Im­proved Sino-ja­panese ties good for re­gion

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - THE MYAN­MAR TIMES news­room@mm­times.com

THE lat­est sign that Sino-ja­panese re­la­tions are thaw­ing has been widely ap­plauded by all South­east Asian coun­tries. The talks on mar­itime se­cu­rity in Shang­hai early next month will mark a new mile­stone for Asia’s most im­por­tant bi­lat­eral re­la­tions.

At the re­cent ASEAN sum­mit in Manila, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe held their bi­lat­eral meet­ing and pro­vided mu­tual as­sur­ances of fu­ture di­a­logue to strengthen their friend­ship. In 2003, ASEAN also served as a fo­rum for the two Asian eco­nomic pow­ers to hold a di­a­logue and sub­se­quently im­prove their re­la­tions.

Doubt­less, the world’s No. 2 and No. 3 economies are im­por­tant to the on­go­ing process of com­mu­nity-build­ing in ASEAN, which be­gan in earnest two years ago. The re­gion’s eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion can­not move for­ward without good work­ing re­la­tions be­tween the re­gion’s most dy­namic economies. Any­thing less will se­ri­ously af­fect the over­all strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment in this part of the world.

For the past sev­eral years, amid a high-level of Sino-ja­pan ten­sion, ASEAN mem­bers have found them­selves backed into a corner. They mostly felt un­ease be­cause th­ese two coun­tries are con­sid­ered their best friends. The irony is that none of ASEAN mem­bers were will­ing to choose sides. As such, it has been a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion for ev­ery­one be­cause co­op­er­a­tion could not con­tinue and new ini­tia­tives could not be taken. There­fore, a broader East Asia Com­mu­nity re­mains elu­sive. Without a dra­matic im­prove­ment in Sino-ja­panese re­la­tions, the eco­nomic fu­ture of ASEAN and the re­gion is far from cer­tain.

For in­stance, the ASEAN-LED eco­nomic bloc known as the Regional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship would not be com­pleted by next year. Ob­vi­ously, im­proved Sino-ja­panese ties would pro­vide a much-needed im­pe­tus for the two eco­nomic gi­ants to pro­vide lead­er­ship and com­pro­mise on key is­sues. Ja­pan has al­ready shown lead­er­ship in push­ing for the Trans-pa­cific Part­ner­ship 11. If China and Ja­pan col­lab­o­rate, the RCEP would be­come a new eco­nomic driv­ing force in the re­gion and the rest of the world.

No­tably, both Abe and Xi have strong per­son­al­i­ties and con­fi­dence in lead­ing their coun­tries. They also have strong sup­port in their coun­tries to pur­sue their do­mes­tic and for­eign poli­cies. In Ja­pan’s re­cent gen­eral elec­tion, Abe re­ceived a clear man­date to trans­form Ja­pan into a global player that pro­motes rule of law and trans­parency. In pre­vi­ous state­ments, Abe made clear Ja­pan would like to be a coun­try that can de­fend it­self and its friends. Fur­ther­more, it wants to par­tic­i­pate in peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions around the world.

For the past four decades, Ja­pan only en­gaged eco­nom­i­cally with South East Asian coun­tries, pro­mot­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and rais­ing their stan­dard of liv­ing. Ja­pan suc­ceeded in link­ing to­gether the for­mer In­dochina and ASEAN coun­tries un­der the fly­ing geese model, which en­abled the more ad­vanced economies to up­lift the less de­vel­oped ones through pro­duc­tion chains and net­works.

Dis­putes be­tween Ja­pan and China in the East China Sea in­ten­si­fied in 2012, quickly turn­ing their ami­able re­la­tions up­side down. Their co­op­er­a­tion halted, which af­fected their re­la­tions with ASEAN. The group’s mem­bers are very mind­ful of their po­si­tions in the on­go­ing dis­putes in the South China Sea, which can be ma­nip­u­lated by out­siders. When Cam­bo­dia chaired ASEAN’S an­nual meet­ing in 2012, the group did not is­sue its cus­tom­ary joint com­mu­niqué due to dis­agree­ments over the South China Sea. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity pointed its fin­ger at Bei­jing, ac­cus­ing it of bring­ing pres­sure to bear on Ph­nom Penh.

Un­der Xi’s lead­er­ship, ASEAN is a key ally in China’s global strat­egy. Bei­jing knows well that if its ties with the 10-mem­ber group go wrong, it will have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the coun­try’s diplo­matic out­look. In fact, SINOASEAN re­la­tions are no longer the same as they were 25 years ago, due to ten­sions over the South China Sea. It was for­tu­nate that in re­cent months, Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte chose to di­lute the ten­sion with China by fo­cus­ing on com­mon ef­forts to boost eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in­stead of dwelling on their dif­fer­ences.

China is well aware of the ver­dict on the South China Sea dis­pute by the Per­ma­nent Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion last July that favoured the Philip­pines. Without re­fer­ring to the PCA de­ci­sion, Manila de­cided to move on with bi­lat­eral ties and agree to in­creased con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures with China. The out­come so far is a win-win sit­u­a­tion, and im­proved Sino-philip­pine ties have had a good ef­fect on ASEANCHINA re­la­tions.

Now, with the Sino-ja­panese thaw, the prospect of ac­cel­er­at­ing ef­forts to­ward an East Asian Com­mu­nity look more promis­ing than ever. ASEAN must con­tinue to be the glue be­tween the two pow­ers so that they can work for sta­bil­ity and progress in the re­gion.

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