Intimate Rivals by Sheila A. Smith

Intimate Rivals

Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China
Email this review


In her debut, Smith offers a searching, scholarly discussion of Sino-Japanese relations.

China’s rapid ascendency has compelled the whole world to reconsider its geopolitical strategy, but perhaps no nation has as big a stake as Japan does. However, the hope for a lasting, productive détente between the two nations has been frustrated by both long-standing historical contentions and minor missteps. Smith, a senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, deftly unpacks the obstacles to such a sovereign partnership as well as the advantages such a partnership promises. Some of the problems seem stubbornly resistant to improvement, as they’re not easily reducible to policy; for example, the powerful resentments of some Chinese regarding Japanese aggression during World War II are stoked by the celebration of fallen soldiers at the Yasukuni Shrine but are hardly caused by it. Other disputes are more policy-driven, such as a battle involving the trade of frozen dumplings. Finally, some issues seem to involve both contemporary policy and cultural rivalry, such as the territorial imbroglios regarding islands in the East China Sea. As Smith notes, Japan seems to desire friendly resolution while remaining wary of creeping Chinese hegemony; China, on the other hand, wants superpower status but also membership in the international theater as a responsible player. In the background is the United States, courted by Japan to become involved in disputes but encouraged by China to remain neutral. What emerges from the author’s analysis is a picture of two world powers—Japan and the United States—struggling to accommodate a world transformed by the inexorable rise of a third, China. Additionally, Smith draws out larger lessons about the nature of modern diplomacy and the extent to which economic collaboration is never fully separable from politics. Her account is impressively erudite and scrupulously researched, written in a clear, mercifully jargon-free style. For those interested in the future of the region, U.S. foreign policy, or a deep examination of the power and limits of diplomacy, this book won’t disappoint.

A thorough account of a political dynamic that reverberates globally. 

Pub Date: April 17th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-231-16788-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2015


NonfictionJAPAN RISING by Kenneth B. Pyle
by Kenneth B. Pyle
NonfictionCHINA DREAMS by Isabelle Maynard
by Isabelle Maynard
NonfictionCHINA HANDS by James Lilley
by James Lilley