Narratives and Bilateral Relations : Rethinking the "History Issue" in Sino-Japanese Relations

Abstract: The overarching aim of the thesis is to present a framework that makes possible an understanding of bilateral relations that challenges mainstream International Relations (IR) approaches through a study of the “history issue” in Sino-Japanese relations. A secondary aim is to provide an alternative understanding of this issue. Discussions of the issue are often highly influenced by the objectivism, rationalism, state-centrism and agent-centrism common in mainstream IR theory. This has several consequences, primarily that the focus is chiefly on behaviour and that equal emphasis is rarely put on both contexts. In order to address these consequences, the question of what kinds of narrative, as expressed in museum exhibitions about war in both countries, can be found and which ones dominate is addressed using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). The narratives, which contain the stories “we” tell about “our” past, are important components in and instantiate the abstract images that are identities, through which people make sense of the world. The context-sensitive analysis confirms the constructivist assumption that narratives matter by demonstrating that political actors strongly believe narratives shape people’s minds and act accordingly. It also shows that different narratives are present in both countries. It is suggested that the narratives are closely linked to domestic identity politics. Nonetheless, the depiction of self and other in these has consequences for bilateral relations. This has several implications, for example, that changes in the behaviour of leaders, while they may have a positive impact on relations, are insufficient as solutions to the problems. This has consequences for approaches preoccupied with behaviour. The study contributes to constructivist IR through a close textual analysis of narrative structure that illustrates the significance of labelling and categorizing in identity construction that is easily missed by less fine-grained analyses.