China’s Rise Affects Japanese Domestic Politics, Sheila Smith Writes in New Book

No country feels China’s rise more deeply than Japan. In her new book, Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, CFR Senior Fellow Sheila A. Smith explores the policy issues testing the Japanese government as it navigates its relationship with an advancing China.

March 11, 2015

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No country feels China’s rise more deeply than Japan. In her new book, Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, CFR Senior Fellow Sheila A. Smith explores the policy issues testing the Japanese government as it navigates its relationship with an advancing China.

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"The balance of domestic interests that coalesced around China policy has changed," Smith writes. "There now is far greater latitude in Japanese politics for those who argue that the nation should stand up to China and a larger political opportunity for those who question Japan’s postwar commitments to a limited military and a liberal trading order."

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Smith finds that Japan’s interactions with China extend far beyond negotiations between diplomats and 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. Maritime boundary and food-safety issues have also led to tensions.

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 capacity for change and its waning status as the leading economy in Asia. 

“For more than a decade, the rise in China’s economic influence, coupled with the expansion of its military power, signaled a potentially significant transition of geopolitical power. The anticipation of a much stronger China, possibly hostile to Japan, increasingly fed Japanese perceptions of their relationship with Beijing,” she writes.

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In the book, Smith looks closely at four case studies:

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  • controversy over the official visits of Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine
  • conflicts over the boundaries of economic zones in the East China Sea
  • growing dependence on China for food
  • the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands

To order the book, visit cfr.org/intimaterivals.

PRAISE FOR INTIMATE RIVALS

“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

“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, and former director for Asian affairs, National Security Council

“Authoritative and comprehensive. 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

“In this study, Sheila A. Smith has availed herself of a massive number of documents and interview surveys and has traced concisely and persuasively the course whereby Japan has been compelled toward the reform of its conservative political system and its security arrangements, which were established 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 lesson for other countries, the United States included, and is an essential read for those interested in the reconstitution of the East Asian order in light of the rise of China.”—Ryosei Kokubun, president, National Defense Academy of Japan

“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

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