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Locked in Zero-sum Competition in Funding Regional Infrastructure? A Case Study of Japan’s Media Perceptions of the AIIB Open Access

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The frosty bilateral relations between China and Japan since 2012 have contributed to the increasing pessimism that the deepening Sino-Japan strategic rivalry will lock the two Asian giants on the path of intense competition for regional leadership and substantially restrict the space for them to cooperate on regional initiatives proposed by each other. Although Japan’s holdout policy toward the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) seems to reinforce this argument, a careful study of Japan’s media discourses of the new bank through examining the AIIB-focused editorials of Japan’s five national newspapers, reveals such pessimism overstated. The Japanese media demonstrated a great diversity of opinions over the initiative, offered differentiated policy recommendations, and showed high sensitivity to the changes in the international community’s reactions. Although the current Abe Cabinet’s AIIB policy tends to fall in line with one among the varied media discourses, other discourses constrain such policy. These findings suggest that the evolution of Japan’s domestic political landscape and changes in the international community might cause the Japanese government to reconsider and shift policies toward the AIIB, and that Japan and China are far from locked in a zero-sum competition for regional leadership.

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