• Japan–China relations;
  • security;
  • domestic politics;
  • USA;
  • fragile stability

Japan–China relations in the 2000s have seen both significant tensions, notably during the term of Koizumi Junichiro, and marked improvement in the post-Koizumi period. This article analyzes the way external and domestic factors in both countries have influenced the political and security dimension of the bilateral relationship. It also assesses the extent of the underlying tensions and the prospects of long-term stability in Sino–Japanese relations.

The article argues that structural changes and a shifting balance of power in East Asia have led to strategic divergences and security dilemma dynamics in the bilateral relations. Additionally, the rise of conservatism in Japan under Koizumi and China's use of the “history card” exacerbated mutual distrust and contributed to souring ties in the first half of the 2000s. While the bilateral relations have stabilized in the post-Koizumi era, with the political leaders of both countries emphasizing mutual engagement and alleviation of the security dilemma, this “cooling-off period” is unlikely to lead to long-term stability in ties between Tokyo and Beijing. Lacking strategic trust on both sides, as well as the significance of the US factor for the bilateral security interactions, suggest that the present stability in Japan–China relations remains fragile.