Shelv­ing dis­putes to pro­mote po­lit­i­cal trust between China and Japan

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIE­W - By Zhou Yong­sheng The au­thor is deputy di­rec­tor of the Ja­pa­nese Stud­ies Cen­ter at China For­eign Af­fairs Univer­sity. opin­[email protected]­al­

Ja­pa­nese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe is to em­bark on a three-day China visit from Oc­to­ber 25. It will be the first China trip by a Ja­pa­nese prime min­is­ter in seven years and also one that re­cip­ro­cates Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang’s travel to Japan this May – a first of its kind in eight years.

The most im­por­tant task for Abe’s trip this time is to deepen mu­tual po­lit­i­cal trust between China and Japan. Since the start of Abe’s sec­ond term, Sino-Ja­pa­nese re­la­tions have been plagued by fre­quent con­fronta­tion and fric­tion. Now they can at least try not to touch sen­si­tive is­sues in­clud­ing those of his­tor­i­cal and ter­ri­to­rial na­ture that can­not be ad­dressed in a short time.

It seems that the lead­er­ship of both coun­tries has mas­tered the rule and avoided breach­ing each other’s bot­tom lines. In this con­text, shelv­ing dis­putes is an im­por­tant means of pro­mot­ing mu­tual po­lit­i­cal trust.

How­ever, Japan tends to ig­nore his­toric lessons and make mis­takes by talk­ing reck­lessly. Newly ap­pointed Ja­pa­nese De­fense Min­is­ter Takeshi Iwaya said re­cently that China at­tempted to change the sta­tus quo with con­tin­ued provo­ca­tions in the East China Sea ad­ja­cent to Japan as well as the South China Sea. This is a base­less ac­cu­sa­tion against China as it has not done any­thing new or mo­bi­lized the mil­i­tary in the seas.

It’s ac­tu­ally quite easy to find rea­sons to take on the Ja­pa­nese de­fense min­is­ter: Japan dis­patched four war­ships to the South China Sea in au­tumn, two more than last year.

But Bei­jing did not re­ject the ac­cu­sa­tion in strong rhetoric. China ig­nor­ing such re­marks also re­flects its tol­er­ance and gen­eros­ity.

An­other high­light of Abe’s trip will be eco­nomic coop- er­a­tion. It’s re­ported that Abe will be ac­com­pa­nied by a 500-strong busi­ness del­e­ga­tion to seek col­lab­o­ra­tion on the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive (BRI). Chi­nese firms are adept at macro­lay­out and ef­fi­cient ac­tion while Ja­pa­nese cor­po­ra­tions are good at de­tailed man­age­ment and strict bud­get­ing. If they can co­op­er­ate in third coun­tries, they will make the best of both and make BRI in­vest­ment more sus­tain­able.

More­over, a free trade agree­ment between China and Japan, and prob­a­bly South Korea, is highly an­tic­i­pated dur­ing Abe’s visit. For the three ma­jor economies in North­east Asia, such a pact will help re­vi­tal­ize the re­gional econ­omy and pro­vide new de­vel­op­ment mo­men­tum for the three coun­tries.

A wider free trade agree­ment – the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP) in­volv­ing 10 ASEAN mem­bers plus China, Japan, South Korea, Aus­tralia, New Zealand and In­dia – will likely be an­other fo­cus. Of course, China and Japan can­not rep­re­sent other na­tions, but they are the two heavy­weights in the re­gion. If they can unite, the agree­ment can be reached. By then, spoil­ers will only be marginal­ized.

Given the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ob­ses­sion with uni­lat­er­al­ism and pro­tec­tion­ism, con­clud­ing re­gional trad­ing part­ner­ships will pro­vide a lee­way to East Asian coun­tries faced with Washington’s tar­iff sticks.

The US levied tar­iffs on steel and alu­minum im­ports from Japan this spring and threat­ened to im­pose tar­iffs on its au­to­mo­biles and auto parts in Sep­tem­ber, a move to make the coun­try the next tar­get of Trump’s trade war. Even if Tokyo ul­ti­mately dodges the tar­iffs, it will suf­fer enor­mous losses as Trump will never let it go with­out im­pos­ing tough con­di­tions.

When Japan is stand­ing with the US to ac­cuse China of fail­ing to pro­tect in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights, of flout­ing World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion rules, of be­ing a non-mar­ket econ­omy, it only in­di­cates that Tokyo is be­ing uti­lized by Washington.

Lack of unity between Bei­jing and Tokyo will only ben­e­fit the US.

Japan should, with the larger pic­ture in mind, grad­u­ally im­prove re­la­tions with China and per­suade the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to sit by the ne­go­ti­a­tion table. This will be good for China, the US, Japan and other East Asian na­tions to garner more trade and in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

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