Shelving disputes to promote political trust between China and Japan
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.