Learning from Chinese diplomacy
About a month ago, I had dinner with a prominent politician visiting Beijing. After talking about various subjects, he asked, “Will Chinese President Xi Jinping meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe?” I responded, “Beijing will not stipulate clearly whether or not it will happen.
It will officially say that it all depends on Japan, but it will keep an under-the-table channel open and push for their objectives as much as possible.”
My position was based on what happened eight years ago. In September 2006, when the first Abe government began, the China-Japan relationship was extremely rough. Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, had visited Yasukuni Shrine for five consecutive years. Since Abe inclines farther to the right than Koizumi, the China-Japan relationship was bound to get worse.
But Beijing sought a new way to deal with the Abe camp and demanded that the Japanese prime minister stop visiting Yasukuni as a condition for China agreeing to a bilateral summit meeting. Abe said he would not publicize any of his future shrine visits as a compromise. China felt it had accomplished the goal to a certain extent, and Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to visit China before the United States.
The year 2014 is a repetition of 2006. Harsh Ja- pan-beating, severed relations and nationwide antiJapan rallies have occurred. But then, the Chinese government quietly opened up, and exchanges between the nation and Japan gradually spread from the civilian sector to local governments to business to former politicians to cabinet members.
Xi and Abe finally met at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 10. It was not a summit, but the China-Japan relationship has certainly started to mend, as the two countries agreed on a four-point promotion of mutual understanding.
At the same time, Korea is at a crossroads. Some people are criticizing that Seoul has misread the situation, which has resulted in diplomatic isolation.
Korea-Japan relations need to be fixed. But rushing to hold a summit in order to escape this isolation is not desirable. In diplomacy, just like in gambling, the person who becomes nervous and rushes has to pay a high price.
Similarly to what the Chinese government official said, there is no other way out rather than responding with composure. But composure should not be confused with stubbornness, and composure and flexibility are not contradictory. We don’t have much to gain by shutting off the exits and keeping a firm stance. We can learn from China’s firm yet flexible attitude.