20A Joint University of Warwick and Baruch College, CUNY
‘Leading’ and ‘powerful’ are words describing important actors in the international political economy. Such adornments, however, were not always monopolised by China as they seemingly are today. Indeed, Japan had once shaped regional and international trends according to the norms and interests that it sought to propagate. Whether this is still true is debated, and forms the rationale for this essay.
The essay analyses three time periods that are historical, contemporaneous and pivotal to Sino-Japanese affairs. Firstly, the colonial era (1853-1945). Secondly, the post-war economic boom (1945-1991). Thirdly, China’s rise and Japan’s ‘Lost Decades’ (1980s-present). Under individual time periods, different types of leadership (political, economic, and others) are discussed within the context of relevant trends and events. Finally, neo-realist and neoliberal perspectives are then deployed to critique and evaluate. Overall, the research base is interdisciplinary, spanning: history, international political economy and international relations.
This essay’s conclusion is fourfold. Firstly, a mutually exclusive ‘leadership dichotomy’ exists between China and Japan. (If China’s leadership is diminished in one area – Japan’s would rise.) Secondly, Japan’s leadership is no longer undisputed, but should not be fully dismissed. This is because of, thirdly, Japan’s alignment with the United States (US) and how the US – even from afar – holds decisive influence in East Asia. Fourthly, China is the dominating ‘leader’ – but faces multiple problems and opposition.
Today, the consensus is that China’s leadership rise is pervasive and potent. This essay analyses how – even in China’s own backyard in East Asia – such conventional wisdom requires deeper nuance.