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BOOK REVIEW | By Ryuji Hattori, 'China-Japan Rapprochement and the United States in the Wake of Nixon's Visit to Beijing' 

This book by Japanese historian Ryuji Hattori is all the more interesting due to his deep knowledge of the key players and essential declassified documents.



Book cover, "China-Japan Rapprochement and the United States In the Wake of Nixon's Visit to Beijing" by Ryuji Hattori (Routledge)

On September 29, 2022, Japan and the People's Republic of China commemorated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the bilateral joint statement in Beijing. This was the starting point of relations between the two neighbors. And it is the focus of a new volume by Japanese historian Ryuji Hattori.

Readers may recall, however, the cool atmosphere at the time of the celebrations. The PRC had just fired a dozen missiles into Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone during military exercises against Taiwan (and the United States and Japan). 

Japan and China exchanged congratulatory messages, but most people in Japan did not know or care about the 50th anniversary. And many are outright dissatisfied both with the bilateral relationship. They feel the PRC has not honored the spirit of the statement. 

In contrast, support for the bilateral relationship with Taiwan continues to be extremely high. This is highly ironic. In 1972, the then-Japanese government chose to sever relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) in favor of pursuing relations with Communist China. But public support in Japan is high toward the country its government severed official relations with, and low towards the regime with which its government maintains official relations.

China-Japan 'Rapprochement'

There has been much irony in the unfriendly — if not hostile — behavior of the PRC toward Japan. Particularly in past decades. In 2020, Lower House member and Vice Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama was prompted to question the utility of the 1972 communiqué and 1978 peace treaty. 

Nakayama's father, Masaaki, was one of five parliamentarians to vigorously oppose the treaty in 1978. In doing so, he broke with fellow members of the Liberal Democratic Party. 

The younger Nakayama stated that it was necessary to reexamine whether cutting relations with Taiwan in favor of China had been a good decision. His comment, in the form of a question, was widely supported in Japan.

Hattori, Professor in the Faculty of Policy Studies at Chuo University, has published a timely and important history to help us understand that period. 

Entitled China-Japan Rapprochement and the United States in the Wake of Nixon's Visit to Beijing (Routledge, 2022), the 166-page volume is a well-documented examination of the politics and diplomacy of Japan's path to recognizing China. Its particular focus is on the seven months after the United States president's historic visit to China.


Important History Now in English

Hattori seeks to address three main topics in the book. First is the diplomatic negotiations between Japan and China over normalizing relations and how the two countries handled Taiwan. Second is the political leadership of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and his foreign minister, Masayoshi Ohira. The third is the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA) in normalization.

He is one of Japan's leading diplomatic historians. Hattori's biography of Prime Minister Ohira entitled Japan and the Origins of the Asia-Pacific Order: Masayoshi Ohira's Diplomacy and Philosophy (Springer, 2022), was reviewed by this writer and published here previously. 

His deep biographical knowledge of the key players (Hattori has also written a biography of Tanaka, yet to be translated into English) makes reading his diplomatic history writings all the more interesting. This is especially so when combined with his laser-like focus on essential declassified documents. 

On top of this, Hattori reads more than six languages. He is thus able to utilize sources and documents from multiple archives in a number of countries.

The original version of the book was published in Japanese in 2011. It was translated into English by Dr Graham Leonard, who earned his doctorate under another leading Japanese diplomatic historian of Japan-US relations, Kazuya Sakamoto of Osaka University. 

Leonard has translated close to a dozen books himself. Among them are more than half a dozen with this writer. He has quickly earned the reputation of one of the best in the field.

Ryuji Hattori

Entering a Special Period in History

China-Japan Rapprochement is comprised of eleven chapters, including an Introduction, "The Road to Beijing" and Conclusion, "The Spirit of Sino-Japanese Peace." 

Chapter 1, "Tanaka Kakuei and Ohira Masayoshi: Two Types of Leadership," looks at the different styles and qualities of both men. They were friends and political allies despite being "so different in terms of personality and background." (p.14) 

The two men first met in 1947 when Tanaka ran for office. And Tanaka would later support Ohira's election. They subsequently developed a close working relationship, and Tanaka "had absolute trust" in Ohira (ibid). Ohira had previously served as foreign minister. Tanaka, who had succeeded Eisaku Sato as prime minister in 1972, tapped him to be foreign minister again. 

Opening to China

"The Nixon Shock – Moving Beyond Sato," the title of Chapter 2, discusses the massive changes that were taking place bilaterally with the United States and internationally at the time of President Richard M Nixon's surprise announcement to visit China in July 1971 and his subsequent trip there in February 1972. 

The suddenness of the announcement caught the pro-Taiwan Sato administration off-guard. Tanaka, who was serving as Minister of International Trade and Industry, was stunned, telling his secretary, "the world has changed." (p. 24) 


Ohira, on the other hand, was more philosophical about it. He was in favor of establishing relations with the PRC, speaking of it at an early September (1971) meeting of the Kochikai faction. The faction is currently headed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. 

Ohira commented in the following way: "…the time is fully ripe for the government to make an accurate assessment of the situation and bring about a resolution of the so-called 'China Issue.'" (ibid

The following month, the PRC was admitted to the United Nations, and Taiwan withdrew. A year later, as it became clear Sato would be stepping down, Tanaka began to focus more on the LDP presidential election. He "saw Sino-Japanese normalization as a potential way to gain power" over his rivals. (p. 9)

Tanaka would eventually win the LDP presidency with Ohira's help. Chapter 3, "Formation of the Tanaka Government and the Takeiri Memo ー First Approaches to China," begins there. It looks at the early interactions with the PRC following Tanaka's statement after his first cabinet meeting in July 1972 that he would "work to hasten the normalization of diplomatic relations with the [PRC]." The comment was widely reported on the mainland. (p. 34)

Nixon Ohira Ryuji Hattori
Then- Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ohira with President Richard Nixon (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Images.)

America's Shadow

Chapter 4, "Under America's Shadow — the Tanaka-Nixon Summit in Hawaii," discusses Tanaka's efforts to seek US understanding of Tokyo's movements toward the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the PRC. At the time, the United States had not gone that far yet. 

Tanaka told Nixon that the "restoration of diplomatic relations with China cannot be permitted to cause any harm to US-Japan relations." (p. 54) The main question was how to handle Taiwan, led by Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang argued, like the PRC, that there was only "one China." 

Ohira explained that Japan intended to establish diplomatic relations with China and sever relations with Taiwan. But he also said Japan "w[ould] not independently recognize [China's] possession of Taiwan." (ibid)

The above summit took place in late August/early September 1972. Prior to it, between July and August, Ohira and Tanaka met with PRC officials during a visit to Japan as part of the Shanghai Ballet Troupe's performances in the country. The delegation carried "secret orders from [Chinese Premier] Zhou Enlai…to extract a definite promise from Tanaka to visit China." (p. 47) 

Subsequently, a joint statement was drafted between the two sides in order to lay the groundwork for Tanaka's eventual visit to China. 

Japan sought to avoid mentioning the severance of relations with Taiwan in the statement, doing so separately. It also avoided fully accepting China's stance on Taiwan. Instead it referenced the US position in the Shanghai Communique, issued during Nixon's visit, in which the US "acknowledges" the Chinese assertion that Taiwan is a part of China. 

Finessing the Language On Taiwan

Hattori was one of several scholars who interviewed Takakazu Kuriyama, the director of the Treaties Division of MOFA about this time. Kuriyama explained he contacted the US government to confirm what "acknowledges" meant. He was told "acknowledges means acknowledges, 'nothing more, nothing less'." (p. 51) 


Kuriyama added, "the only thing that was clear was that the United States had not recognized China's position that Taiwan was the territory of the People's Republic of China. And, given that Japan could not give recognition to something that the United States had not, we thus had to find an acceptable compromise with China that did not extend to recognition. We had to make use of our basic knowledge concerning the legal status of Taiwan." (pp. 51-52) 

Kuriyama also believed it was necessary to avoid a "secret agreement" with China on a "'tacit understanding' that Taiwan was an internal Chinese matter." China had requested the ploy via a representative of Komeito who had recently visited China and met with Zhou. (p. 52) 

Japanese officials at this stage chose to go with the phrase, "fully understands and respects [the] stance" of the PRC that Taiwan "is an inalienable part of the territory of the [PRC]." (p. 52)

Chapter 5, "Taiwan—the Shiina-Chiang talks as Kanjincho," discusses the pressure from supporters of Taiwan in the ruling party. It covers the discussions that took place between Japan and Taiwan at this time. 

Ryuji Hattori
Chess pieces are seen in front of displayed China's and U.S. flags in this illustration taken January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Cold Shoulder Toward Taiwan

Tanaka appointed former foreign minister Etsusaburo Shiina as special envoy to Taiwan. He also assumed the position of vice president of the LDP. The appointment was meant to soothe matters over with President Chiang Kai-shek, who approved of Shiina's appointment. 

However, Shiina was not given any specific instructions. He came to deeply resent Tanaka for giving him the unenviable task of apologizing to Taiwan for the breaking off of relations. 

Shiina visited Taiwan on September 17 and hand-delivered a letter from Tanaka to Chiang. The letter, according to Hattori, was written not by Tanaka but by the Foreign Ministry. It had been revised at least five times to make the call to sever relations as ambiguous as possible. It read in part: 

The execution of this policy [of establishing diplomatic relations with the PRC] will naturally make an acute contradiction between our nations inescapable. I believe that sometimes the unfortunate can be unavoidable. This will be handled with utmost sincerity, in the spirit of calm and dedication. (p. 69)

Tanaka's letter went to great lengths to explain the reasoning behind the decision. Included in the letter was this paragraph: 

It goes without saying that our nation takes parliamentary democracy as its fundamental principle of national governance. The government has an obligation to embody the views and hopes of the majority of its people. This is the reason why, having given careful thought and deliberation on the matter, we will be establishing diplomatic relations with the Beijing government. In doing so, we are neither meaninglessly succumbing to pressure, nor adopting a shortsighted policy of drawing closer to Beijing for profit. (ibid)


Chiang's Anger

This writer found the phrase, "embody the views and hopes of the majority of its people," worthy of note. Perhaps in the near future, the government of Japan will find the courage to use this same logic to recognize Taiwan once again. Public opinion clearly shows that distrust toward China is high. And the public overwhelmingly likes and favors Taiwan. 

Chiang, then 84 years old, was enraged by Japan's contemplated actions. He prophetically warned Tanaka of the dangers of dealing with Communist China, asking him to reconsider. Unfortunately, Tanaka did not change his mind and continued his preparations to depart for China on September 25.

The remainder of the book discusses in detail Tanaka's trip to China. It includes the negotiations over the Sino-Japanese statement, and the unfortunate severing relations with Taiwan over the course of several chapters. (Chapter 6, "Tanaka's Visit to China and the 'Meiwaku' Speech [September 25]." Chapter 7, "Zhou Enlai's 'Bluff' and Ohira Masayoshi's 'Trump Card' [September 26]." Chapter 8, "The Senkaku Islands and Tanaka's Meeting with Mao [September 27]." Chapter 9, "The Sino-Japanese Joint Statement and Severing Relations with Taiwan [September 28–30]"). It is completed by the aforementioned Conclusion.

This writer does not want to give away what happens and why in this space here. Instead those interested should acquire a copy of the book and see for himself/herself. 

The details in this book help explain the big gap between the feelings of the Japanese people and the schemes of its politicians when it comes to the PRC and Taiwan. It is an action-packed, factually based discussion of a "process," the author argues, that "provides extremely modern lessons to those living today." (p. 137) 

Perhaps Japan's ー and America's ー current leaders will find in it the reasons and courage to re-recognize Taiwan.

About the Book:

Title: China-Japan Rapprochement and the United States in the Wake of Nixon's Visit to Beijing 

Author: Ryuji Hattori 

Translated by: Graham B Leonard

Publisher: Milton Park: Routledge, 2022


ISBN: ISBN 9781032201931

For more about the book: Check the publisher's website, here.

To purchase: From the publisher, here, in hardback. For eBooks, check here. The book is also available from commercial booksellers, such as Amazon


Reviewed by: Robert D Eldridge

Dr Eldridge is a former associate professor of Japanese political and diplomatic history, Osaka University. He is the author, editor, and translator of numerous books. among them are "The Origins of US Policy in the East China Sea Islands Dispute" (Routledge 2014) and Watanabe Toshio's "The Meiji Japanese Who Made Modern Taiwan"(Lexington, 2022).

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