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Professor Chronicles History of U.S.-Japan-China Relations

US Japan Relations
Professor Ezra F. Vogel discusses relations between the United States and Japan in the Bowie-Vernon room of the CGIS Knafel building on Tuesday afternoon.
UPDATED: October 1, 2017 at 1:22 p.m.

Ezra F. Vogel, a sociologist who studies China and Japan, addressed a crowd of about 40 students and faculty Tuesday in a discussion of the complex relationships between the United States, Japan, and China from the early nineteenth century to present.

Government professor Susan J. Pharr, whose work focuses on Japanese politics, posed questions to Vogel about his views on the three nations’ intertwined histories. In his remarks, Vogel made the case that U.S.-Japanese relations were dependent on the relationship between Japan and China.

Vogel started his lecture by explaining how U.S. foreign policy in the Pacific shifted towards seeing Japan as an ally after the end of World War II. He reasoned that this shift occurred to counter Communist influence from China and the Soviet Union in the region.

“By inviting the emperor of Japan and getting him [to China], there was a sign that there was a crack in the western sanction wall against China,” Vogel said. He added that Japanese feelings of guilt after committing large-scale acts of violence in China pressured Japan to seek improved relations after the war.

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Around the 1980s, a decline in economic growth rates in Japan opened up a space for China to become the new regional power, which accompanied a number of nationalist campaigns sponsored by the Chinese government.

Vogel applied his analysis of the history of these relationships to present-day political tensions in the Pacific. For example, Vogel said the 2010 arrest of a Chinese boat captain increased Sino-Japanese tensions, and the spread of food-borne illnesses from Chinese exports to Japan strained relations.

Bill H. Overholt, a senior fellow at the Asia Center, said he was impressed by Vogel’s “historical perspective, the degree to which he can bring the history of several centuries to bear on contemporary issues on which he is very involved.”

Victor E. Teo, an academy associate at the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, said he was pleased with the event.

“I think [Vogel] pretty much covered all the very important points,” Teo said. “One of the things that I would have liked to hear more about is him talk about how the effects of Japan’s alliance with the United States affect Sino-Japanese relations.”

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