Intimate Rivals

Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China

Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

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Politics and Government

No country feels China's rise more deeply than Japan. Through intricate case studies of visits by politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine, conflicts at the East China Sea boundary, concerns about food safety, and strategies of island defense, CFR Senior Fellow Sheila A. Smith explores the policy issues testing the Japanese government as it tries to navigate its relationship with an advancing China. She finds that Japan's interactions with China extend far beyond the negotiations between diplomats to include a broad array of social actors intent on influencing the Sino-Japanese relationship.

Some of the tensions complicating Japan's encounters with China, such as those surrounding the Yasukuni Shrine or territorial disputes, have deep roots in the postwar era, and political advocates seeking a stronger Japanese state organize themselves around these causes. Other tensions manifest themselves during the institutional and regulatory reform of maritime boundary and food safety issues. Smith scrutinizes the role of the Japanese government in coping with contention as China's influence grows and Japanese citizens demand more protection. Underlying the government's efforts is Japan's insecurity about its own capacities for change and its waning status as the leading Asian economy. For many, China's rise means Japan's decline, and Smith suggests how Japan can maintain its regional and global clout as confidence in its postwar diplomatic and security approach decreases.

A Council on Foreign Relations Book

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Politics and Government

Reviews and Endorsements

Definitive. . . . [A] timely and critical analysis of shifting Japanese domestic politics related to a rising China. What separates the book from most policy studies on Japan is the author’s intimate knowledge of Japanese society and the Japanese way of politics.

Political Science Quarterly

Intimate Rivals contains much sophisticated analysis and wisdom.


Impressive. . . . Smith's fine book is an excellent guide to the decisions that [China's and Japan's] leaders need to make.


Intimate Rivals examines the effect China's rise has on Japan, and does so using remarkably clear arguments and comprehensive context for an increasingly complex and sensitive situation. . . . Essential reading for anyone interested in Sino-Japanese relations and their impact on Japan.

South China Morning Post

A searching, scholarly discussion of Sino-Japanese relations. . . . Her account is impressively erudite and scrupulously researched, written in a clear, mercifully jargon-free style.

Kirkus Reviews

Beautifully written and saturated with insights, Intimate Rivals is a scholarly and policy-relevant study of one of the most complex relationships in international relations today.

Victor D. Cha, Georgetown University; Former Director for Asian Affairs, National Security Council

This book by one of America's leading analysts of Japan's foreign relations is essential reading for anyone interested in Sino-Japanese relations and the impact of domestic political forces on foreign policy.

Thomas J. Christensen, Princeton University

Foreign policy is an extension of domestic politics. This is common knowledge among students of international relations, but we must not overlook the fact that domestic politics is also an extension of foreign policy. In this study, Dr. Sheila A. Smith has availed herself of a massive amount of related documents and interview surveys and placed at the forefront China's sudden emergence and increasing self-assertion, and has traced concisely and persuasively the course whereby Japan has been compelled towards reform of its domestic conservative political system and security arrangements that were established in the post-WWII era with a view to maintaining Japan's position as a leader in Asia. This work suggests that the Japanese experience with China might serve as a future lesson for other countries, the United States included, and is an essential read for thinking about the reconstitution of the East Asian order in light of the rise of China.

Ryosei Kokubun, President, National Defense Academy of Japan

This is an authoritative and comprehensive treatment of contemporary Sino-Japanese relations. In an era of preoccupation with China's rise, scholars and policymakers are paying insufficient attention to the strategic decisions of those on China's periphery--decisions that will determine the nature of power transitions and whether they are peaceful or not. None is more important than China's historic maritime rival in Asia-Japan.

Michael J. Green, Georgetown University

This well-informed study explains, with admirable clarity, the increasingly involved and complex attitudes in Japanese domestic politics regarding China. Smith, a Japan specialist and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, offers a fine-grained analysis reaching back to the aftermath of World War II and especially the 1970s, when relations between the former combatants were normalized.

Publishers Weekly

The relationship between Japan and China extends back more than a millennium but, in spite of (or, perhaps, because of) all that the two countries have borrowed, traded and shared, that relationship could be best summed up as 'Intimate Rivals'— the title of Sheila A. Smith's new book. Smith, a senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, an American research organization,  keeps the focus of her worthy analysis on Japan and China's recent history, from the period of normalization between the two countries beginning in the 1970s to the present day.

J.J. Donoghue, Japan Times

One might expect close trade ties and a common interest in regional stability to pull China and Japan together. But Smith explores several ways in which growing Chinese power has undercut Japanese public support for conciliatory policies toward Beijing.

Andrew Nathan, Foreign Affairs

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