By Mari Yamaguchi
Japan and China on Thursday mark the 50th anniversary of the 1972 normalization of their ties, but there isn’t much of a celebratory mood. Improved ties between Asia’s two biggest economies are considered vital to the region’s stability and prosperity, but they remain at odds over disputed East China Sea islands and China’s growing military and economic assertiveness in the region. Here are the key issues in the often strained relations between these powerhouse neighbors:
A huge source of contention is an uninhabited group of Tokyo-controlled, Beijing-claimed East China Sea islands called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Japan insists that the islands, which once hosted a Japanese seafood factory, are part of its territory, both historically and by international law. China says they were stolen by Japan in 1895 and should have been returned at the end of World War II.
As a top U.S. ally and a major trade partner with China, Japan is in a delicate situation and must balance its position between the two superpowers. China has been more assertive about pressing other governments to embrace Chinese-led initiatives, including a trade group called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Japan, along with the United States, is seeking ways to stand up to increasing Chinese economic influence in the region. Tokyo also wants to reinforce economic security with other democracies in areas such as supply chains and the protection of sensitive technologies, apparently as a counter to China. Yasuo Fukuda, a former Japanese prime minister who is an active proponent of better ties with China, says friction between Japan and China largely stems from U.S.-China trade issues. “The question is if global trade works better by excluding China,” he said.