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Analysis
Last Updated: 09/02/2010
Regionalism and Reconciliation: A Comparison of the French-German and Chinese-Japanese Model
Dr. Gao Lan

Dr. Gao Lan, Director of Northeast Asian Studies Centre at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, examines the prospects for, and possible pathways to, reconciliation between China and Japan and for the creation of an East Asian Community via a comparison with Germany and France’s post-WWII reconciliation and the development of the European Union. Lan identifies cultural, economic, and historical similarities and differences between China-Japan relations and the successful Germany-France model, illuminating factors that may ultimately facilitate and/or impede reconciliation and regional integration.


Since WWII, traditional relations between leading powers have been reorganized under the framework of regionalism. An important result is that, in Europe, Germany and France, who had been in constant conflict for nearly a century, have achieved strategic reconciliation. In view of mutual practical benefits, thinkers, politicians and strategists from the two countries worked together to promote the development of European Integration, from the “European Coal and Steel Community” to the “European Community” and then the “European Union.” As a consequence, an increasingly unified Europe presents itself to the world.

By contrast, the pathway to reconciliation between China and Japan in Asia has been very bumpy. These countries have experienced a strategic adjusting period, from strategic understanding under the framework of great triangle relations among China, America and Japan dominated by the US-Japan Alliance system during the Cold War to the increasingly evident strategic confrontation between China and Japan after the Cold War. Though the relationship between China and Japan has been established as strategic and mutually beneficial since 2007, there are still many divergences in national interests. There exist important mutual benefits as well as potential friction factor in Chinese-Japanese relations. Some historical issues as well as disagreement regarding historical cognition, in particular, are pushed aside, rather than being reconciled.

In Eastern Asia, the positive development of Chinese-Japanese relations is a vital factor in creating an East Asian Community and has a direct impact on the development of politics and economy for these two countries. It influences cultural communication, economic cooperation, and the regional security of the entire Asian Pacific. In order to further develop economically and ensure lasting peace for long term and stable development, China can draw lessons from France’s success. In order to achieve real strategic reconciliation with Japan at the regional level, it must employ its concepts and strategies of regional cooperation.

Chinese-Japanese Reconciliation: Learning from the European Model

The creation of an East Asian Community via Chinese-Japanese strategic reconciliation, and made possible by learning from the French-German reconciliation-model, has become the dream of many Asians lately. Indeed, reconciliation between China and Japan is thought to be foundational to a unified East Asian Community seen as the. How, then, can reconciliation be achieved?

Understanding the European example is absolutely necessary, for there are many comparable factors between the French-German Model and Chinese-Japanese Model. First of all, both groups have suffered the effects of war, especially WWII. Also, as was the case for Germany and France, China and Japan would both benefit from regional integration. Just as Europe needs European Community, Asia needs East Asia Community. Third, there is social and cultural foundation for reconciliation. Nationalism in both models is quite distinct. Just as there is strong nationalism in France and Germany, so is there in China and Japan. In addition, both parties are influenced by an increasingly the globalized environment. Specifically, since WWII, there has been growing globalization in the form of regionalization and for this reason, the creation of a regional community in Asia is imperative. Furthermore, as of WWII, America’s strategies always have influenced Europe and Asia. In the process of founding the EU, France and Germany coordinated heavily with the United States. Similarly, in the founding of the East Asian Community, China and Japan will also face the issue of coordinating with the United States.

As the victorious nations, China and France have important similarities. Both of them advocate the strength of culture, justice, morality, and the principle of practical interest. They also have strong regional identity and are keen on international contribution. Likewise, as the defeated nations, Japan and Germany share many strategic points. Japan’s modern legal system has a German origin and its vision for the country shares the German principle of power play. After the WWII, both countries underwent reform and the reconstruction of democratic countries; however, Japan did not have a thorough democratic reform, as it maintained its Japanese emperor system, thanks to MacArthur’s conservative policy towards Japan.

Of course, it is impossible for Asia to copy the European model without any changes. The situation in Asia is more complicated, however, in that, in the first place, deep grievances have throughout history and the countries are typified by distinct cultural systems; consequently, it is difficult to for them to achieve a common “Asian Identity”. Second, there is huge gap of national power between the two countries. Japan is the world’s second largest economy, while China is a developing country. Therefore it is hard for the two countries to negotiate and coordinate at the round table with equality. Third, after WWII, Germany disintegrated Nazi power, the courage and determination of its politicians to face its history being respected by the whole world. Nevertheless, under the domination of MacArthur after the WWII, Japan experienced incomplete democratization reform and retained the pre-WWII ruling system of the Japanese emperor. Some post-war politicians in Japan were the decedents of those war advocates who had prevented Japan from thoroughly clearing its history. Fourth, the role of the United States is distinct. A unified Europe takes root in the concept of “A Europe of Europeans.” France and Germany coordinated rationally with the United States’ presence in Europe, while managing to retain the strong spirit of European independence. In Asia, a US-Japan Alliance is the most important cornerstone of Japan’s foreign strategy. And Chinese-Japanese relations, under the shadow of US influence, lack autonomy and independence.

In spite of the gaps and barriers just described, the dream of the East Asian Community has spread throughout Asia. At some point in the future, Asian Integration, underpinned by Chinese-Japanese reconciliation, will shape the course of development in this region. To the end of facilitating Chinese-Japanese reconciliation, it must be a top priority to draw lessons from the French-German model.

Differences between the French-German and Chinese-Japanese Model and Challenges to Reconciliation

First, in the two models, people have different understanding toward the war. Japan considers itself as having being defeated by the United States and its allied forces (including Taiwan of the Republic of China), not by the People’s Republic of China. Japan views WWII as a war between imperialism powers, the weak falling victim to the strong. Furthermore, Japan considers WWII as a Pacific war against the United States--a comprehensive combat with army, navy, and air force; by contrast, it engaged in only army battle with China. Germany, on the other hand, apologized to the Jews for its crimes but not for the war itself. Japan considers that the Far East Court did not judge the war, but rather the humanitarian disaster.

Second, there are cultural differences. According to Huntington’s book, “The Clash of Civilizations”, it is easier for homogeneous cultures to reach consensus. After WWII, France and Germany, which had been in conflict for nearly a century, achieved strategic understanding under the homogeneous system of Christianity and promoted the European integration progress, becoming a paradigm of successful reconciliation in human history.

Asian cultures are much more heterogeneous and diversified, with emphasis on uniqueness of individual culture. China is a traditional eastern civilization, characterized by Confucianism, while Japan is something between the eastern and western culture. The mainstream Confucian culture of China advocates the harmonious development of politics and culture and pacifism. Because of this, there is strong sense of idealism in China’s foreign policy. As to the cognition of war, the victim awareness is very strong. Instead of national revenge mentality, Chinese people put more priority on the nation’s development to avoid future damage brought by war. Japan’s cultural system is a mixed one. On the one hand, it has inherited China’s Confucianism and developed an eastern culture ideology of “Asianism”. On the other hand, it has absorbed modern cultural thoughts from Europe and America, emphasizing the necessity of war between imperialism and believing that power decides a nation’s destiny.

Thirdly, the awareness of regional identity differs. There is a strong sense of identity in Europe. Many European thinkers, from ancient thinkers in the Roman Empire to post-war German thinkers such as Kant, who advocated “the theory of everlasting peace”, romantic thinkers, and French thinker Jean Monnet, constantly advocate the ideology of peace, equality, and union of Europe; this has echoed throughout all of European society. These ideologies are promoted by French and German politicians; for example, French politician, Robert Xuman, who with the former prime minister of West Germany put forward the “Europaische Federation”; such a perspective helps to establish a unified European society.

Asian identity awareness has a historical root of difference. The idea of “Asian as One Entity” proposed by modern Japanese thinkers Okakula Tensin and Natit Konan arouses little resonance in Asia. In particular, because of the history of war of Japan against other East Asia countries, these countries, especially China, have strong opposition against the Japanese concept of “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere". In Asia, due to historical reason, the idea of regional union tends to be seen as very dangerous and aggressive, and as the annexation of weak nations by strong ones. Therefore, there is a lack of regional awareness of Asia and the Asian Identity put forward by Asian thinkers, including Chinese thinkers, Japanese thinkers and famous Malaysian politician Mahathir, are not easily accepted. After the war, the thought of pacifism in Japan society could not gain the mainstream position, which prevented Japan from wide acceptance in Asian society.

Fourth, the level of modernization differs. After the war, the national power of France and Germany were comparable, which resulted in coordination on an equality basis. In contrast, the gap of national power between China and Japan is too great for equal negotiation.

Fifth, there is a nationalism problem. After the war, there was a strong sense of nationalism in France and Germany. Though Germany did post-war de-Nazification under the principles of “Geneva conventions”, Nazi culture was not completely eliminated. France has a very strong sense of national pride and confidence in national development. Though there was collision of nationalism between France and Germany, the shared regional identity was able to overcome the former, and helped achieving strategic reconciliation and cooperation.

There have been many nationalism problems between China and Japan, especially after the change of comparative national power after the Cold War. In the pattern of two extreme powers, nationalism prevails. The regionalism in Asia, with diversity as its main feature, is always ambiguous and immature. Under this circumstance, the nationalism in China and Japan naturally grows along with the development of these two countries and cannot be easily unified under the framework of regionalism. Therefore, nationalism becomes the most obvious feature of Chinese and Japanese society, and is continuously parting the people of the two countries. Only when the regionalism is mature enough in Asia, the nationalism in China and Japan can be reconciled and coordinated.

The Importance of Economic Relations

European countries started cooperation through “European Coal and Steel Community.” How can the principle of economic interest be carried out in Asia? Asia can start from “10+3” FTA and East Asia Community. The ongoing East Asia Community construction may offer a platform for a better Chinese-Japanese relation.

There is mounting evidence that competition between China and Japan is inevitable in the near future, due to the existence of structural contradictions. But there is still space for their cooperation. The influence of “Chinese-Japanese relations in the world” is growing constantly. The ex-prime minister of Japan, Yasuo Fukuda, pointed out in the speech delivered in “The Future of Asia” in the international conference on May, 22dn, 2008, that the prospect of Asia’s future development in 30 years is “the Pacific Ocean becoming the ‘inland sea.’ At present, though the share of intra-regional trade in East Asia is not as high as 65% as it is in EU, this share rose rapidly from 33% in 1980 to more than 50% after 2000. The economic alliance and cooperation in East Asian region have become an irreversible trend. The East Asia Community is under way, and may offer a platform of the improvement of Chinese-Japanese relations.

The conception of East Asian Community is a long story. After the break of Uruguay Round Negotiation of GATT in Dec, 1999, the Malaysian Prime Minister of that time Mahathir proposed the conception of “East Asian Economic Community.” In 2001, the East Asia Vision Group constituted by 26 experts from 13 East Asian countries put forward the report of “East Asian Community”, a blueprint of wide cooperation in East Asian region. In the 10+3 Summit in Vientiane, Lao’s capital in 2001, leaders from East Asian countries and regions agreed to set the long-term goal of establishing East Asia Community to achieve regional cooperation in East Asia. On Dec, 14th, 2005, “Kuala Lumpur Declaration” was signed in The First East-Asian Summit, “local integration” was proposed, and “East Asia Community” was first time listed on the agenda. On Jan, 15th, 2007, the “Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security” was signed in The Second East-Asian Summit, indicating the establishment of “East Asia Energy Community” on the agenda.

According to the consensus reached by Chinese and Japanese leaders in April and Dec, 2007, both countries agreed on June, 18th, 2008, that they shall cooperate in the transient period before determination of boundary, provided that their laws are not violated. 2,600 square kilometer of joint development sea area has been marked out and Japanese companies can invest on the Chunxiao Oil Field, which is exploited by China and can share the gas and oil production per proportion, which unfolds the practical cooperation on the oil and gas field exploitation in East China Sea.

This agreement is a great step towards the settling the dispute over property rights, which for several years has been hampering the exploitation of East China Sea resources. In recent years, China has put forward a new security concept, calling on the common development and common prosperity of East Asia. China and Japan, starting from the breakthrough point of energy cooperation, go on to strengthen the cooperative relationship and promote the development of regional energy community.

China and Japan have already chosen their strategy for energy cooperation, with the joint development of oil and gas field in East China Sea as the breakthrough point. At present, Japan is accelerating the transfer of its advanced energy saving technology and renewable energy technology to China and other Asia countries through ODA. As “Coal and Steel Community” is the starting point of European Union, the energy community might be the new starting point of strong union at East Asian regions. From now on, China and Japan will have bright prospects in the establishment of energy community.

As a solid foundation for relations, Chinese-Japanese economic relations are already stable and mature. Due to the geographical advantages and strong economic complementarity, the political fluctuation in Japan will not affect the Chinese-Japanese economic and trade relations. At present, the proportion of senior population in Japan is 17% and is estimated to reach 33% in 2030, which means that the economic growth in Japan will slow down after 2010 due to labor force shortage, by that time the normal functioning of economy and society could not be guaranteed. However, China, the neighbor, has abundant manpower resource. Therefore, it is a win-win option for Japan to increase its investment in China.

According to a famous research institute in Japan, comprehensive research institute of Mizuho Bank, the annual economic growth in Japan by 2010 is expected to be 1.91%, in which 0.8% will be contributed by the Japanese invested companies in China, and the increased export due to those processing trade in China. Therefore, the China factor is important.

Prerequisites for Reconciliation

One prerequisite of achieving strategic reconciliation is the balance of national power and shared national interest. After the WWII, the key factor in the achievement of French-German reconciliation is balanced national power, both countries being the big powers of Europe, and having many common interests, such as the development of domestic economy and the prosperity of Europe, which serve as the economic and interest foundation of their strategic reconciliation. As a consequence, making some concessions on national sovereignty and to establish a unified European system became their common goal.

The national power between China and Japan is quite unbalanced: China being strong and Japan weak in ancient times and Japan being strong and China weak in modern times. There is still a great gap between them, though the economy in China has been growing rapidly. Additionally, there is a lack of common interest. The political relationship is cold, though the economic relationship is hot. As a result, China has to further develop itself to bridge the gap of national power and increase the common interests of the two countries, to generate common interest in a regional basis and to truly achieve strategic reconciliation.

Another prerequisite of achieving strategic reconciliation is further regional cooperation. French-German reconciliation was achieved under the framework of regional cooperation of the EU. The new principles of national institution in Europe originated from France and its politicians Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet. The step-by-step achievement of new national institution in Europe such as founding of European Coal and Steel Community, European inner market, and Monterey Integration was based on the foundation of the common interests of France and Germany. Therefore, the true reconciliation and cooperation of China and Japan has to be achieved through the realization of East Asian Community.

The uniqueness of the Chinese-Japanese reconciliation includes strong coordinative relations with the United States. The common factors between the French-German model and Chinese-Japanese model, as I mentioned, are the balance of national power and regional cooperation. As of WWII, the relations among China, the United States, and Japan have been unbalanced. There has been some strategic divergence between the U.S.-Japan Alliance and China, and Japan, lacking independent diplomacy, relies too much on the United States. Therefore, the United States can play an important role in Chinese-Japanese reconciliation. A balanced relation among China, America and Japan should be established and Japan should gradually build its independent foreign policy in order for historical disputes between China and Japan to be settled and strategic reconciliation achieved.

The three powers in the Asian Pacific region, China, the United States, and Japan, have a long history of distrust, competition and hostility. Today, they are facing new challenges, such as independence, power transfer, and other non-conventional security problems. Though they haven’t reached complete consensus on all global issues or regional issues, this triad is becoming increasingly entangled and change in any two sides will affect the third party.

Presently, China has become one of the big powers in the world, Japan is undergoing a change in its global role, and the United States is experiencing the challenge of the decline of its superpower. Therefore, the cooperation among the three countries on security, economic, and other aspects should be strengthened to make the triad more balanced and more stable.

Conclusion -- Barriers to Chinese-Japanese Reconciliation: Historical Divergence and Practical Dispute

The French-German reconciliation was based on the following important factors. First of all, both France and Germany were willing to join European integration and development. Secondly, NGOs in both two countries were powerful and pacifism was prevailing. Thirdly, both France and Germany paid great attention to the education of younger generations and made great efforts to enhance the mutual understanding and communication of the young between two countries. Germany, in particular, from prime minister to civilians, placed much emphasis on the value of peace, on the understanding of the past. However, there is no such trustful atmosphere between China and Japan, due to the fact that Japan always been ambiguous towards the past.

Besides, there is difference in policies between China and Japan. China holds the basic principle of “learning lessons from the past and facing the future” towards Japan, hoping that their relations can be enhanced on the basis of the correct understanding of the history; but Japan’s principle is “forgetting the past and facing the future.”

Since WWII, Japan has been proud of its peaceful path and devotion to international cooperation. However, Japanese should not neglect to reflect on its past, or fail to acknowledge those who suffered the war. Only when Japan treats its history seriously, bravely, and with introspection can it avoid the same mistakes in the future.

With the rising of China and Japan in East Asia, there are many uncertainties in future Chinese-Japanese relations. As the historical problems are gradually relieved, the interest conflicts are going to be aggravated. This is the inevitable stage in the progress of Chinese-Japanese relation and new fluctuation or even fall-backs are expected. The conflicts between China and Japan have a structural nature instead of temporal nature. The Chinese-Japanese relation is still fragile due to structural differences, which will not be mitigated with the change of leaders.

In conclusion, while Chinese-Japanese relation can be improved in the future, it will not be easy for them to achieve reconciliation in the manner of the France and Germany. Founding the “East Asian Community” will offer a platform for improving Chinese-Japanese relations, but strategic reconciliation is yet a long way off.

Dr. Gao Lan is Director of Northeast Asian Studies Centre at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.


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