Can China Seduce Japan? 14 Reasons for Its Overtures in 2018

As Sino-US relations have deteriorated in 2018, Beijing has looked elsewhere in Asia for closer ties: to the Korean Peninsula, where Kim Jong-un was desperate to improve relations in order to pursue diplomacy with Donald Trump with his “back covered” and Moon Jae-in was awaiting pressure from Trump after enticing him into diplomacy with Kim that was bound to break down; to Russia, where Vladimir Putin has pleaded for an alliance or something close to it, given clarity that no matter how much Trump stands on his side, the Russo-US relationship keeps nosediving and China alone can seriously counter the deepening sanctions on Russia; and to India, where Narendra Modi has recently joined the SCO and is intent on boosting economic ties to China. Perhaps, the most surprising country on the list is Japan, where Abe has repeatedly called for improved ties to China but, simultaneously, was seen as the most consistent in trying to forge a counterbalance to China and was long vilified inside China for his revisionist and strategic thinking. Japanese sources have been closely monitoring Xi Jinping’s pursuit of Abe, notably the uptick since May.

2018 is the fortieth anniversary of the peace treaty between Beijing and Tokyo that accelerated the improvement in relations that began in 1972 following Nixon’s breakthrough with Mao. It affords an opportunity for Abe to renew summitry with China’s top two leaders and to achieve the long-expressed objective of bringing Xi to Japan for the first time, albeit only after Abe goes to China for a bilateral summit. The year has also become recognized as the moment when fundamental transformation is occurring in the geopolitics of Northeast Asia: seen as a confluence of three forces—China’s rise, Trump’s impact, and diplomacy over North Korea. In this situation, Japanese of many persuasions are discussing the diversification of foreign policy, which opens the door to Beijing to try to shape the way that diversification should proceed.

Signs of China’s pursuit of Japan are hard to mistake. Relenting after years, China sent Premier Li Keqiang to a trilateral summit in Japan with Moon from May 8 to 11 and finally agreed to a hotline to prevent military clashes, while taking satisfaction from new momentum to reach a three-way FTA. On May 4 Xi spoke with Abe for 40 minutes by phone—the first telephone exchange with a Japanese prime minister. In contrast to the recurrent appeals since the 1990s to bring relations back just to where they had been after a rough spell, there is talk now of raising relations to a new stage that would resume the process of reconciliation begun in the 1980s. This positive mood continued through August as Abe awaited a summit with Xi.

In 1999-2000, 2002-03, and 2007-08, there were signs that Beijing sought to improve ties to Tokyo. Ties had been set back repeatedly but they received a boost at times of troubled US ties—Jiang Zemin’s 1998 visit to Japan went badly, then Sino-US ties in 1999 suffered from the Chinese response to the US Belgrade bombing; Sino-US ties again were in doubt in 2001 as the Bush administration hardened US policy; and Koizumi’s Yasukuni visits were met in 2005 by unparalleled Chinese demonstrations against Japan even as China’s leaders grew concerned about a clearer US commitment with Japan to Taiwan. To improve relations Beijing combined high-level overtures, sufficiently low key that it would appear that Japan had been doing the pursuing, and intellectual appeals, making the case that recent negative bluster could now be overcome by finding more in common. The most noteworthy intellectual appeals came from “new thinking” in early 2003 with a Chinese pundit Ma Licheng, once on the editorial board of People’s Daily, in the forefront. In the summer of 2018 Ma again was appealing to the Japanese.

Reason 1: Japan’s Long-term Inclination for a New Regional Order Could Prove Useful

The message to China has been unmistakable since the 1950s, punctuated in 1972, 1978, 1985, 1990, 1992, and on and off since: Japan is aspiring to a different regional order in East Asia than the one that tightly constrains its diplomatic autonomy. While Japanese progressives put priority on balanced great power relations that would remove or, at least, limit the US military presence and alliance threat of entrapment and conservatives sought to “reenter Asia” through acceptance of a “normal Japan” having cleared away the onus of WWII, representatives of both groups signaled their desire to cooperate with China in forging a new regional order, even if the
essence of that order would not be to side with China or break sharply with the United States.
Idealistic about China’s thinking and torn by contradictory images of Japan’s place in the new order, they could not convince their Chinese counterparts that the Japan-US alliance was in any jeopardy. Yet, testing Japan’s intentions was of recurrent interest and again is so in Beijing.

In 2018 both Chinese and Japanese repeatedly assert that the regional order is in transition, but to what? If polarization is ahead, then neither side would be satisfied. Chinese are seeking more states to break with Washington, and Japanese are shifting away from a 2013-17 approach that gave the impression it was the leading cheerleader for more resolute US opposition to China’s behavior. A “reset” in Sino-Japanese relations offers some hope that each would benefit from a new order, but suspicions on both sides still run too deep for more than exploratory moves.

Reason 2: An Unnatural State of Leaning Heavily in One Direction in Foreign Policy Is Temporary

The “honeymoon” in Sino-Japanese relations of the 1980s was based on the temporary decision in China that the Soviet Union posed such a serious threat and China had become so isolated by 1972 that it had to lean to the US side, but that clearly changed in 1982 and ended fully in 1989, which deprived Sino-Japanese relations of a driving force. Ma Licheng in the August Chuo Koron explained that from June 4, 1989, theUnited States became China’s no. 1 threat and, as its ally, Japan lost favor too. By implication, Japan in 2018 appears in a parallel light, constrained by its one-sided foreign policy, when its partner is antagonizing it. It would gain more leverage on the United States by diversifying its foreign policy, and China is ready to accommodate its concerns. As seen in 1990-91, Japan’s leaders were attentive to the appeal of exploring this with China.

Chinese believe that Japan is feeling isolated, facing a growing security threat, as China was a half century earlier. Japan does not trust South Korea, cannot make headway with North Korea, has had fruitless talks with Russia, and lost faith in US leadership in consolidating TPP and even the Quad, as well as in managing bilateral relations. This creates an opening for China to act. In Abe’s decision to go to Vladivostok for the Eastern Economic Forum, where Putin and Xi plan to showcase their close ties against the backdrop of the massive military drills Vostok 2018, he not only is continuing to pursue Putin, he also is showing a taste for autonomous foreign policy that could be used by Xi, much as he utilized Park Geun-hye’s 2015 presence at a key military parade.

Reason 3: Diet Members Have Played a Big Role in Bilateral Ties and Stress Common Objectives

To an unusual degree, Japanese parliamentarians and delegations operating unofficially albeit with coordination with the prime minister’s office have driven the process of reconciliation in time of need. Japanese talk a lot about “pipes,” who act as go-betweens in bilateral relations, and even when there is no former prime minister or elder statesman available to play that role inter-party delegations of Diet members can serve that purpose, as they have in earlier times. Chinese are again cultivating such channels with Japan, conscious of Abe’s orchestration and of interest in Japan by Abe’s critics in encouraging such explorations of ways to improve relations. 

Mainichi Shimbun on August 12 reported on the 40th anniversary of signing the treaty between Japan and China and the role of diplomacy between parliamentarians. It observed that while economic relations and exchanges had deepened, political relations had stagnated or worsened repeatedly over this period due to clashes over historical consciousness and security. The treaty played a big role in transforming the Asian order at a time of US-Soviet Cold War, it adds. When negotiations stumbled, parliamentary diplomacy played an important role in resolving disputes. While the pro-Taiwan faction in the LDP was opposed to the treaty, Fukuda pushed it through, worried about the Soviet Union. A pro-China faction in the LDP and a cross-party faction with Komeito and others engaged in shuttle diplomacy with the Chinese in this process. Along with business circles, they forged rich human networks at a time of diplomatic groping with China. After relations deteriorated in 2012, ties are being reinvigorated, but the pro-China faction representatives are retiring, one after another. In October Abe will go to China; in June 2019 Xi Jinping is expected to pay a state visit to Japan, possibly meeting the new emperor. Abe has let ties with China and South Korea deteriorate, not strongly criticizing Trump for protectionism or threat of nuclear war. The Diet needs to be involved: it has responsibility for treaties and a past role in relations with China that bodes well for today. Chinese are well aware of this tradition. A newspaper critical of Abe sees a way to bypass him, fearing that he will not pursue Xi vigorously.

Reason 4: Japan’s Cultural Affinity to China Could Be a Promising Basis of Reconciliation

In the mid-1980s Chinese held out hope that Japan’s model of modernization could provide the most relevant lessons for China because it was the wellspring of Asian dynamism. In the early 1990s, as Confucianism made a comeback in China, there was some encouragement for shared regional traditions as a basis for China and Japan to cooperate on regionalism. In 2007-08 Hu Jintao joined Fukuda Yasuo in showcasing cultural history that binds the two countries together. Also, during the “new thinking” overtures to Japan of early 2003, a few commentators made a concerted effort to strip away historical detritus that had darkened relations in favor of themes that would give hope for mutual respect. Demonization of Japanese history and utter disregard for encouraging consciousness of what China and Japan share in common has usually prevailed, but as the desirability of improving relations revives, appealing to past cultural affinity resumes.

Setting aside the loss of interest in traditional culture among both Chinese and Japanese youth, one can point to the shared use of Chinese characters, which only these two countries maintain, and the fact that the icons of Confucian culture in China have long been appreciated by certain Japanese intellectuals. Yet, Confucius Institutes, which could have been expected to showcase the common heritage of the two nations, have been drawing criticism in Japan, as in the West.

In the July issue of Chuo Koron an article warned that Confucius Institutes are a Trojan horse, citing US criticisms of them for political propaganda, information gathering, and cultivation of pro-Chinese elements. The article notes that ten of them operate in Japan, e.g., at Waseda and Ritsumeikan universities, and there are other Confucian classrooms or other arrangements that violate academic freedom and freedom of speech. What they do is basically unrelated to real Confucian teachings. The issue carried an article by Kawashima Shin on a new Chinese cultural and propaganda policy aimed at the Belt and Road, including Central Asia. Japan’s Ministry of Education is largely aloof, and Japanese do not realize that cultural exchange is viewed differently on the Japanese and Chinese sides, meaning there is no reciprocity. China’s laws limit what can be done inside that country, while China makes use of the freedoms in other countries. About 2/3 of the 525 Confucian Institutes in the world are in Europe and America, where openness prevails. As China’s confidence rose following 2008, it tightened controls at home, as seen in the firewall, while becoming more brazen in its cultural assertiveness abroad, taking advantage of growing economic clout that made others hesitant to resist. Especially in “liberal states” new methods proved suitable for more assertive propaganda activity. Overseas Chinese were mobilized for political activity on matters such as the Nanjing massacre and “comfort women,” and exchange students in places such as Australia were told to boycott instructors whose contents deviated from Chinese government positions. This message is starkly at odds with Chinese appeals to view culture as a pathway to forging a shared identity. It will be difficult to rekindle Japanese hopes for cultural bonding, given past disillusionment.

Reason 5: Chinese Public’s Image of Japan is Improving, and Japan Should Seize on This

Ma Licheng in the July 11 Yomiuri argued that the image of Japan in the Chinese populace is changing and that improved relations are possible and necessary at a time a trade war with the United States is beginning and Japan too is facing US trade pressure and has reason to improve ties as part of diversification and not lean solely on its ally. Given the vast Chinese market, he says, Japanese business circles have strong expectations. Although ties to Japan are sensitive in China and bold leadership is needed, Xi has to proceed cautiously. Yet, he wants to boost ties, as did two previous strong leaders, Mao and Deng, Plus, he has on his side the surge of Chinese tourists to japan—perhaps 8 million this year—who see with their own eyes a prosperous, safe, polite, and clean country, putting aside one-sided propaganda, as in war movies. This is a new foundation for long-term friendship. Yet, Ma calls on Japanese to understand the feelings born from wartime suffering and the danger of nationalists on both sides—but stronger in China—using such sentiments. He advises cooperating more now in the economic arena and doing so with confidence that the Chinese people in this massive and growing wave of tourism to Japan are showing that they are ready to embrace a more positive outlook once they know it better.

Ma wrote in the August Chuo Koron that Chinese opinion of Japan has already been improving. Whereas Japanese who feel friendly to China numbered 11.5 percent in late 2017 as ties began to improve (8 percent more than in 2016), Chinese satisfied with Japan rose to 31.5 percent—a jump of 21.7 percent from 2016. Yet, he warns against excessive nationalism in both China and Japan and urges prudence in managing it. Reviewing the arrogant, unbalanced Chinese image of Japan in the 1990s and the wild nationalism associated with anti-Japanese demonstrations that followed, Ma points to progress when leaders took control in 2007-08 only to be overwhelmed from 2012 by Japanese nationalism spurred by alarm over China overtaking Japan’s economy and even hysteria that China would someday attack Japan; the vast majority of books on China are now critical—seen as a sign of psychological distress—but something that can be managed in a country where modernization is complete and a constitutional order prevails. In these two countries, Ma argues, young people in the wake of globalization share a lifestyle with much in common and cultural interests that can put them in the forefront in reconciliation. He rests his case not on traditional culture but on Chinese youth enamored of Japan’s enticing new culture.

Reason 6: Japanese Capital and Technology Are Necessary for China’s Transforming Economy

Both China and Japan have deepening concern about their economic prospects. As Trump eyes ways to hinder China’s high-tech ambitions through export controls, symbolized by its plan for leadership in various fields in 2025, increased cooperation with Japan looms as a way for China to break through the expected bottlenecks. If growth in China’s economy is now shifting to a new stage where high tech matters most of all, partnering with Japan takes on new urgency. In the 1980s Japanese capital was most critical, fueling China’s positive outlook on relations. In the 1990s, China found that it could demonize Japan over history and yet benefit enormously from the transfer of labor-intensive industries. The Chinese market has been a driver for Japan in more recent years. Regardless of the period, Chinese have pressed for more transfer of the best technology Japanese firms have to offer. This is again a priority given Xi’s heightened ambitions. For Japan, its exports to China are deemed to be mostly high-tech; so it has reason to proceed.

The appeal to economic complementarity comes at a time Japanese are unnerved by Trump’s zero-sum outlook on trade and pressure on Abe to negotiate a bilateral FTA at the expense of what many in Japan view as its economic interests. There is talk by Chinese that economic ties between China and Japan have considerable room for expansion. Stemming the diversion of Japanese capital investment away from China, as some plants relocate, Chinese seem intent on rekindling economic optimism in bilateral relations and hope that they have willing partners. Yet, an August Chuo Koron article by Makita Kazuhiko argued that even as China’s R&D has exceeded Japan’s—along with 5 times as many publications about AI—and some wonder if Japanese should avail themselves of this Chinese surge as it has relied on US knowledge over the decades, there are problems of quality, dual use for military purposes, and a low-level of existing exchanges. Makita calls for continued positive exchanges that will be useful to both Japan and China. A joint article in the July Bungei Shunju, however, warned that high-tech is the main battleground in the Sino-US competition, where there is no clear line between military and civilian uses.

Reason 7: Both Benefit from Cooperation Rather than Competition on Overseas Infrastructure

Competing for contracts, China and Japan have enabled third countries to play one off against the other. Knowing how keen Xi has been to garner Japan’s support for his pet project, the Belt and Road Initiative, Abe made the decision in the late spring of 2017 to cooperate on a case-by-case basis, setting in motion the diplomacy that has accelerated in 2018. Japan did not have a lot of success in arguing that “quality infrastructure” is preferable to what China has had to offer, since many of the BRI targeted states care first about the affordability of contracts.

Recently, as stories have unfolded about the debt trap that results from China’s loans for what many perceive as infrastructure beyond the means of developing countries, Chinese may view coordination with Japan as a source of reassurance to these countries. In turn, they recognize that Japan is keen on garnering a share of the infrastructure construction as vital to its plans for revitalization of companies with considerable political clout. Abe has placed conditions on such cooperation—including transparency—and it is still early to discern projects that go forward. Yet, China recognizes that this new understanding is powerful bait for the Japanese side.

Reason 8: The Dangerous Disarray over North Korea Gives Japan Incentive to Work with China

This burning concern in Japan has aroused a split response. One is that China is seizing control over the diplomatic whirlwind and will use it in ways dangerous for Japan, requiring closer ties to the United States and a stronger Japanese security posture. In Sankei Shimbun on June 24 there was mention of a new campaign parroting the slogan of the Korean War, “oppose the US and assist North Korea.” Now Chinese are calling for “oppose the US spirit.” Unlike 2017 when China joined in sanctions in cooperation with the United States, it is now not only pressing the North to follow a course of diplomacy antithetical to US demands but rallying the public against the “trade war” blamed on the United States.

On June 28 Nishihara Masashi in that paper’s Seiron expressed the widespread doubt that talks on denuclearization would progress, that Trump knew what he was doing in the talks and in his inaccurate statements about them, and that a guarantee of security to the North was reasonable since it meant supporting suppression of a democratic movement there. Nishihara sees China taking the lead over the United States, while Trump is enabling it as he weakens US alliances with South Korea and Japan. The upshot will be China growing more aggressive in its demands as Sino-US relations deteriorate, making it essential that Japan strive to strengthen the Japan-US alliance for stability in a region that is undergoing rapid transformation.

Other Japanese commentaries also recognize China’s growing control over the North Korean issue as the regional order is changing—some suggest parallel significance to 1992 (Tomisaka Satoshi in Chuo Koron, August)—but they are more amenable to cooperating with China or at least to urgently starting talks with North Korea (Sato Masaru in the same issue). Dismissing the way Trump was characterizing the diplomacy (as an unprincipled way for him to shape the fall mid-term elections), they see US-North Korean talks as a dead end and refocus on what China is seeking from the North, arguing that this is what Kim was anticipating when he spent three days inspecting areas on the Chinese border (Asahi Shimbun, July 4). As Tokyo Shimbun editorialized on July 2, the Trump-Kim summit dashed hopes that had been building, and now US reliability is in question. Into this void China has been stepping, offering its services. Unable to coordinate with its ally, Japan is a tempting target for a power that has leverage on the one issue of most urgent concern. China is trying to assure Japan that it will listen to Japan’s concern.

Reason 9: Trump Has Alienated Abe and Given Him New Reason to Work with Xi

The United States has become an ally that does not consult on critical strategic decisions that can impact heavily on Japan, a trading partner that reverses its commitments despite extensive preparations, and an unreliable force for regional security given the way it is now treating South Korea as well as North Korea. Some in China even see a possibility of some shakiness occurring in the US-Japan alliance. After Abe desperately sought summits with Trump from the time they met just after Trump’s election to Abe’s spring 2018 visit to seek coordination prior to the June Singapore summit of Trump and Kim, it should not be surprising that he is looking elsewhere for even a little leverage on Trump, although he is dealing with a leader who shows scant interest in such balancing moves. Chinese remind the Japanese of how shabbily they are being treated.

The disillusionment with Trump only intensifies. Trump’s decision to cancel plans for the annual US presidential trip to Asia for the East Asian Summit and reassurance to allies and partners is the latest affront. Accusations against Japan over trade and burden sharing continue unabated. There is not the slightest indication of closeness with Abe or warmth toward Japan by a leader, who prior to taking office, made a habit of blaming Tokyo for various US economic ills.  Whether this gives Xi an opening is debatable, but one should be surprised by the effort to find out. In one of many articles on how Japan should respond to the disorder in Trump’s foreign policy, Machidori Satoshi in the August Chuo Koron wrote that Trump disregards the basic rules of international relations and leaves allies with uncertainty. Yet, he adds, US foreign policy is not just what Trump says. There are many continuities, and they will endure beyond Trump’s tenure, perhaps just 2 ½ years from now. In the meantime, Japan should keep forging close personal ties with US officials even if Abe has not succeeded with Trump; it should reaffirm liberal values and tighten ties to the American policy community apart from Trump; and it should encourage the competition over ideas in Japan to make it more persuasive to others as a champion of values.  

Reason 10: Trump is Putting Pressure on Xi, Driving Him to Turn toward Abe

US policy toward China has hardened: on security, on trade, on Taiwan, etc. Meanwhile, Abe continues to seek improved relations with China. This naturally leads Xi to consider the option of closer Sino-Japanese relations more seriously. Chinese make no secret of the importance of this factor in their pursuit of Abe. Unlike the argument that Abe is being treated shabbily and should turn to Xi for some balance, the Chinese are also offering the argument that Xi Jinping is driven to pursue Abe more boldly because China is in a difficult situation. Moreover, the image is conveyed that this is not temporary—a major realignment is under way, and China will need Japan for a long time to come. Not only its economic interests will drive it to Japan, but Xi’s objectives in Asia for China’s rise could be pursued more easily if he were to find common ground with Abe’s priorities.

The challenge is somehow to associate Trump’s callousness to Japan to his deepening pressure on China. Many in Japan welcome elements of Trump’s pressure on China: over Taiwan, the South China Sea, unfair economic policies, and designs for dominance in Asia. Xi is not a sympathetic figure in Japan, even in comparison to some past Chinese leaders and to Putin’s personal aura boosted by Abe. Prior to an expected visit to Japan in June, it is unlikely that his image will change.

Reason 11: Xi Has Consolidated Power and Seeks to Champion Globalization

Kawashima Shin in the August Chuo Koron refuted Ma Licheng’s cautious optimism, arguing that Xi’s tightening control over speech and censorship of Chinese media over historical matters bodes poorly for relations with Japan. The idea that Chinese tourism will change attitudes and lead the government to alter its policies is unconvincing when China has switched from calling the war against Japan and 8-year war to a 14-year war and otherwise steers history narratives away from paths toward reconciliation. Kawashima sees shared national interests now leading to some improvement in relations, but not to the level of the 1980s and not to Xi giving Japan the priority it had under Deng or Mao. Given his thinking, Xi’s purpose in boosting ties is far more constricted. 

Chinese seem intent on sustaining the image that they have tried to cultivate in 2018 that in spite of widespread nervousness about Chinese assertiveness Xi is the alternative to Trump in keeping alive hopes for globalization. Even if Japanese cannot be convinced of this message, it serves a purpose in getting Japan to cooperate on trade agreements and other endeavors embarrassing to Trump. This is an opening that has been left by abnegations of US leadership over many causes.

Reason 12: Abe Can Use Foreign Policy Success to Win LDP Reelection at a Time of Uncertainty

Chinese seem well aware of Abe’s hopes to find a silver lining in the dark cloud of foreign policy that has marred his record. His claims to success with Park Geun-hye in 2015, Putin in 2016, and Trump in 2017 all have proven empty. Yet, momentum in relations with Xi in 2018 hints at the continued importance of his leadership rather than a repeat of the annual turnover in prime ministers that plagued Japanese foreign policy after Koizumi. Xi has reason to think that he can take advantage of Abe’s need not only in the months leading to Abe’s expected reelection by the LDP as its leader but into 2019 as Abe continues to face difficulties on other international fronts.

Reason 13: Japanese Public Opinion Is Amenable to a More Positive Outlook on China

Yomiuri Shimbun on July 5 carried the results of a joint poll with Hankook Ilbo, including some queries on attitudes toward leaders active in Northeast Asia. On Kim Jong-un, only 4 percent of Japanese but 26 percent of South Koreans (more than the 5 percent who trust Abe, versus 21 percent of Japanese who trust) answered that he could be trusted. On Trump, Japanese trust was 24 percent, and South Korean trust was 33 percent; whereas on Xi, the respective levels were 11 and 23 percent. In light of the scant trust in Japan for the leaders active in Northeast Asia and the continuing sense of threat (82 percent), any policy shift could arouse skepticism. On China, the percentage of Japanese feeling that their country’s relations were good had risen from 21 to 27 since 2017, whereas in South Korea it jumped from 16 to 48. China had made some progress with the Japanese public, but the contrast was unmistakable.

In overtures to Japan, Chinese have shown no recognition of the intricacies of Japanese national identity and what might successfully appeal to the Japanese public. They had a promising basis on which to build through much of the 1980s, another opening in the first half of the 1990s despite the setback from China’s crackdown in 1989, and later opportunities—as in 2003 and 2007-08. In today’s pursuit of Japan, we again see little indication of the reassurances that could be effective. 

Reason 14: Japan Is at a Crossroads Facing Isolation in Its Region or Gaining a Voice in Change

This is the implicit message coming from China, but it appeals more to the progressive minority than to the Japanese security establishment and conservatives. As discomforting as Trump has been for Japanese, the reservoir of trust in US security relations remains strong. Recent fear of isolation leads many to fall back on what has given them reassurance for more than six decades. The Chinese failed in brief and seemingly half-hearted overtures to Japan at times over the past four decades, and there is no indication that today’s overtures will be more sustainable or successful. Chinese not only overstate the degree of Japanese readiness to pursue a new order in light of the Sino-US rivalry deepening, but also underestimate what China would have to do to create an attractive image for Japan of security, economic, and civilizational ties and trust.

The foremost problem is how little China is prepared to alter what Japanese regard as negative in search of much improved relations. The goal appears to be limited to trying to widen recent crevices in US-Japan ties and gain some modest economic benefits without seriously pursuing Sino-Japanese reconciliation. On North Korea, the South China Sea, internal repression, closer military ties to Russia, and the mainstream of negativism still predominant in coverage of Japan, there is no reason to expect that Japanese will grow less concerned and embrace ties that could prove meaningful in the realignment that many foresee in the overall East Asian regional order.  Yet, Trump’s behavior may lead Japan to take steps seen as problematic in Washington such as accelerating the timetable for RCEP on terms China would welcome. Given today’s instability and even unpredictability, Abe is likely to keep his options open until conditions may settle down.