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China–Japan relations

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China–Japan relations
Map indicating locations of China and Japan


Diplomatic mission
Embassy of China, TokyoEmbassy of Japan, Beijing
Ambassador Wu JianghaoAmbassador Kenji Kanasugi[1]
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (left) and China's paramount leader Xi Jinping (right) meet in San Francisco, United States in November 2023.

China–Japan relations or Sino-Japanese relations (simplified Chinese: 中日关系; traditional Chinese: 中日關係; pinyin: Zhōngrì guānxì; Japanese: 日中関係, romanizedNitchū kankei) are the bilateral relations between China and Japan. The countries are geographically separated by the East China Sea. Japan has been strongly influenced throughout its history by China, especially by the East and Southeast through the gradual process of Sinicization with its language, architecture, culture, cuisine, religion, philosophy, and law. When Japan was forced to open trade relations with the West after the Perry Expedition in the mid-19th century, Japan plunged itself through an active process of Westernization during the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and began viewing China under the Qing dynasty as an antiquated civilization unable to defend itself against foreign forces—in part due to the First and Second Opium Wars along with the Eight-Nation Alliance's involvement in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion. Japan eventually took advantage of such weaknesses by invading China, including the First Sino-Japanese War and the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Today, China's and Japan's economies are two of the biggest in the world, respectively the world's second and fourth-largest economies by nominal GDP and the first and fourth-largest economies by GDP PPP. In 2023, China-Japan trade grew to $266.4 billion, a rise of 12.5 percent on 2007, making China and Japan the top two-way trading partners. China was also the biggest destination for Japanese exports in 2023.

China was also the biggest destination for Japanese exports in 2009. During 2022, China had a large net trade with Japan in the exports of Machines ($77.2B), Textiles ($19.6B), and Chemical Products ($13.2B).[2] In spite of the close economic relationship, Sino-Japanese relations are diplomatically mired in geopolitical disagreements.

According to the Chinese government, the relationship between China and Japan has been strained at times by Japan's refusal to acknowledge its wartime crimes to the satisfaction of China. According to the Japanese government, the cause of such strained relations is instead the expansion and assertive actions of the People's Liberation Army's revisionist comments. Visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by prominent Japanese officials, as well as some Japanese history textbooks regarding the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, have been a focus of particular controversy. Sino-Japanese relations warmed considerably after Shinzō Abe became the Prime Minister of Japan in September 2006, and a joint historical study conducted by China and Japan released a report in 2010 which pointed toward a new consensus on the issue of Japanese war crimes.[3][4] However, issues emanating from the history of both World Wars, and the maritime disputes in the East China Sea still remain. The Senkaku Islands dispute also resulted in a number of hostile encounters in the East China Sea, heated rhetoric, and protests in China and Taiwan.[2]

Country comparison[edit]

People's Republic of China Japan
Flag China Japan
Population 1,409,670,000[5] 126,226,568[6]
Area 9,596,961 km2 (3,705,407 sq mi) 377,975 km2 (145,937 sq mi)
Population density 145/km2 (376/sq mi) 330/km2 (855/sq mi)
Capital Beijing Tokyo
Largest city (by population) Shanghai (26,875,500) Tokyo (14,094,034)
Government Unitary Marxist–Leninist one-party socialist republic Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Head of state Xi Jinping Naruhito
Official language Standard Chinese (de facto) Japanese (de facto)
GDP (nominal) US$17.701 trillion ($12,541 per capita) (Excludes the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.)[7] US$4.231 trillion ($33,950 per capita)[8]
Military expenditures $292.0 billion (1.6% of GDP) $46 billion (1.1% of GDP)

Leaders of the two countries (since 1972; Shōwa period)

Kakuei TanakaTakeo MikiTakeo FukudaMasayoshi ŌhiraMasayoshi ItoZenkō SuzukiYasuhiro NakasoneNoboru TakeshitaMao ZedongHua GuofengDeng XiaopingJapanChina

Leaders of the two countries (Heisei period)

Noboru TakeshitaSōsuke UnoToshiki KaifuKiichi MiyazawaMorihiro HosokawaTsutomu HataTomiichi MurayamaRyūtarō HashimotoKeizō ObuchiYoshirō MoriJunichirō KoizumiShinzō AbeYasuo FukudaTarō AsōYukio HatoyamaNaoto KanYoshihiko NodaShinzō AbeDeng XiaopingJiang ZeminHu JintaoXi JinpingJapanChina

Leaders of the two countries (Reiwa period)

Shinzō AbeYoshihide SugaFumio KishidaXi JinpingJapanChina


Monument dedicated to Kibi no Makibi, Japanese diplomat who lived in China for 17 years.

China and Japan are geographically separated only by a relatively narrow stretch of ocean. China has strongly influenced Japan with its writing system, architecture, culture, religion, philosophy, and law. For a long time, there was trade and cultural contacts between the Japanese court and the Chinese nobility.

The Japanese army launches a general offensive on Tianjin castle during the Boxer Rebellion, 1900.

When Western countries forced Japan to open trading in the mid-19th century, Japan moved towards modernization (Meiji Restoration), viewing China as an antiquated civilization, unable to defend itself against Western forces in part due to the First and Second Opium Wars along with the Eight-Nation Alliance's involvement in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion.

Japanese march into Zhengyangmen of Beijing after capturing the city in July 1937

As a result of Japanese war crimes during the Second Sino-Japanese War such as the Nanjing massacre, and the Chinese view that Japan has not taken full responsibility for them, the bilateral relationship between China and Japan continues to be a sensitive issue in China.[9]: 24 

China–Japan relations (1949-present)[edit]

After the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, relations with Japan changed from hostility and an absence of contact to cordiality and extremely close cooperation in many fields[citation needed]. Japan was defeated and Japanese military power dismantled but the PRC continued to view Japan as a potential threat because of the presence of United States Forces Japan in the region. One of the recurring PRC's concerns in Sino-Japanese relations has been the potential re-militarization of Japan. On the other hand, some Japanese fear that the economic and military power of the PRC has been increasing (cf. Potential superpowers#China).

The Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance included the provision that each side would protect the other from an attack by "Japan or any state allied with it" and the PRC undoubtedly viewed with alarm Japan's role as the principal US military base during the Korean War. The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan signed in 1951 also heightened the discouragement of diplomatic relations between the two countries. In 1952 Japan pushed dissension between the two countries even further by concluding a peace treaty with the ROC (Republic of China, or Taiwan) and establishing diplomatic relations with the Taiwanese authorities.

Like most Western nations at the time, Japan had recognized Taipei as the sole legitimate Chinese government. Initially, neither country allowed its political differences to stand in the way of broadening unofficial contacts, and in the mid-1950s they exchanged an increasing number of cultural, labor, and business delegations.

Although all these things complicated the relationship between the two countries, Beijing orchestrated relations with Japanese non-governmental organizations (NGO) through primarily the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA). The CPIFA would receive Japanese politicians from all parties, but the Japanese left-wing parties were more interested in the PRC's initiatives. In 1952, the Chinese Commission for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) was able to get a trade agreement signed by the Japanese Diet members. Liao Chengzhi, the deputy director of the State Council's Office of Foreign Affairs, was able to arrange many other agreements "such as the repatriation of Japanese prisoners of war with the Japanese Red Cross (1954), and the Fishery Agreement with the Japan-China Fishery Association (1955)."[10] During this time, the relationship between the two countries were primarily unofficial. The agreements were essential in bringing together a more amalgamated environment.

The PRC began a policy of attempting to influence Japan through trade, "people's diplomacy", contacts with Japanese opposition political parties, and through applying pressure on Tokyo to sever ties with Taipei. In 1958, however, the PRC suspended its trade with Japan—apparently convinced that trade concessions were ineffective in achieving political goals. Thereafter, in a plan for improving political relations, the PRC requested that the Japanese government not be hostile toward it, not obstruct any effort to restore normal relations between itself and Japan, and not join in any conspiracy to create two Chinas. After the Sino-Soviet break, economic necessity caused the PRC to reconsider and revitalize trade ties with Japan.

The Soviet Union suddenly withdrew Soviet experts from the PRC in the 1960s, which resulted in an economic dilemma for the PRC. The PRC was left with few options, one of which was to have a more official relationship with Japan.

Tatsunosuke Takasaki, member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and of the Diet and Director of the Economic Planning Agency of the Japanese, went to the PRC in order to sign a memorandum that would further the trade relations between the two countries, better known as the Liao-Takasaki Agreement. Under its terms, Chinese purchases of industrial plants were to be financed partly through medium-term credits from Japan Export-Import Bank (JEXIM). The accord also permitted the PRC to open a trade mission in Tokyo and in 1963 paved the way for Japanese government approval of the export to mainland China of a synthetic textile manufacturing plant valued at around US$ 20 million, guaranteed by the bank. Subsequent protest from the ROC caused Japan to shelve further deferred-payment plant exports. The PRC reacted to this change by downgrading its Japan trade and intensified propaganda attacks against Japan as a "running dog" (Chinese:"走狗") of the United States. Behind the United States of America, China and Japan take the second and the third position respectively of the largest economies in the world. China and Japan trade approximately $350 billion worth of goods annually with each other (Xing, 2011). This is a huge exchange meaning that the trade ties between these two nations are one of the largest trading partnerships around the world. Economic studies reveal that the economic relationship between China and Japan started a long time ago when China started to import industrial goods to build its manufacturing infrastructure (Fuhrmann, 2016). Some of the goods that were imported include; machinery, equipment, steel mills, and the transportation infrastructure such as bridges, railways, roads and airports. Reports reveal that China major imports these goods from Japan and Germany.

Sino-Japanese ties declined again during the Cultural Revolution, and the decline was further exacerbated by Japan's growing strength and independence from the United States in the late 1960s. The PRC was especially concerned that Japan might remilitarize to compensate for the reduced US military presence in Asia brought about under president Richard Nixon. As the turmoil subsided, however, the Japanese government– already under pressure both from the pro-Beijing factions in the LDP and from opposition elements– sought to adopt a more forward posture.


In December 1971, the Chinese and Japanese trade liaison offices began to discuss the possibility of restoring diplomatic trade relations, and in July 1972, Kakuei Tanaka succeeded Eisaku Satō as a new Japanese Prime Minister.[11] Tanaka assumed a normalization of the Sino-Japanese relations.[11] Furthermore, the 1972 Nixon visit to China encouraged the normalization process.[11] The normalization process was eased in part because China and Japan had maintained unofficial trade and people-to-people exchanges.[11]

A visit by Tanaka to Beijing culminated in the signing a joint statement on September 29, 1972, which normalized diplomatic relations between Japan and the PRC.[11] Japan stated that it was aware of its responsibility for causing enormous damage to the Chinese people during World War II and China renounced its demand for war reparation from Japan.[11] Avoiding political disputes over this traumatic history facilitated immediate strategic cooperation.[11] The Japanese agreed with the Chinese view on the political status of Taiwan, namely "that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People's Republic of China."[11] Subsequently, the bilateral economic relationships grew rapidly: 28 Japanese and 30 Chinese economic and trade missions visited their partner country.

On 5 February 1973, the PRC and Japan agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations.[12] Negotiations for a Sino-Japanese peace and friendship treaty began in 1974, but soon broken off in September 1975. The PRC insisted the anti-hegemony clause, which was directed at the Soviet Union, be included in the treaty. Japan objected the clause and did not wish to get involved in the Sino-Soviet split.

Following the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, oil prices rose dramatically globally.[13]: 172  Among the industrialized country, Japan was hit hardest by the resulting oil crisis because its petroleum needs were filled completely by imports.[13]: 172  It bought large amounts of Chinese oil.[13]: 172  China had also obtained commodity-backed loans from Japan to build the Daqing oil field, and repaid the loans with oil.[14]: 98 

However, the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 brought economic reform to the PRC, which led to the expected Japanese investment in the Chinese economy.

In February 1978, a long-term private trade agreement led to an arrangement by which trade between Japan and the PRC would increase to a level of US$20 billion by 1985, through exports from Japan of plants and equipment, technology, construction materials, and machine parts in return for coal and crude oil. This long-term plan, which gave rise to inflated expectations, proved overly ambitious and was drastically cut back the following year as the PRC was forced to reorder its development priorities and scale down its commitments. However, the signing of the agreement reflected the wish on both sides to improve relations.

In April 1978, a dispute over the territoriality of the Senkaku Islands (or Diaoyu Islands), a cluster of barren islets north of Taiwan and south of the Ryukyu Islands flared up and threatened to disrupt the developing momentum toward resuming peace treaty talks. Restraint on both sides led to a resolution.

At the end of 1978, the then prime minister Ohira said the government of Japan would offer ODA to China.[15] Official Development Assistance (ODA) from Japan to China began in 1979 and from that time to the present, approximately 3.1331 trillion yen in loan aid (yen loans), 145.7 billion yen in grant aid, and 144.6 billion yen in technical cooperation have been implemented up to June 2005 and has not ended.[16]

Talks on the peace treaty were resumed in July, and the agreement was reached in August on a compromise version of the anti-hegemony clause.[17] The Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People's Republic of China was signed on August 12 and came into effect October 23, 1978, under the two leaders of Deng Xiaoping and Fukuda Takeo.

Japan-China Friendship Garden

The 1980s were a high point of China-Japan relations, and Japan pursued a strategy of "Friendship Diplomacy" with China.[18]: 141  The General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Hu Yaobang, visited Japan in November 1983, and Prime Minister Nakasone reciprocated by visiting the PRC in March 1984. While Japanese enthusiasm for the Chinese market reached highs and lows, broad strategic considerations in the 1980s steadied Tokyo's policy toward Beijing. In fact, Japan's heavy involvement in the PRC's economic modernization reflected in part a determination to encourage peaceful domestic development in the PRC, to draw the PRC into gradually expanding links with Japan and the West, and to reduce the PRC's interest in returning to its more provocative foreign policies of the past.

Many of Japan's concerns about the Soviet Union duplicated PRC's worries. They included the increased deployment in East Asia of Soviet armaments, the growth of the Soviet Pacific fleet, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the potential threat it posed to Persian Gulf oil supply routes, and an increased Soviet military presence in Vietnam. In response, Japan and the PRC adopted notable complementary foreign policies, designed to isolate the Soviet Union and its allies politically and to promote regional stability.

In Southeast Asia, both countries provided strong diplomatic backing for the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to bring about a Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia. Japan provided substantial economic assistance to Thailand to help with resettling Indochinese refugees. The PRC was a key supporter of Thailand and of the Cambodian resistance groups such as the Khmer Rouge.

In Southwest Asia, both nations backed the condemnation of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan; they refused to recognize the Soviet-backed Kabul regime, and sought through diplomatic and economic means to bolster Pakistan.

In Northeast Asia, Japan and the PRC sought to moderate the behavior of their Korean partners, South Korea and North Korea, to reduce tensions. In 1983 both the PRC and Japan strongly criticized the Soviet proposal to redeploy some of their armaments to Asia.

Japan encountered a number of episodes of friction with the PRC during the rest of the 1980s. In 1982, a serious political controversy was aroused over a revision of Japanese history textbooks dealing with the war between China and Japan during 1931-45 (cf. Japanese history textbook controversies). In late 1985, Chinese officials complained harshly about Prime Minister Nakasone's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japanese soldiers who had died in service of the Emperor some of whom are war criminals.[citation needed]

Under Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, the Japanese government reemphasized the relationship to the United States. The U.S. strategic emphasis upon East Asia allegedly shifted the PRC to Japan in 1983. Beijing felt isolation and grew concerned again about a possible revival of Japanese militarism. By the mid-1983, Beijing had decided coincidentally with its decision to improve relations with the Reagan administration of the United States to solidify ties with Japan.[citation needed]

Economic issues centered on Chinese complaints that the influx of Japanese products into the PRC had produced a serious trade deficit for the PRC. Nakasone and other Japanese leaders tried to relieve above concerns during visits to Beijing and in other talks with Chinese officials. They assured the Chinese of Japan's continued large-scale development and commercial assistance, and to obstruct any Sino-Soviet realignment against Japan. The two countries also concluded a bilateral investment treaty in 1988 after seven years of tough negotiation, where China finally agreed to grant Japanese investments with "national treatment".[19]

In the late 1980s, China and Japan began cooperation on environmental matters.[20]: 62 

The Hiroshima-Sichuan Sino-Japanese Friendship Convention Center (Japanese: 広島・四川中日友好会館, Simplified Chinese: 广岛・四川中日友好会馆) in Wuhou District, Chengdu

Bilateral structural change developed during the late 1990s to 2004. Japan had been investing in the PRC during the early 1990s, and trade decreased during the late 1990s, but resurged at the millennium. The resurgence might have been because of the prospect of the PRC becoming a part of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

China and Japan engaged in moderate bilateral cooperation throughout the 1990s and 2000s.[20]: 51  Continuing the bilateral cooperation on environmental matters that began in the late 1980s, the Sino-Japanese Friendship Centre for Environmental Protection was established in 1996.[20]: 62 

By 2001, China's international trade was the sixth-largest in the world; and over the next several years it was expected to be just under Japan, the fourth largest.

In early 2005, Japan and the United States had issued a joint statement which addresses issues concerning the Taiwan Strait.[21] The PRC was angered by the statement, and protested the interference in its internal affairs.[22] The Anti-Secession Law was passed by the third conference of the 10th National People's Congress of the PRC, and was ratified in March 2005, and then the law went into effect immediately. Subsequently, anti-Japanese demonstrations took place simultaneously in the PRC and other Asian countries.

However, the "warm" relationship between the PRC and Japan had been revived by two Japanese Prime Ministers, Shinzo Abe and particularly Yasuo Fukuda whose father achieved to conclude the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China. In May 2008, Hu Jintao was the first paramount leader of China in over a decade to be invited to Japan on an official visit, and called for increased "co-operation" between the two countries. A "forth" joint statement[23] by Paramount leader Hu Jintao and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda read:

"The two sides resolved to face history squarely, advance toward the future, and endeavor with persistence to create a new era of a "mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests" between Japan and China. They announced that they would align Japan–China relations with the trends of international community and together forge a bright future for the Asia-Pacific region and the world while deepening mutual understanding, building mutual trust, and expanding mutually beneficial cooperation between their nations in an ongoing fashion into the future".

In October 2008, Japanese Prime Minister Tarō Asō visited Beijing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People's Republic of China. At the reception, he remarked on his "personal conviction regarding Japan-China relations":[24]

"We should not constrain ourselves in the name of friendship between Japan and China. Rather, sound competition and active cooperation will constitute a true "mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests." Confucius said, "At thirty, I stood firm." In the same way, Japan and China must now stand atop the international stage and work to spread to the rest of the world this spirit of benefiting together".

Although Japanese and Chinese policymakers claimed that "ice-breaking" and "ice-melting" occurred in the bilateral relationship between 2006 and 2010, however, none of the fundamental problems related to history and disputed territory had been resolved, and so there was a virtual "ice-berg" under the surface.[25]

In 2010, China overtook Japan as the world's second-largest economy. In 2012, China's gross GDP was 1.4 times as big as Japan's. In the next three to five years, the Chinese economy is on track to grow to twice the size of Japan's. As a matter of fact, Japan was quite reluctant to witness China's incredible economic growth and therefore had increased its vigilance towards China by viewing China as its biggest threat under then-Prime Minister Abe's leadership.[26]

In the early 2010s, bilateral cooperation between China and Japan largely stopped as political tensions ran high.[20]: 51 

2011 Japanese White Paper[edit]

In 2011, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu criticized the annual Japanese defense white paper for calling attention to the "China threat theory".[27]

2013 Japanese White Paper[edit]

In its 2013 white paper, Japan called recent Chinese actions "incompatible with international law."[28] The paper also mentioned Operation Dawn Blitz, after China had called for the exercise to be scaled back.[29]

2018 China–United States trade war[edit]

Relations between Japan and China have substantially improved in the wake of the China–United States trade war.[30][31] The improvement has been attributed to strong personal rapport between Abe and Xi, and to Japan's own trade disputes with the United States.[32][33] Abe has advised Xi on trade negotiations with U.S. president Donald Trump.[34]

COVID-19 pandemic (2020–2023)[edit]

Sino-Japanese relations have experienced a thaw due to novel coronavirus outbreak. On 15 January 2020, Japan has confirmed the first case of novel coronavirus, first identified in Haneda Airport in Tokyo that emerge from Wuhan.[citation needed] With an ancient line of a poem by a Japanese emperor to a Chinese monk that inspired the latter to spread Buddhism to Japan: "Even though we live in different places, we live under the same sky" being tweeted out by government officials and with the stanza posted on the sides of boxes of face masks sent as aid to China. Japan's private sector has donated over 3 million face masks along with $6.3 million in monetary donation. China's Foreign Minister spokesperson Geng Shuang lauded Japan for their support.[35]

Amidst the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in Japan, China responded in kind by donating 12,500 COVID-19 test kits in aid to Japan after reports that the country was running low on test kits, with a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson saying in Japanese that "China and Japan are neighboring countries separated by only a narrow strip of water. Although there are no borders in fight against the spread of virus."[36]

As of 4 June 2021, Japan also donated 1.24 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Taiwan.[37] This prompted a wave of gratitude from Taiwanese people,[38] whereas the Chinese foreign ministry condemned Japan's move.[39]

Chinese missiles in Japan's EEZ[edit]

On August 4, 2022, during U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan, China conducted “precision missile strikes” in the ocean near Taiwan of which 5 missiles landed in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone.[40] Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi protested the missiles as “serious threats to Japan's national security and the safety of the Japanese people.”[40]

Development Assistance[edit]

Japanese ODA to China (1979–2013)

Japan's Official Development Assistance (ODA) to China began in 1979 after the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China signed in 1978. From 1979 to 2013, Japan has provided US$24 billion in loan aid and 7.7 billion dollars in grant aid including 6.6 billion in technical cooperation, a total of US$32 billion. Even in 2013, Japan still provided US$296 million loan and US$30 million grant.[41][42]

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation provided China with resource loans for several coal and oil development projects over the period of 1979–1997.[20]: 62  These loans totaled $140 billion.[20]: 62 

Assistance provided through Japan's 1992 Green Aid Plan helped facilitate China's development of renewable energy.[20]: 62 

Bilateral sensitive issues[edit]

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs points out some sensitive issues between Japan and the PRC:[43]

  1. Issue of history
  2. Issue of Taiwan
  3. Issue of Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands)
  4. Issue of Japanese-American security co-operation
  5. Issue of war reparations
  6. Japanese chemical weapons discarded in China

As Iechika[44] and many others point out, the fundamental concerns of the China-Japanese relations has been the issues of history and Taiwan. Therefore, this article describes the above two issues in the following.

Issue of history[edit]

The PRC joined other Asian countries, such as South Korea and North Korea, in criticizing Japanese history textbooks that whitewash Japanese war crimes in World War II. They claimed that the rise of militarism became evident in Japanese politics. Much anti-Japanese sentiment has raised, and this has been exacerbated by burgeoning feelings of Chinese nationalism and former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.[45] Although Koizumi openly declared– in a statement made on April 22, 2005, in Jakarta– "deep remorse" over Japan's wartime crimes (the latest in a series of apologies spanning several decades), many Chinese observers regard the apology as insufficient and not backed up by sincere action.

The PRC and Japan continue to debate over the actual number of people killed in the Rape of Nanking. The PRC claims that at least 300,000 civilians were murdered while Japan claims a far less figure of 40,000-200,000. While a majority of Japanese believe in the existence of the massacre, a Japanese-produced documentary film released just prior to the 60th anniversary of the massacre, titled The Truth about Nanjing, denies that any such atrocities took place. These disputes have stirred up enmity against Japan from the global Chinese community.

Many Japanese believe that China is using the issue of the countries' checkered history, such as the Japanese history textbook controversies, and official visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, as both a diplomatic card and a tool to make Japan a scapegoat in domestic Chinese politics.[46]

Japan's compensation[edit]

From late 19th century to early 20th century, one of the many factors contributing to the bankruptcy of the Qing government was Japan's requirement for large amount of war reparations. China paid huge amounts of silver to Japan under various treaties, including the Sino-Japanese Friendship and Trade Treaty (1871), Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895), the Triple Intervention (1895) and the Boxer Protocol (1901). After the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894–95, the Qing government paid a total of 200,000,000 taels of silver to Japan for reparations.[47]

The Second Sino-Japanese War 1936-1945 also caused huge economic losses to China. However, Chiang Kai-shek waived reparations claims for the war when the ROC concluded the Treaty of Taipei with Japan in 1952. Similarly, when Japan normalized its relations with the PRC in 1972, Mao Zedong waived the claim of war reparations from Japan.[48]

During the 1970s and 1980s, China rejected offers of economic compensation for the damage done by Japan during World War II.[49]: 226  China rejected these offers, viewing the acceptance of economic compensation as substituting for official apologies.[49]: 226–227  In particular, China desires an official apology from the Emperor of Japan.[49]: 226 

Ex-Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio offered personal apology for Japan's wartime crimes, especially the Nanking Massacre, "As a Japanese citizen, I feel that it's my duty to apologise for even just one Chinese civilian killed brutally by Japanese soldiers and that such action cannot be excused by saying that it occurred during war."[50]

Issue of Taiwan[edit]

The Japan–Taiwan official split is one of the fundamental principles of China-Japanese relations. The PRC emphasises Taiwan is a part of China and the PRC is the only legal government of China (cf. One-China policy). By the 1972 agreement, the Treaty of Taipei was argued to be invalid.

When the PRC–Japan normalization was concerned, the PRC had been worried about some Japanese pro-Taiwan independence politicians. At the same time, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan has been a big problem for the PRC. In a point of the PRC's view, the military alliance treaty implicitly directs to the Taiwan Strait. It has become a big factor for Taiwan security affairs.

On 2 December 2021, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it had summoned Japan's ambassador in Beijing, Hideo Tarumi, over remarks made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on 1 December 2021 in support of Taiwan. In comments attributed to Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister. Hua Chunying, Beijing said Tokyo's envoy had been summoned over Abe's "irresponsible" remarks which presented a "brutal intervention" in China's internal affairs.[51]

On 28 December 2021, both Japan and China agreed to set up a military hotline to defuse potential crises over disputed islands and the Taiwan Strait.[52]

Human rights[edit]

In July 2019, the UN ambassadors from 22 nations, including Japan, signed a joint letter to the UNHRC condemning China's persecution of the Uyghurs as well as of other minority groups, urging the Chinese government to close the Xinjiang internment camps.[53][54]

On 6 October 2020, a group of 39 countries, including Japan, the U.S., most of the EU member states, Albania, Canada, Haiti, Honduras, Australia and New Zealand, made a statement to denounce China for its treatment of ethnic minorities and for curtailing freedoms in Hong Kong.[55]

Senkaku Islands[edit]

Both China and Japan claim sovereignty over East China Sea islets that Japan calls the Senkaku Islands and China calls the Diaoyu Islands. In 2005, clashes between Taiwanese (Chinese) protesters and the Japanese government in April 2005 led to anti-Japanese protests and sporadic violence across the PRC, from Beijing to Shanghai, later Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shenyang.[56]

In August 2012, Hong Kong activists landed on one of the disputed Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands), and Japanese nationalists responded by landing on the island the following week. In September 2012, the Japanese government purchased three of the islets from a private Japanese owner, leading to widespread anti-Japan demonstrations in China.[57][58] As soon as Japanese government announced Japan's so-called nationalization of the Diaoyu Islands in 2012, China-Japan security relations broke to a freezing point, which triggered a series of military action by Chinese government as countermeasures.[59] Then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda purchased the islets on behalf of the central government to "pre-empt Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara's plan to purchase them with Tokyo municipal funds. Ishihara is well known for his provocative nationalist actions, and Noda feared that Ishihara would try to occupy the islands or otherwise use them to provoke China."[59] Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University believes Chinese officials chose to ignore Noda's manifest motives, regarding any Japanese government purchase as proof that Japan is trying to disrupt the status quo.[59] Relations deteriorated further after the Japanese government purchase of the Senkaku islands, to the extent that China decided to skip IMF meetings held in Japan.[60] Mass protests against Japanese actions occurred in major Chinese cities. Trade relations deteriorated badly during the latter half of 2012 [61] and Chinese government aircraft intruded into disputed airspace for the first time since 1958.[62]

China has sent drones to fly near the islands. Japan has threatened to shoot these down, which China has said would be an act of war.[63]

2010 Trawler collision[edit]

On September 7, 2010, after a Chinese fishing trawler collided with two Japanese Coast Guard patrol boats near the disputed Senkaku Islands, the captain of the trawler, Zhan Qixiong, was arrested by Japanese sailors, sparking tensions.[64] The Japanese government took this action by China as a de facto trade embargo and decided to set aside 53.3 billion yen for the following measures to reduce dependence on Chinese mineral resources:[65][66][67]

  • ¥19.7BN towards development of rare-earth minerals abroad
  • ¥1.6BN towards recycling, urban mining and developing alternative technology by the government and the private sector
  • ¥16.3BN towards developing offshore oil and gas in Japan
  • ¥8.9BN towards a pre-feasibility study on methane hydrate deposits
  • ¥6.8BN towards a study on cobalt rich crust and other undersea reserves
    • Cobalt rich crusts are undersea mineral deposits that contain manganese, cobalt, nickel and platinum, as well as rare earths such as neodymium and dysprosium

2014 Baosteel Emotion seizure[edit]

In April 2014, China seized a cargo ship, the Baosteel Emotion, over unpaid compensation for two Chinese ships leased in 1936. According to China, the ships were used by the Japanese Army and later sunk. A Chinese court ruled in 2007 that Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, owner of the Baosteel Emotion, had to pay 190 million yuan (approx. US$30.5m) as compensation for the two ships. Mitsui appealed against the decision, but it was upheld in 2012. The Baosteel Emotion was released after three days, when Mitsui paid approximately US$28 million in compensation. Japan has stated that the seizure undermines the Joint Communiqué of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People's Republic of China. The seizure came at a point when tensions over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands were running high.[68][69][70]

2014 Chinese fighter jets scrambled over East China Sea[edit]

Japanese reconnaissance planes and Chinese fighter jets came perilously close in an overlapping disputed airspace over the East China Sea in late May 2014. The incident occurred as China was taking part in joint maritime exercises with Russia. China and Japan each accused the other of causing a potentially dangerous situation. The airspace where the close encounter took place is claimed by both countries as part of their "air defense identification zones." Beijing and Tokyo exchanged protests over the incident.[71]

Public perceptions[edit]

Due to historical grievances and present geopolitical disagreements, relations between the Japanese and Chinese people are generally one of mutual hostility. According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 3% of Japanese people view China's influence positively, with 73% expressing a negative view, the most negative perception of China in the world, while 5% of Chinese people view Japanese influence positively, with 90% expressing a negative view, the most negative perception of Japan in the world.[72] A 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed 85% of Japanese were concerned that territorial disputes between China and neighbouring countries could lead to a military conflict.[73]

A public opinion poll of the entire population of China conducted by Pew in spring 2008 shows:

Views toward Japan are especially negative – 69% have an unfavorable opinion of Japan, and a significant number of Chinese (38%) consider Japan an enemy. Opinions of the United States also tend to be negative, and 34% describe the U.S. as an enemy, while just 13% say it is a partner of China. Views about India are mixed at best – 25% say India is a partner, while a similar number (24%) describe it as an enemy....76% of Chinese do not think Japan has apologized sufficiently for its military actions during the 1940s.[74]

Chinese animosity or even hatred of Japan is reflected in the popular culture. American reporter Howard French states in 2017:

to turn on the television in China is to be inundated with war-themed movies, which overwhelmingly focus on Japanese villainy. More than 200 anti-Japanese films were produced in 2012 alone, with one scholar calculating that 70% of Chinese TV dramas involved Japan-related war plots....A prominent Chinese foreign-policy thinker who has had extensive contact with the country's leadership told me, "in meetings since Xi has been in power [2012] you could feel the hatred. Everything is about punishing Japan. Punishing this damned [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe." The most high-profile action that hurt the bilateral relations would be Japanese Prime Ministers’ visits to Yasukuni Shrine, a place considered by most Chinese nationals as offensive because many WWII Japanese military criminals are worshipped there. China-Japan relations reached to the lowest point since the previous Prime Minister Koizumi's term because of his visit to the shrine. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo also visited Yasukuni Shrine many times after he got re-elected in 2010, which triggered furious anti-Japanese protests in China due to the negative attitudes and perceptions between the two nations. In a sense, both Koizumi and Abe made “maverick behavior”, in specific making visits to the Yasukuni Shrine as the proof to exhibit nationalism ideology, which endangered the China-Japan relations into the worst phase.


A 2019 survey published by the Pew Research Center found that 85% of Japanese people had an unfavourable view of China, while 75% of Chinese people had an unfavourable view of Japan.[76][77]

The Economist has written that according to a survey done in 2021, more than 40% of Japanese aged 18–29 feel an "affinity" towards China, compared to only 13% for those aged in their 60s and 70s.[78]

Genron NPO-China International Press Group polling[edit]

A private Japanese organisation, Genron NPO, and a Chinese media group, China International Press Group Limited, conducted the poll. It has been conducted jointly every year since 2005. The purpose of the survey is to continuously monitor the state of mutual understanding and recognition between the people of the two countries and how it has changed.


The poll on the Japanese side was conducted between 12 September and 4 October using the door-to-door retention collection method among men and women aged 18 and over throughout Japan, with a valid sample size of 1,000. The gender of respondents was 48.6% male and 51.4% female. 2.5% were under 20 years of age, 11.8% were aged 20–29, 14.9% were aged 30–39, 17.4% were aged 40–49, 14.6% were aged 50–59, and 38.8% were aged 60 and over. 6.6% had a final education below the middle school, 47.5% graduated from high school, 21.3% from junior college or technical college, 22.3% from university and 0.9% from postgraduate studies.[79]

In contrast, the Chinese public opinion survey was conducted from 15 September to 16 October in 10 cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenyang, Wuhan, Nanjing, Xi'an, Qingdao and Zhengzhou - among men and women aged 18 and over, using the interview method. The validly collected sample was 1571. The gender of respondents was 49.6% male and 50.4% female. 2.7% were under 20 years of age, 21.8% were aged 20–29, 28% were aged 30–39, 24.3% were aged 40–49, 12.3% were aged 50–59, and 10.8% were aged 60 and over. 11.3% had a final education below the secondary school, 27.1% graduated from high school or vocational high school, 32.5% from vocational school, 26.1% from university, 0.5% from double degree and 2.2% from postgraduate studies.

Among Japanese, those with a 'not good' impression of China have turned around from an improving trend over the past few years to a worsening one, with 89.7%, an increase of 5 percentage points from last year to nearly 90%. Those with a 'good' impression of China also decreased by 5 points to 10%.

In contrast, 45.2% of Chinese respondents have a 'good' impression of Japan, maintaining almost the same level as in 2019, when the figure was the highest since the survey began.

The most common reason for Japanese having a 'good' impression of China is 'because I am interested in China's ancient culture and history' (30%), followed by 'because Chinese people have become closer to me due to the increase in tourists and various private exchanges', which was the most common reason in 2019, down from 40% last year to 29%.

As for the reasons why the Chinese have a 'good' impression of Japan, 'because the Japanese are polite, respectful of manners and have a high level of civilisation' stood out at 56.8%, significantly higher than last year's 44.6%.

On the other hand, the most common reasons why Japanese people have a 'bad' impression of China are China's recent behaviour, with 57.4% citing 'aggression around the Senkaku Islands' and 47.3% citing 'China's actions in the South China Sea and elsewhere', as well as 'discomfort with the political system of one-party rule by the Communist Party at 47%, each of which is higher than 2019. The percentage of respondents who said they were "uncomfortable with the political system of one-party rule of the Communist Party" was higher than in 2019.

The reason why the Chinese have a 'bad' impression of Japan is the same as in 2019, with 'no proper apology and remorse for the history of aggression' leading the list at over 70%, followed by the 'nationalisation of the Diaoyu islands'.


The Japanese poll was conducted between July 23 and August 14, using the door-to-door retention collection method among men and women aged 18 and up throughout Japan, with a proper sample size of 1000. The respondents were 48.3% male and 50.9% female. 2.3% were under the age of 20, 11.9% were 20–29, 14.8% were 30–39, 17.3% were 40–49, 14.7% were 50–59, 16.9% were 60–69, and 22.1% were 70–79. Regarding final education, 5.5% have a secondary school education or less, 42% have a high school education, 21.5% have a junior college or technical college education, 28% have a university education, and 1.2% have a postgraduate education.[80]

The Chinese public opinion survey, on the other hand, was conducted using the interview method in ten cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenyang, Wuhan, Nanjing, Xi'an, Qingdao, and Zhengzhou - from 23 July to 30 September among men and women aged 18 and over. The total number of validly collected samples was 1528. The gender split was 51% male and 49% female. 2.4% were under 20 years of age, 22.1% were aged 20–29, 21.5% were aged 30–39, 24.3% were aged 40–49, 14.3% were aged 50–59, 14.5% were aged 60–69 and 0.8% were aged 70–79. 8% had a final education below the secondary school, 22.4% graduated from high school, vocational high school, junior college or vocational school, 27.6% were currently studying at university, 37.7% had a university degree, 0.9% had a double degree, and 3.4% had a postgraduate degree.

The number of Japanese who have a 'poor' impression of China has decreased slightly since 2021 but is still at 87.3%.

The number of Chinese who have a 'poor' impression of Japan has decreased since 2021 but is still over 60% at 62.6%.

The most common reasons for the Japanese having a 'good' impression of China are 'China's ancient culture and history' and 'China's sightseeing spots and magnificent nature'.

As for the reasons why Chinese people have a 'good' impression of Japan, the most common response was 'the quality of Japanese products is high', followed by 'because Japan has achieved economic development and the people have a high standard of living'. Also, reasons such as 'the Japanese are polite, respectful of manners and have a high level of civilisation' at around 50%.

On the other hand, the most common reason for Japanese people having a 'bad' impression of China is China's 'aggression around the Senkaku Islands' at 58.9%, followed by 'I feel uncomfortable with the political system' at 51.5%.

The most common reason for the Chinese having a 'bad' impression of Japan is that Japan 'has not properly apologised and reflected on its history of aggression' at 78.8%, nearly 80%, followed by 'caused conflict by nationalising the area around the Diaoyu Islands' at 58.9%. Notable increases from last year were 'inappropriate words and actions of some politicians' (from 21% to 37.7%), 'Japan is trying to encircle China in terms of military, economy and ideology in cooperation with the US' (from 23% to 37.6%), 'Japanese media propagates the threat of China' (from 11.8% to (from 11.8% to 34.2%) and 'Japan is showing a negative attitude towards one China' (from 11.2% to 26.5%).

Diplomatic visits[edit]

From Japan to China
Year Name
1972 Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka
1979 Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira
1982 Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki
1984 Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone
1986 Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone
1988 Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita
1991 Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu
1992 The Emperor and Empress
1994 Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa
1995 Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama
1997 Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto
1999 Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi
2001 Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (APEC in Shanghai)
2006 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
2007 Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda
2008 Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda (Summer Olympics in Beijing)
Prime Minister Taro Aso (ASEM in Beijing)
2009 Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama (China–Japan–South Korea trilateral summit in Beijing)
2011 Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
2012 Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (China–Japan–South Korea trilateral summit in Beijing)
2014 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (APEC in Beijing)
2016 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (G20 summit in Hangzhou)
2018 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
2019 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (China–Japan–South Korea trilateral summit in Chengdu)
From China to Japan
Year Name
1978 Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping
1979 Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping
1980 Premier Hua Guofeng (state guest)
1982 Premier Zhao Ziyang
1983 General Secretary Hu Yaobang
1989 Premier Li Peng
1992 General Secretary Jiang Zemin
1995 General Secretary & President Jiang Zemin (APEC in Osaka)
1997 Premier Li Peng
1998 General Secretary & President Jiang Zemin (state guest)
2000 Premier Zhu Rongji
2007 Premier Wen Jiabao
2008 General Secretary & President Hu Jintao (state guest)

General Secretary & President Hu Jintao (G8 summit in Hokkaido)
Premier Wen Jiabao (China–Japan–South Korea trilateral summit in Fukuoka)

2010 General Secretary & President Hu Jintao (APEC in Yokohama)
2011 Premier Wen Jiabao (China–Japan–South Korea trilateral summit in Fukushima and Tokyo)
2018 Premier Li Keqiang (China–Japan–South Korea trilateral summit in Tokyo)
2019 General Secretary & President Xi Jinping (G20 summit in Osaka)

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Further reading[edit]

  • Berger, Thomas U., Mike M. Mochizuki & Jitsuo Tsuchiyama, eds. Japan in International Politics: The Foreign Policies of an Adaptive State (Lynne Rienner, 2007)
  • Chung, Chien-peng. Contentious Integration: Post-Cold War Japan-China Relations in the Asia-Pacific (Routledge, 2016).
  • Dent, Christopher M., ed. China, Japan and Regional Leadership in East Asia (Edward Elgar, 2008)
  • Dreyer, June Teufel. Middle Kingdom and Empire of the Rising Sun: Sino-Japanese Relations, Past and Present, (Oxford University Press, 2016)
  • Drifte, Reinhard Japan's Security Relations with China since 1989: From Balancing to Bandwagoning? (Routledge, 2002)
  • Emmott, Bill. Rivals: How the Power Struggle between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade, (Harcourt, 2008)
  • Hagström, Linus. Japan's China Policy: A Relational Power Analysis, (Routledge, 2005)
  • Hook, Glenn D., et al. Japan's international relations: politics, economics and security (Routledge, 2011) .
  • Insisa, Aurelio, and Giulio Pugliese. "The free and open Indo-Pacific versus the belt and road: Spheres of influence and Sino-Japanese relations." Pacific Review 35.3 (2022): 557–585. online
  • Iriye, Akira. China and Japan in the Global Setting, (Harvard University Press, 1992)
  • Itoh, Mayumi (2012). Pioneers of Sino-Japanese Relations: Liao and Takasaki. Palgrave-MacMillan. ISBN 978-1-137-02734-4.
  • Jansen, Marius B. Japan and China: From War to Peace, 1894-1972 (Rand McNally, 1975).
  • Keene, Donald. "The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and Its Cultural Effects in Japan." in Donald H. Shively, Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture (Princeton University Press, 1971)
  • King, Amy. China-Japan Relations after World War Two: Empire, Industry and War, 1949–1971 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).
  • Kokubun, Ryosei, et al. eds. Japan–China Relations in the Modern Era. (Routledge, 2017).
  • Kokubun, Ryosei. Japan–China Relations through the Lens of Chinese Politics. (Japan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture, 2021).
  • Lai Yew Meng (2014). Nationalism and Power Politics in Japan's Relations with China: A Neoclassical Realist Interpretation. Routledge.
  • Licheng, Ma. Hatred Has No Future: New Thinking on Relations with Japan (Japan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture, 2020).
  • Lone, Stewart Japan's First Modern War: Army and Society in the Conflict with China, 1894-5 (Springer, 1994).
  • Nish, Ian. "An Overview of Relations between China and Japan, 1895–1945." China Quarterly (1990) 124 (1990): 601–623. online
  • Ogata, Sadako. Normalization with China: A Comparative Study of U.S. and Japanese Processes, (University of California, 1988).
  • O'Hanlon, Michael E. The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War Over Small Stakes (Brookings Institution, 2019) online review
  • Paine, Sarah C.M. The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Perceptions, Power, and Primacy (Cambridge UP, 2005.)
  • Reinhold, Christiane. Studying the Enemy: Japan Hands in Republican China and Their Quest for National Identity, 1925-1945 (Routledge, 2018).
  • Rose, Caroline. Interpreting history in Sino-Japanese Relations: A Case Study in Political Decision Making (Routledge, 1998)
  • Rose, Caroline. Sino-Japanese Relations: Facing the Past, Looking to the Future? (Routledge, 2005)
  • Rose, Caroline. "Breaking the Deadlock: Japan's Informal Diplomacy with China, 1958-9." in Iokibe Makoto et al. eds. Japanese Diplomacy in the 1950s: From Isolation to Integration (Routledge, 2008)
  • Schultz, Franziska. Economic Effects of Political Shocks to Sino-Japanese Relations (2005-2014) (Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, 2019).
  • Söderberg, Marie. Chinese-Japanese Relations in the Twenty-first Century: Complementarity and Conflict, (Routledge, 2002)
  • Thorne, Christopher G. The Limits of Foreign Policy: The West, the League and the Far Eastern Crisis of 1931-1933 (1972) online
  • Vogel, Ezra F., Yuan Ming & Tanaka Akihiko [eds.] The Golden Age of the US-China-Japan Triangle, 1972-1989, (Harvard University Press, 2003)
  • Vogel, Ezra F. China and Japan: Facing History (2019) excerpt scholarly survey over 1500 years
  • Wan, Ming. Sino-Japanese Relations: Interaction, Logic, and Transformation (2006) online review
  • Wei, Shuge. News under Fire: China's Propaganda against Japan in the English-Language Press, 1928–1941 (Hong Kong University Press, 2017).
  • Whiting, Allen S. China Eyes Japan, (University of California Press, 1989)
  • Wits, Casper. "The Japan Group: Managing China's People's Diplomacy Toward Japan in the 1950s." East Asia 33.2 (2016): 91–110.
  • Yoshida, Takashi. The Making of the 'Rape of Nanking': History and Memory in Japan, China, and the United States (Oxford University Press, 2006) excerpt.
  • Zhao, Quansheng. Japanese Policymaking: The Politics behind Politics: Informal Mechanisms & the Making of China Policy, [New Ed.] (Oxford University Press, 1996)

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