Learn­ing from Chi­nese diplo­macy

JoongAng Daily - - Views - YEH YOUNG-JUNE

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.

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