The Power Politics Behind Sino-Japanese Identity Politics

Abstract Following the Senkaku/Diaoyu standoff, Sino-Japanese power politics slowly contributed to the crystallization of antagonistic identities, through the active involvement of state-led communication efforts. An International Relations (IR) Realist framework reassesses orthodox Constructivist accounts on Sino-Japanese identity creation. Within the broader structural picture of great power competition, the Chinese and Japanese elite engaged into a more assertive foreign policy aimed at territorial defense. Central governments enjoy leverage in defining the perimeters of discourse-making, and the nationalistic Abe and Xi administrations have mobilized public opinion following the 2012 crisis scenario. The ensuing propaganda wars fostered a “propaganda dilemma” that reinforced the Japan-China identity chasm. Finally, apart from winning the hearts and minds of international public opinion, the Japanese and Chinese governments sought international support that would reverberate with their respective domestic audiences and legitimize their increasingly rock-solid stances.

Keywords Neo-Classical Realism • Constructivism • Identity politics • Nation-state • Japan-China • Self-Other

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Japan confronted a multipolar post-Cold War regional order premised not only on China’s staggering, © The Author(s) 2017

G. Pugliese, A. Insisa, Sino-Japanese Power Politics, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-59554-6_2

if bumpy, ascendance to regional hegemony, but also on the relative decline of the US, whose commitment to its transpacific ally’s security could not be taken for granted indefinitely. The Senkaku/Diaoyu islands standoff functioned as a cognitive transference of the broader undercurrents of transition to an unbalanced multipolar order. While the geopolitical and security nexus behind China and Japan’s post-2012 diplomatic, military, and economic initiatives was evident, this has not been the case for the thorny issue of identity. To be sure, recent original scholarship has pointed to the spiraling nature of discursive animosity between the Chinese and Japanese governments. Nonetheless, it has failed to recognize the international power politics, coupled with the interplay of domestic politics, behind the progressive construction of antagonistic identities; these are the Neo-Classical Realist (NCR) underpinnings of discourse-making.

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