Strik­ing the right bal­ance Wash­ing­ton can­not earn the trust nec­es­sary for its geostrate­gic in­ter­ests if he keeps turn­ing a blind eye to Ja­pan’s provo­ca­tions

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry is due to ad­dress the tense re­gional se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion dur­ing his talks in Bei­jing on Fri­day. Three is­sues will be high on his agenda: Ja­pan’s ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes with China and the Repub­lic of Korea, China’s air de­fense iden­ti­fi­ca­tion zone, and the Demo­cratic People’s Repub­lic of Korea.

On the first two there are wide gaps be­tween China and the US.

At present, Ja­pan’s dis­putes with China and the ROK have se­ri­ously desta­bi­lized North­east Asia, with far-reach­ing ram­i­fi­ca­tions. Both China’s Diaoyu Is­lands and the ROK’s Dukdo Is­land fell into the hands of im­pe­ri­al­ist Ja­pan as a re­sult of its ag­gres­sion. Though Ja­pan put dif­fer­ent names on the is­lands, such colo­nial oc­cu­pa­tion ought to have been re­versed.

The rift be­tween Ja­pan and the ROK, the two main al­lies of the US in the re­gion, nat­u­rally both­ers the US greatly, as it is un­der­min­ing the US’ geostrate­gic in­ter­ests in North­east Asia.

How­ever, the dis­pute be­tween China and Ja­pan over the Diaoyu Is­lands is far more se­ri­ous, as it is more likely to flare up into phys­i­cal con­flict be­tween the two Asian gi­ants. De­spite China’s decades-long self-re­straint re­gard­ing this is­sue and its long-stand­ing pro­posal to “shelve” the dis­pute in the in­ter­ests of bet­ter re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries, Ja­pan took the ini­tia­tive to change the sta­tus quo that ex­isted by “na­tion­al­iz­ing” the three main is­lands in 2012.

The US is now caught some­where in be­tween. Yet it should be pointed out that the US too is to blame for the present sit­u­a­tion, as it caused the dis­cord be­tween China and Ja­pan in the first place by hand­ing these Chi­nese is­lands, which it was in pos­ses­sion of at the end of World War II, to Ja­pan in 1972 in­stead of re­turn­ing them to China.

Kerry has since added fuel to fire by stat­ing the is­lands are cov­ered by the US’ mu­tual co­op­er­a­tion and se­cu­rity treaty with Ja­pan. This was no doubt in­tended as a de­ter­rent, as the US does not want to throw it­self into a war with China. But this at­tempt at co­er­cive re­bal­anc­ing has back­fired as Ja­pan has only be­come fur­ther em­bold­ened, push­ing the ten­sions to the brink of phys­i­cal con­fronta­tion, truly threat­en­ing the Pax Amer­i­cana in East Asia.

The White House and State Depart­ment should be crit­i­cal of Abe and curb his his­tor­i­cal re­vi­sion­ism, if only in the US’ self-in­ter­est, as Abe’s mil­i­tarist am­bi­tions threaten the US geopo­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests.

Mean­while, Kerry has said the Air De­fense Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Zone that China re­cently es­tab­lished in the East China Sea is desta­bi­liz­ing. How­ever, he failed to men­tion that it was Tokyo that first in­tro­duced an air de­fense iden­ti­fi­ca­tion zone in the re­gion in 1969, and that in 1972 it ag­gres­sively ex­panded this zone to in­clude the Diaoyu Is­lands. Given this, the US’ bi­ased stance to­ward China’s Air De­fense Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Zone, es­pe­cially in the con­text of Chi­nese le­git­i­mate sovereignty, is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to its re­bal­anc­ing in East Asia.

But de­spite the US’ mis­guided ap­proach to the ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute be­tween China and Ja­pan and China’s Air De­fense Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Zone in the East China Sea, China and the US can still find com­mon ground on the is­sue of DPRK’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram. Along with Rus­sia, the ROK and Ja­pan, they share the same in­ter­est in peace­fully dis­man­tling that pro­gram, on terms which DPRK finds ac­cept­able.

Since 2003, China has taken the ini­tia­tive in find­ing a so­lu­tion to the is­sue with the Six-Party Talks, at­tempt­ing to find a mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able so­lu­tion to com­mon se­cu­rity with­out nu­clear weapons on the Korean Penin­sula. Though this so­lu­tion has not yet been at­tained, the Korean Penin­sula and North­east Asia have been less tur­bu­lent than they would be other­wise, es­pe­cially given the dra­matic spike in ten­sions fol­low­ing the DPRK’s third nu­clear test last spring.

China has taken a more prom­i­nent role in low­er­ing the tem­per­a­ture on the penin­sula, and there is room for col­lab­o­ra­tion in this re­gard should Kerry strike the right note in the US’ re­bal­anc­ing. The au­thor is a pro­fes­sor and as­so­ciate dean of the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Fu­dan Univer­sity.

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