Should mainland China be Japan’s friend or enemy?
“Frenemy” is a portmanteau of “friend” and “enemy” that can refer to either an enemy pretending to be a friend or someone who really is a friend but also a rival. The term is used to describe personal, geopolitical, and commercial relationships both among individuals and groups or institutions.
According to Satoshi Ogawa of The Yomiuri Shimbun, “It was cited at a symposium last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. to describe the current relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.”
Chiang Kai-shek used the term in Chinese in 1934 after Japan created Manchukuo three years before. The Chinese term “friend or foe” ( ) was the title of his book reviewing relations between the Republic of China and Japan. He wanted Japan to be China’s friend rather an enemy.
A peacefully rising China is a frenemy of Japan’s now through a long evolution.
Japan established diplomatic relations in 607 when Ono no Imoko (
) was sent to the Sui capital of Changan as Kenjuishi ( ), or ambassador to Sui China.
Japanese embassies continued until 894 because of reports of unsettled conditions in Tang China. Though a Tang expeditionary force fought the battle of Baekgang (
) in Korea to defeat the Japanese in 663, who finally had to give up their colony of Mimana ( ) in the southernmost part of the Korean peninsula, Japan imported into Chinese culture advances in fields including governance, sciences and technology through the diplomatic missions to China for more than two centuries. China was Japan’s revered friend during this period.
In Japan’s Heian ( ) period, the disrupted Sino-Japanese relations were resumed during China’s Song ( ) Dynasty, after Taira no Kiyomori ( ) came to power in 1167, and Song China after 1127 became Japan’s top trading partner.
The relationship remained unchanged until the Kamakura (
) period, when Kublai Khan’s new Yuan Mongolian-ruled China invaded Japan in 1274 and 1281. The invading Chinese armadas were destroyed off Hakata in Kyushu by typhoons, which the Japanese call kamikaze ( ), which means “divine wind.” China and Japan were enemies.
The two countries became friends again during Japan’s Muromachi (
) era ( 1337-1573). Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu ( ) accepted Ming China’s investiture as king of Japan ( ) in 1402 to start official Sino-Japanese trade known as kango boeki ( ) or tally trade. In a diplomatic sense, Ashikaga Japan was a tributary vassal state of China for over a half century.
Invasions of Korea
A change in Sino-Japanese relations took place after Toyotomi Hideyoshi ( ) rose to power in 1586. He ordered two invasions of Korea, through which he wanted to conquer China. The invasions lasted from 1592 to 1596 and 1597 to 1598 with a truce period in 1586-1587. Ming China joined the two wars in Korea to support its vassal state, and both ended in a stalemate.
The last invasion ended after Hideyoshi’s death, and all invasion armies were withdrawn from Korea. Japan and China were enemies, again.
Tokugawa Ieyasu ( ) succeeded Hideyoshi in ruling Japan. He created a centralized feudal system under the Tokugawa shogunate to bring peace to Japan for 265 years from 1603 to 1868.
The shogunate adopted an educational system based on the neoConfucianism ( ) of Zhu Xi (
), and resumed official trade with China. Even after the Exclusion (
) in force from 1639, export trade was banned but import trade continued from China and the Netherlands at Nagasaki, Kyushu. China was Japan’s friend, again.
Things began to change after the Meiji Restoration ( ) of 1868. With the rapid Westernization, Meiji Japan became a “rich country with a strong army” ( ) — so much so that it provoked what is known as the First Sino-Japanese war (
) with Qing China at the end of which Taiwan was ceded to Japan under the Treaty of Shimoseki of 1895. The two countries were enemies, for the third time.
Meiji Japan harbored a panAsianism to unite Asia against Western imperialism. After the Qing Chinese Empire was toppled in the 1911 Chinese Revolution, Japan showed sympathy to the Republican China for a time, but remained the enemy all the time.
Japan plotted the Mukden Incident of 1931 to create its puppet Manchukuo, and compelled Chiang Kai-shek to write his “Friend or Foe.” Then the Marco Polo Bridge Incident occurred in 1937 to kick off the Second Sino-Japanese War during which Wang Jingwei (
) created his Republic of China in the occupied part of mainland China to become Japan’s friend, while Chiang’s government of the Republic of China in Chungking remained the foe.
After World World II, the defeated Japan became China’s friend, one more time. In the meantime, China was split into Chiang’s Republic of China and Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China. Japan signed a peace agreement in Taipei with Chiang’s Republic of China in 1952 to remain China’s friend. That relationship turned “frenemic” when Tokyo normalized relations with Beijing to make friends with the People’s Republic.
Ultranationalist Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi proposed a new Japanese pan-Asianism to create an economic Great East Asian Coprosperity Sphere just as Gen. Hideki Tojo did by calling a Great East Asian Conference in Tokyo in 1943, where Wang Jingwei attended.
A protege of Koizumi, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is following suit, turning Japan into a frenemy of the People’s Republic just as U.S. President Barack Obama has made Beijing a frenemy of Washington’s, while treating the Republic of China in Taiwan like General Tojo dealing with Wang Jingwei’s Republic of China in Nanking.
Abe wants Japan to be a “normal state” to lead the pan-Asian economic bloc. Japan doesn’t want to give up the leadership in favor of the People’s Republic. But history tells us that Japan, in the end, cannot win the competition against China. It behoves Abe to consider a demarche that will stop the two countries heading for a collision course for the good of all East Asian nations.