As China, US come closer, Tokyo seeks im­proved re­la­tions with Bei­jing

Global Times - - Asian Review - By Chen Yang The au­thor is a PhD can­di­date at the grad­u­ate school of so­ci­ol­ogy, Toyo Univer­sity. opin­ion@glob­al­

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang’s meet­ings with Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe on the side­lines of APEC and ASEAN sum­mits au­gur well for ties.

Since Abe re­took of­fice at the end of 2012, Chi­nese lead­ers have met him at in­ter­na­tional events ev­ery year, ex­cept in 2013. How­ever, un­like the se­ri­ous ex­pres­sions that set the tone of Xi’s and Abe’s first meet­ing in Novem­ber 2014, the smiles made it dif­fer­ent this time – a per­fect sign of a warm­ing Sino-Ja­panese re­la­tion­ship.

The real rea­sons why Abe seeks to im­prove Ja­pan’s ties with China are his ce­mented do­mes­tic power and the chang­ing sit­u­a­tion around Ja­pan.

The rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party (LDP) led by Abe won a ma­jor­ity of seats in the lower house elec­tions in Oc­to­ber. As Abe is highly likely to be re-elected LDP pres­i­dent in Septem­ber next year, he can sus­tain power un­til 2021. Along with a tight grip on power and sta­ble re­la­tions with the US, Abe has more power to ma­neu­ver in diplo­macy.

So for now, im­prov­ing re­la­tions with China be­comes the most im­por­tant diplo­matic mis­sion of the Ja­panese leader. Af­ter all, for prob­lems like the Korean Penin­sula nu­clear is­sue, Ja­pan needs China’s help. If Abe al­ways de­mands China play a greater role in get­ting North Korea to stop nu­clear de­vel­op­ment, but re­mains un­able to im­prove Sino-Ja­panese re­la­tions, a so­lu­tion will elude the Korean Penin­sula cri­sis and peo­ple in and out­side of Ja­pan will doubt whether the Abe ad­min­is­tra­tion is sin­cere about re­solv­ing the is­sue.

Al­though the Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense row has not been set­tled yet, ties be­tween Bei­jing and Seoul have started to thaw and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­cent visit to China has taken Sino-US re­la­tions to a new high. Un­der such cir­cum­stances, Ja­pan needs to bet­ter ties with China as soon as pos­si­ble to avoid a log­jam in re­la­tions with Bei­jing, Wash­ing­ton and in North­east Asia in gen­eral. Abe also wants to visit China and have Xi pay his first visit to Ja­pan.

While meet­ing Abe in Viet­nam, Xi said the two sides should push for co­op­er­a­tion within the frame­work of the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive at an early date, to which Abe re­sponded con­vinc­ingly. This is the sec­ond time af­ter June that Abe re­sponded to the ini­tia­tive. Al­though Abe­nomics adopted at the end of 2012 has stim­u­lated Ja­pan’s stock mar­ket and eco­nomic re­cov­ery, the de­clin­ing and ag­ing pop­u­la­tion makes Ja­pan un­able to com­pete with China. Mean­while, both the Com­pre­hen­sive and Progressive Agree­ment for Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (CPTPP) and the “free and open” Indo-Pa­cific strat­egy have an un­cer­tain

fu­ture. Mean­while, coun­tries along the Belt and Road routes have mas­sive de­mand for in­fra­struc­ture, which is ex­tremely at­trac­tive to Ja­panese com­pa­nies trapped in lim­ited do­mes­tic mar­ket. Hence, Ja­pan is likely to par­tic­i­pate in the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive. But as Tokyo re­mains ea­ger to pro­mote the CPTTP and the In­doPa­cific strat­egy, Ja­pan’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ini­tia­tive will likely fo­cus on the eco­nomic as­pects. Xi said dur­ing his meet­ing with Abe that China and Ja­pan should prop­erly man­age their dif­fer­ences in a con­struc­tive way. This pro­vides the best plan for the de­vel­op­ment of Sino-Ja­panese re­la­tions in the fu­ture. In fact, even the un­break­able re­la­tion­ship be­tween the US and Ja­pan, which is of­ten touted by politi­cians in the two coun­tries, still faces huge hur­dles in trade. No won­der China and Ja­pan have dif­fer­ences and need to deal with them wisely. China’s lead­ers have come up with a spe­cific plan for bet­ter ties, which can­not be achieved by one-sided ef­forts. At the mo­ment, when China and Ja­pan come to a new start, we hope that Tokyo will take more prac­ti­cal steps to bet­ter bi­lat­eral re­la­tions.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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