Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sheila A. Smith's "Intimate Rivals"

Sheila A. Smith is Senior Fellow for Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, and reported the following:
In Intimate Rivals, I explore the growing contention between Japan and its neighbor, the increasingly powerful China. I look within Japan to see how China’s transformation is affecting Japanese citizens and their interests, and page 99 presents the conclusion to the first of four chapters that look at the issues that resist compromise between Tokyo and Beijing. This page falls in the final discussion of what is arguably the most conspicuously contentious issue in the Sino-Japanese relations – war memory.

Chinese sensitivities to how postwar Japanese leaders memorialize their imperial veterans at the Yasukuni Shrine is well known, and has colored the relationship since the early years after the two governments concluded a peace treaty in 1978. Today, perhaps even more than those veterans, it has come to symbolize Japanese rejection of China’s right to limit Japan’s options.
Yasukuni thus remains a lightning rod for those who want to challenge foreign criticism of Japan’s past. Within Japan’s conservative party, many younger politicians use their visits to Yasukuni to burnish their conservative credentials, and it remains a rallying point for those who resent Chinese and South Korean criticism of Japan and its interpretation of its twentieth century history. Indeed, in his return to power in late 2012, Abe Shinzo raised the possibility of yet another round of Yasukuni nationalism.
The larger thesis of my book, however, is that nationalism is not what characterizes Japanese responses to this transforming China. True, some issues – war memory and their island dispute – offer the space for marginal voices to come to the fore, voices that have long existed yet have gained little traction in Japan’s mainstream politics. These old issues of contention, however, have at times made partners out of the two governments as they sought to limit popular sensitivities in the quest for a better overall relationship.

Grounding that relationship has been the economic interdependence and the shared concern with peace and prosperity in the region. Other issues such as their shared maritime boundary in the East China Sea and their increasingly interdependent market for food have forced the Japanese and Chinese governments to come up with new solutions to new problems. All told, Japan’s citizens are demanding better solutions, and at times better protections from their own government as the impact of China’s rise challenges old patterns of negotiation.

As complicated as Japanese responses are, there is no consensus within Japan on a strategy for coping with geostrategic change in Asia. Intimate Rivals demonstrates how complex a process geostrategic change can be, and the Japanese public has turned to its government to improve its ability to manage this complexity better. At the end of the day, China’s rise has reshaped not only the international relations of the Asia Pacific but also Japanese domestic politics.
Learn more about Intimate Rivals at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue