over an impoverished nation of workers. It’s already there now, but I believe it will develop further along these lines, with everyone’s incomes getting better, but only to a certain point.

December 3, 2005 @ 9:24 am | Comment


yes, it was intended as a simplistic comment.

but honestly, i am afraid the right in japan is the most trouble aggressor these days. and the encouragement it received by the right in US is not helping peace in asia.

December 3, 2005 @ 3:14 pm | Comment


hk, tibet, xinjiang, are not boundary problems. it will not lead to war or unrest in china or elsewhere in the world
(except for uighur terrorist activities, which has already lost the support of even the anti-china powers)

taiwan is the only location where war may happen. but the likelihood is small. and 170 countries in the world recognized this is china’s internal problem.

December 3, 2005 @ 3:18 pm | Comment

“During the last 60 years Japan hasn’t made an extra teritorial [gain]”

…..During the last 200 years China hasn’t made an extra teritorial [gain]

if you would like to use that as an indicator.

December 3, 2005 @ 3:21 pm | Comment

“I can’t see the US reacting well if 50,000 Chinese troops were to be invited to stay in Cuba or Mexico.”

the irony is. chinese and korean feels safer if US station its army in Japan (than otherwise, i.e. a re-armed Japan).
that tells how bad the PR image of Japan is.

December 3, 2005 @ 3:24 pm | Comment

I vote my ticket for laowai.

December 3, 2005 @ 10:07 pm | Comment

I wondered what would the USA feels if China has just 30000 soldiers based in S America? And 20000 in M East.

Its unlikely to happen but if it does I guess all the people of Chinese extraction in the USA would be sent to concentration camp!

December 6, 2005 @ 1:15 am | Comment

That’s bs, ming. The current administration can barely keep 75 foreigners in prison without trial. Putting 600,000 US nationals in concentration camps would provoke a civil war. Even the most staunch republicans would reject measures like that.

Deportation though, might be feasible.

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December 19, 2005 @ 3:12 am | Comment

Americans don’t have any sense of history, So here’s a short history.

Japan is sneaky and clever. They first sneaked attacked the Chinese in 1894, won that war, extracted astronomical ransom (.4 Billion taels of silver paid over 8 years) bankrupted the Chinese government, improverished the Chinese people, leading to the collapse of Chinese government.

They used that money to militarize, and launched another sneak attack against Russia Tzarist Empire. Won that war too, extracted more land from Russians and Chinese, and continued to modernize and militarize. That was in 1904.

They backed the winners during the WWI, extracted more land and solidified their Far East Empire status, continued to modernize and militarize.

In the 1930s, after years of civil war, The GMD Chinese government had managed to unite the greater part of China, achieve relative economic stability and growth. Now worried that they will not be allowed by a stronger China to keep their colonies, Japan striked again. This time, they overran the China’s weak military, brutalized the population (as they brutalized every other Asia people they conquered in their short rise to Empire). Nanking Massacre (200000-300000 civilians murdered in cold blood) was witnessed and reported both by natives and foreign missionaries, even by the proud Japanese soldiers.

The biggest mistake they made was to sneak attack Pearl Harbor. For a time, they even seemed to win. They pushed Americans out of Philipines, British out of SouthEast Asia. Put the POWs on death marches and their customary diet of murder and brutalization.

They lost WWII and ate the Atomic dust. But Fate again interceded. While they didn’t succeed in ruling China, they weakened the GMD government permanently. The Chinese communists succeeded in the chaotic power struggle, which itself is not a catastrophe. But the catastrophic decision of that provincial bumpkin of Chairman Mao to ally China with Russia against America (1950), made America eager to forgive the past and get in bed with Japan.

Suddenly Japan was not the sneaky mean bastard, it was a key ally in East Asia. Americans poured money and troops for its rebuilding and its defense, opened the US markets to Japan, helping launch the Japan Miracle.

So ends the short lesson. but if history is any use at all, here’s what the Chinese learned from it:
1. Japan worships power, not peace or harmony or whatever they claim they worship. (They were most amiable to China when China was powerful too)
2. Japan likes to whitewash the unpleasant facts, especially if their image suffer from these facts. Every year they hold elaborate public ceremony about the Atomic dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet most of them never thought to teach their children the 200k+ victims of Nanking massacre, or the 100k+ “comfort women” they forced into sex slavery. Given this, the Chinese conclude that Japan never learned the lesson and don’t expect the Japanese behavior to fundamentally change, and they are probably right in the conclusion.

Americans should learn these lessons too. God forbid, if America, ever is at the mercy of Japan.

Links to some related wiki:

April 25, 2006 @ 11:51 pm | Comment

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