The Newsletter 72 Autumn 2015

Japan, China, and the construction of history

Leo Douw

After the APEC meeting in Beijing in November 2014 a series of pictures were released in the world press, which showed Japan’s Prime Minster Abe Shinzō and China’s President Xi Jinping reluctantly shaking hands. Small wonder, Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations have been in stalemate for several years and apparently won’t improve much for some time to come. On 25-26 June 2015 a workshop was convened at the University of Amsterdam with the intention to discuss this impasse: can we speak of a new, regional Cold War, which might erupt into a real war, and drag the world community of nations along? Can we speak of an ongoing Chinese expansionism, menacing to Japan and its other neighbors, which should be counterbalanced by a military build-up under US leadership? If so, are there alternatives to this confrontation, in particular by the promotion of trade and investment, or the construction of an East Asian regional identity? And with regard to the latter, could a historiography be constructed that counteracts the Japanese and Chinese nationalisms, and which tempers the concomitant historical claims?