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Departures Podcast with Barry Buzan

For many years now, China and Japan have not enjoyed very good relations. In fact, highly volatile and emotional issues of territory, history, and identity have escalated dangerously. But are these historical issues largely a political construction, and do in fact the two nations have more in common in terms of interests and history than they are able to see?

Professor of International Relations Barry Buzan joins the podcast this week to discuss his fascinating new book coauthored with Evelyn Goh titled: “Rethinking Sino-Japanese Alienation: History Problems and Historical Opportunities.”

Dr. Buzan argues that China and Japan exhibit foreign policy behavior that prioritizes domestic politics, with little regard for the outside countries.

“Most countries are ‘autistic’ in their foreign policy behavior, in the sense that their behavior is much more internally driven than externally driven, think of Brexit in Britain or what’s going on in the US at the moment,” Dr. Buzan says. “But in Japan and China, it is pretty extreme. These countries are not taking each other into account as an audience. Quite a bit of the Chinese rhetoric practically demands an unconditional surrender of identity from Japan, they don’t give the Japanese the chance to have a self-respecting identity or history that they can embrace with honor.”

Dr. Buzan argues that there are actually very strong historical similarities between China’s rise since the 1970s and Japan’s pre-war empire – there’s just 100 years in between them, and the many small differences, which are more and more intensely felt, have made it impossible for the two countries to come to terms with each other.

Amsterdam and Buzan further discuss what Sino-Japanese relations may mean as the US role in the region continues to deteriorate, and how Japan may find itself being placed in an unenviable position between Washington and Beijing unless they can overcome some of these longstanding historical problems and make a breakthrough.