The US-China summit meeting on 15 November 2023 indicates that relations have been restored to the point where summit meetings and military exchanges are possible. However, the content of the meeting is nothing more or less than that.
For now, the US-China relationship is in a state of “long-term, intense competition”; competition means there will be a winner and a loser. Each side believes they will be the winner, but both have made it clear that in competing, they will not clash, but will cooperate where they can. This will be very difficult, which is precisely why both sides need to manage the relationship through close communication.
The focus of the competitive relationship between the US and China is military security, advanced technology and values such as human rights, all of which are found in Taiwan...
Rules of competition taking shape
The latest US-China summit meeting is aimed at restoring bilateral relations that were temporarily disrupted after the incident involving a Chinese balloon flying over the US. Of course, for the Biden administration, the significance of the meeting was to directly communicate with Chinese President Xi Jinping who leads an authoritarian regime. Also, with the US presidential election coming up next year, now may be the perfect opportunity for dialogue with China. For the Xi Jinping administration, there is a sense of crisis at home due to economic problems and the Taiwan Strait, and there is a need to manage the relationship with the US.
The focus of the competitive relationship between the US and China is military security, advanced technology and values such as human rights, all of which are found in Taiwan; the Taiwan issue appears to have been a focus of this summit meeting as well. However, the US and China are likely to insist on their own policy principles and intentions when it comes to Taiwan.
It is possible that some kind of “cooperation” or information exchange could have been achieved regarding the Middle East and climate change issues. Both sides have indicated that they are seeking “cooperation”, but the extent to which “cooperation” can be achieved is still unknown.
It can be seen that the relationship between the US and China has reached a certain level where there is consensus on the bilateral relationship, or where rules of the competition are taking shape.
It can be seen that the relationship between the US and China has reached a certain level where there is consensus on the bilateral relationship, or where rules of the competition are taking shape. In contrast, there is less dialogue between top politicians in Japan-China relations than in US-China relations, and the nature of the relationship remains unclear.
Japan-China relations ambiguous
After Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took office, his policy toward China has not been proactive. However, this has been partly due to the influence of domestic politics. Kishida is a member of the Kochikai, a “faction” within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that values relations with China.
Roughly 85% of Japanese people hold a negative opinion of China, and conservative LDP sections have also voiced disapproval. Nonetheless, Kishida has been called a member of a faction that is "pro-China". That's why he finds it challenging to advance relations with China when taking into account how this may affect the elections. This also explains why the announcement to hold the Japan-China summit meeting was made around the same time as Kishida’s statement that there would be no dissolution of the House of Representatives for a snap election by the end of this year.
At the last Japan-China summit meeting in November 2022, Kishida expressed his desire for “constructive and stable” Japan-China relations, and China largely agreed. But this refers to a relationship that is under the purview of dialogue. At the recent Japan-China summit meeting in San Francisco, the two countries reaffirmed the concept of a “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests” that the first Abe administration launched in 2006.
While Japan-China relations have worsened since 2009, Japan maintaining the rhetoric of the “mutually beneficial relationship” has had some positive effect on bilateral relations. But given Japan's economic advantage at the time the framework was established, China might have preferred that the relationship be based on the current circumstances in 2023.
In any case, the question is what can be done under this “mutually beneficial relationship” and how to make it happen. At the upcoming Japan-China-South Korea summit to be held at the end of the year, Kishida and Chinese Premier Li Qiang are scheduled to talk and discuss concrete proposals.
...if no major results are achieved at the next Japan-China summit, Kishida’s approval rating, at least within Japan, is unlikely to recover.
One of the focuses of the Japan-China summit was the possibility of building a framework for communication, including security management, in line with the 45th anniversary of the Japan-China Peace and Friendship Treaty. There were also issues such as China’s ban on importing Fukushima fish products and the detention of a Japanese businessman.
It seems the leaders discussed security mechanisms and military exchanges in the East China Sea during the recent summit, and if the issue is resolved, that will be a major outcome. On the Fukushima issue and the detention of the Japanese national, the Japanese side seems to have only raised a protest.
It is commendable that the Japan-China summit meeting has restarted the “mutually beneficial relationship”, but the specific details are still lacking. The next step is what Kishida and Li will do at their next meeting. Nevertheless, if no major results are achieved at the next Japan-China summit, Kishida’s approval rating, at least within Japan, is unlikely to recover.
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