The Competition Myth

The real nature of the relationship between Asia’s two most powerful nations

Japan and China are the two most powerful nations in Asia. Together, they form the nucleus upon which the rest of the region relies for direction and momentum. With their vast economies and increasing political clout, Japan and China are the ladders by which smaller Eastern nations can climb to greater economic and political success. Surrounding countries see both as critical components of their own stability and security.

But how do these two giants see each other? Is there room enough in the region for two great powers?

China’s economy and geopolitical muscle has strengthened dramatically over the past decade. The nation’s gross domestic product grew by a stunning 9.1 percent in 2003. Products with a “Made in China” label fill retail shelves around the globe, including American homes.

It may appear that China’s economic growth is hurting Japan. As cheap Chinese goods penetrate international markets, demand for certain Japanese products is decreasing. Some think Japanese influence in Asia is waning as Chinese influence grows. Others believe the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, situated in the East China Sea, is causing a large rift between the two. The International Herald Tribune (Herald Asahi) even went so far as to write, “The Senkaku Islands issue can be likened to a powder keg in Japan-China relations” (May 15; emphasis mine throughout). Other widely reported disputes exist between the two. Some say one of the only stumbling blocks preventing Beijing from dominating Asia is its old foe Japan.

On the surface, this notion that China and Japan are in competition with one another seems logical. But delve a little deeper and it’s clear that this reasoning simply doesn’t add up. A clear understanding of the facts viewed in perspective with revealed biblical knowledge produces a different analysis.

Might there be a reason for Tokyo and Beijing to choose cooperation over competition? Contrary to the prognosis of many Western analysts and journalists, and even to history itself, the fruits indicate that these two Asian giants are doing just that.

China’s growing influence and its expanding economy are actually generating opportunity after opportunity for its Asian neighbors, including Japan! The reality is, Asia is unifying behind this Sino-Japanese leadership.

A Bloody History

The history between Japan and China is one of bloody conflict. From its earliest beginnings, each nation has cagily kept an eye on the other. Oscillating between passive indifference and open hostility, periodic wars have broken out between the two—the most significant being the Japanese-instigated war of aggression from 1937-1945. In what was called Asia’s Great War, millions of Chinese soldiers and citizens were slaughtered by Japanese warriors. This war ended with the defeat of Japan by the Allies in 1945.

Post-war relations between the two remained frigid until the dawning of the 1970s, when Japanese leadership (following in the footsteps of U.S. President Richard Nixon) rushed to normalize relations with China. In 1972, Japan and China signed the Sino-Japanese Joint Statement—a peace treaty designed to ignite trade and economic relations between the two. With this as a foundation, Sino-Japanese diplomatic and economic relations continued to warm, eventually leading to the signing of the broader Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1978. These treaties continue to underpin the relationship. In December 1979, following in the wake of successful economic negotiations, Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira of Japan visited China in an effort to widen the relationship beyond simple economic and trade relations. Sino-Japanese cooperation has steadily improved since.

The Facts

We do not treat lightly the sour history between China and Japan. We do not relegate to unimportance the disagreements between the two, such as deciding who will control the East China Sea islands, or under whose soil will run a proposed Russian pipeline. These are legitimate obstacles to closer relations. We simply ask: Has there ever been an alliance between nations where there has been absolute unity in mindset? Is there any friendship free from occasional disagreement? Although disputes hinder Sino-Japanese relations at this time, it would be foolish to overlook the strengthening bond between the two nations.

In the words of the Wall Street Journal, Edward Gresser, director at the Progressive Policy Institute, has noticed “that the countries of Asia have become more integrated, with China’s manpower and low costs united with the money and technology of Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore” (June 1). Mr. Gresser believes the effect of all this foreign investment in China is essentially “an informal Asian union—an integrated economy roughly the same size as its $11 trillion European counterpart ….” China’s growth has not only acted as a catalyst for national economies in the region, it is also contributing to the unification of Asia! And Japan and China, with the two largest economies, lead this massive, export-driven conglomerate.

Though Chinese exports have increased, they have not stolen market share from Japan. The Daily Reckoning (UK edition) reported, “The truth is, China and Japan’s economies are complementary, rather than in direct competition with each other” (May 14). Although Chinese goods (which are often cheaper) dominate world markets, many of the high-end technological components making up these final products—semi-conductors, semi-finished audio-visual equipment, telecommunications equipment—are made in Japan, and as a result these high-end Japanese sectors are booming.

Trade between the two nations has flourished, at the expense of trade with the U.S. For the fifth year in a row, in 2003 Japan’s trade with China increased, hitting an all-time record of $132.4 billion. Almost 80 percent of Japan’s increase in exports came as a result of Chinese demand. China currently buys more than twice as much from Japan as it does from the U.S. At the same time, China’s trade surplus with Japan continues to increase. “The truth is that Japan’s imports from China rose by 48 percent in the five years to 2002. Yet Japan’s imports from the U.S., ostensibly its closest ally, declined by more than 23 percent in that period. The end result is that, in 2002, China displaced the U.S. as Japan’s largest source of imports. Given that the Chinese economy is merely an eighth the size of America’s, this is remarkable” (Prospect, April 29). It’s obvious that when it comes to trade, China and Japan clearly receive preferential treatment from each other. The Sino-Japanese trade relationship has never been healthier.

Japanese foreign aid to China has been one of the leading contributors to China’s economic transformation. Japan has contributed more aid worldwide each year than the U.S. for most of the period since 1989. Since the late 1970s, Tokyo has donated the largest portions of that aid to China. In fact, from 1979 to 1999, about two thirds of China’s bilateral aid—$24 billion—came from Japan. And rather than allocate this money to the millions of poverty-stricken Chinese, “[Japan] has generally worked with the Beijing government to fund ‘muscle building’ projects that are clearly intended to speed China’s emergence as an economic superpower” (ibid.).

Beyond trade and economic concessions, Japan has also afforded Beijing a number of diplomatic and political boons. Particularly notable was Japan’s response to the famous Tiananmen Square massacre. While most nations quickly fled the scene, condemning Beijing and imposing sanctions and other punishments, Japan dragged its feet and refused to impose sanctions, saying its policy toward China remained “unchanged” and that the catastrophic massacre was “a Chinese domestic affair.” Although pressure from other nations drove Japan to implement minor penalties on China, “as soon as the political climate seemed opportune, Japan not only restarted its funding operations but expanded them” (ibid.). In fact, Japanese aid to China in the three years after the massacre increased by more than 35 percent over the total in the three years before.

Japan’s actions toward China were not entirely altruistic. China rewarded its neighbor with a dramatic increase in its importation of Japanese goods.

On Nov. 26, 1998, the Sino-Japanese Joint Declaration was issued, a treaty designed to set additional guidelines for the relationship after the end of the Cold War. Together with the 1972 and ’78 agreements, this declaration strengthened the diplomatic and political ties between the two nations.

Then, in the late ’90s, Japan offered trailblazing support of China’s bid to enter the World Trade Organization. In July 1999, Japan granted final approval to China’s wto entry. Wrongly perceiving that the nation they thought had the most to lose from China’s entry into the wto had accepted Beijing’s request, four months later the U.S. gave Beijing a nod; the EU agreed within the year. But don’t forget that it was Tokyo’s initial advocacy that smoothed the path for China’s ultimate acceptance into the wto.

Almost four years ago, China’s leading newspaper, People’s Daily, wrote, “Close economic and trade cooperation will promote the development of the political relations between the two countries …” (Sept. 30, 2000). This was true even prior to 2000. Riding the waves of their mutually beneficial trade and economic relationship, political leaders from both nations, including current Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, have visited each other numerous times since the 1970s. Based on a strong trade and economic foundation, political and diplomatic relations between these two nations continue to improve.

An Anti-U.S. Mindset

Despite the comparatively minor disputes that have arisen, Sino-Japanese relations have radically improved over the past 30 years. A fundamental reason is the two nations’ mutual desire to marginalize U.S. influence in the region, and even the world. “What started out as a simple economic partnership has now blossomed into a full-scale alliance, with an increasingly obvious anti-Western—and particularly anti-U.S.—agenda” (Prospect, op. cit.). Japan and China are coming together with the clear intention to offset American global hegemony.

“Japanese policymakers entered this alliance because they recognized earlier than their Western counterparts how radically the map of world power was likely to be redrawn in the 21st century. They realized that, thanks to reforms initiated in the 1970s, the Chinese economy was launched on a path of sustainable growth. It required little prescience to see that a rise in China’s military power would follow. As Chinese growth has continued to meet and even surpass Japanese expectations, the Japanese have become convinced that the U.S. will come off second best in the rivalry with China for global leadership” (ibid.).

Prospect concluded that Japan and China “resent the universalist nature of America’s agenda on political, economic and social issues. This resentment explains why Japan and China are now quietly looking forward to a day when the U.S.-led world order will no longer dominate.”

It’s clear both nations are looking more to each other for trade and less toward the U.S. China now buys twice as much from Japan as it does from America. Japanese imports from China have increased massively. What is the result? America has a huge and enlarging trade deficit with both nations. While American imports from China and Japan remain high, these nations fail to reciprocate. Their imports from the U.S. are declining.

Years ago, the Japanese predicted China would become a superpower and, accordingly, planned to ensure they would be close to Beijing when that time arrived. Japan’s favorable diplomatic, political, economic and trade gestures toward China since the 1970s have laid the foundation for the current stable and steadily improving relations. This is an impressive example of Japanese foresight.

Japan and China also have more than economic, political, trade and diplomatic reasons to draw closer. Culturally and religiously, the two nations are more similar to each other than they are to the United States. The tendency of nations to align with other nations of similar heritage, religion and culture is widely recognized. Respected international relations expert Samuel Huntington wrote the following in his defining book, The Clash of Civilizations: “In coping with identity crisis, what counts for people are blood and belief, faith and family. People [nations] rally to those with similar ancestry, religion, language, values and institutions and distance themselves from those with different ones.”

Japan and China have similar ancestry, religion, values and institutions. Both share Confucian and Buddhist traditions. The religion and cultures of both nations stress values of supreme authority, hierarchical government, subordination of individual rights and interests, the importance of “saving face” and the “supremacy of the state over society and of society over the individual” (ibid.).

In addition, Huntington wrote, “Peoples and countries with different cultures are also coming apart.” This phenomenon can be witnessed in present-day relations between America and the Far East. While Japan and China have many cultural and ideological similarities, few exist between these nations and the U.S. Where China and Japan stress the value of supreme authority, American values stress equality and democracy. Where China and Japan value the existence of the state over society, Americans naturally distrust government and oppose authority. Obvious schisms exist between the American and Asian cultures.

Huntington identifies another key difference between Asian and American cultures as revealed in past conflicts and subsequent relations: “The Asians … tended to regard the United States as ‘an international nanny, if not bully.’ Deep imperatives within American culture, however, impel the United States to be at least a nanny if not a bully … and as a result American expectations were increasingly at odds with Asian ones” (ibid.).

Expect continued strengthening of the Sino-Japanese alliance and the decline of relations between these nations and America.

Asia in Prophecy

It is clear that strong economic, trade, political and cultural relations, combined with a mutual desire to marginalize American hegemony, are driving China and Japan closer together. But where is this Sino-Japanese relationship leading? Only your Bible can provide the answer!

In Isaiah 3, God revealed that there would be a leadership crisis in Israel (to understand who modern-day Israel is, please write for The United States and Britain in Prophecy) just prior to the return of Jesus Christ. Christ Himself even described the end time as the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). Due to weak Anglo-American leadership, Gentile nations will soon dominate world affairs.

The Bible essentially divides these Gentile nations into three groups. The first and most prominent is the “king of the north,” or a united Europe, led by Germany (Habakkuk 1:6). The second is the Islamic group of nations, or the “king of the south” (Daniel 11:40). The third group of Gentile nations is the Asian multitudes, “the kings of the east” (Revelation 16:12). The ripening relationship of China and Japan ties directly into prophecy concerning this Asian power.

Following the European superpower’s destruction of the king of the south, the Bible explains that in fear of a growing Asian conglomerate, the European military will strike out at this Eastern force (Daniel 11:44). At this time, the 200-million-man Asian army (Revelation 9:16) will react and sweep west to meet its foe in battle. It will quickly inflict devastating losses on the European army.

Ezekiel 38 reveals the identity of the nations that comprise this great Asiatic alliance. Russia, China and Japan are the three leading nations. They are supported by other smaller Asian countries (request our Russia and China in Prophecy booklet). The developing Sino-Japanese relationship is vivid proof that this prophecy soon will be fulfilled. The Bible tells us that at the end of this age Asia will be united—and this is precisely what is happening!

Continue to watch Japan and China draw closer. Concurrent with their improving alliance, smaller Asian nations will unify behind the Sino-Japanese leadership. Don’t be fooled by rhetoric indicating poor Sino-Japanese relations. Japan and China are closer to each other now than at any point in history!

More than just proving that we are nearing the “times of the Gentiles,” developing Sino-Japanese relations prove that we are nearing the return of Jesus Christ to set up the government of God on Earth. Turn in your Bible to Isaiah 6 and 11 and read about the fruits of this new government. As you read, thank God that you know this time will soon be here. The time to prepare for that event is now!

For further insight into what the Bible says about China, request Russia and China in Prophecy.