Thoughts on Closer Economic Relations Between Japan, China and the ROK


Recently, in various aspects of our everyday lives, we have been able to observe phenomena that suggest that the economic relationship between Japan, China and the ROK is becoming closer. For example, in many major Japanese cities, road signs and station names are now being displayed in Chinese and Korean, as well as the English that has been common hitherto. In addition, one can now see more and more shop signs featuring Korean and traditional Chinese characters. Moreover, as well as English, the use of Chinese and Korean in pamphlets for tourists is extremely common.

Incidentally, the 25th July edition of the Asahi Shimbun carried an article entitled Closer Economic Relations Between Japan, China and the ROK. The table below, Trade Volumes of and Number of Visitors to Japan, China and the ROK, is based on a table from the article that showed flows of people and goods between the three countries in 2002, which has been updated by the author for the purposes of publication on ERINA’s homepage. From the table, we can see that in 2002, 540,000 people from China visited the ROK, with another 450,000 visiting Japan; furthermore, the volume of the trade flow from China to the ROK was ¥2.19 trillion, while the trade flow to Japan was worth ¥7.73 trillion.

Trade Volumes of and Number of Visitors to Japan, China and the ROK

China ROK Japan
China 540,000 450,000
2.19 trillion 7.73 trillion
ROK 2.12 million 1.27 million
2.99 trillion 1.94 trillion
Japan 2.93 million 2.32 million
4.98 trillion 3.57 trillion

NB The upper line shows the number of visitors, while the lower line shows the volume of trade in yen
From the international news section of the Asahi Shimbun (25th July 2003)

From this table, one gains the impression that, although China is very much a major player with regard to the export of goods, it is indisputably one of the lesser nations when it comes to the export of people. In general, there is a kind of correlation between the flow of people and the flow of goods, and when one increases, the other tends to do so as well. However, flows of people and goods from China to the ROK and Japan are the exception to this rule, particularly in the case of Japan.

To be more specific, flows of goods from China to Japan are worth ¥7.73 trillion, which is the highest volume of trade between any of the three countries. However, only 450,000 people visited Japan from China, which is the lowest figure for flows of people between any of the three countries, even lower than the figure of 540,000 people visiting the ROK from China.

There are reasons on all three sides for the sparse number of visitors from China to the ROK and Japan. Nevertheless, we must ask ourselves why the flow of visitors to Japan (450,000), which has interacted with China since 1972, when diplomatic relations were resumed, is even smaller than the flow of visitors to the ROK (540,000), which only began to have links with China a little over ten years ago, when diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1992.

One reason for this is the ‘Japan-China inequality’ that affects the issuing of tourist visas. The Japanese government’s conditions for issuing tourist visas to Chinese are extremely strict, with visas only being issued to tour groups, and then only to people from Beijing, Shanghai or Guangdong Province. In other words, there is a double restriction on Chinese tourists wishing to visit Japan: the form of trip and the home region of the tourist. Moreover, even when traveling as part of a tour group, members of the group are required to deposit a large sum of money with the travel agency as a form of guarantee, and the tour takes place under the rigorous scrutiny of the Japanese authorities, in order to prevent tourists absconding from the tour and becoming illegal immigrants. Given these measures, how could we possibly say that there is equality of tourism between Japan and China? Even though this is based on an agreement between the governments of Japan and China, it is hardly surprising that there are few Chinese who wish to try to overcome these high walls and venture to travel to Japan. Incidentally, from September this year, the Chinese government will apparently waive the visa requirement for Japanese visiting China if their visit lasts 15 days or fewer…

It probably isn’t just this author who recalls the story (possibly apocryphal) of how, when there were Japanese enclaves – called concessions – in China, there were notices at the entrance, which read “No dogs or Chinese allowed”…

[Translated by ERINA]