China, Ja­pan share pref­er­ence for free trade

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIE­W - By Li Ruoyu

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping at­tended the G20 sum­mit in Osaka, Ja­pan over the week­end, a decade af­ter he vis­ited the coun­try in 2009 when he was vice pres­i­dent. With the reins of power chang­ing hands in Ja­pan and the coun­try un­der­go­ing dif­fer­ent pol­icy changes, the past 10 years have been rel­a­tively dif­fi­cult for Chi­na­japan ties.

Shinzo Abe has been one of the long­est serv­ing Ja­panese prime ministers. Ja­pan’s China pol­icy has thus grad­u­ally re­turned to the way the Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party chooses to deal with Bei­jing. But due to Ja­pan’s pre­vi­ous China pol­icy, the neg­a­tive im­pact of Tokyo’s mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions still re­mains ap­par­ent.

An impression can thus be eas­ily cre­ated – Abe lacks sin­cer­ity in im­prov­ing bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. But the re­al­ity is more com­pli­cated.

Xi once said about China-us ties, “there are a thou­sand rea­sons to make the Us-china re­la­tion­ship a suc­cess, and not a sin­gle rea­son to break it.” Since Ja­pan is a neigh­bor of China that

cannot move away, Abe also has a thou­sand rea­sons to make the China-ja­pan re­la­tion­ship a suc­cess.

Abe’s China pol­icy is first and fore­most dic­tated by the needs of Ja­pan’s do­mes­tic pol­i­tics. That be­ing said, his de­ci­sions will not al­ways be good for Bei­jing-tokyo re­la­tions. But China’s peace­ful rise is ir­re­versible. There­fore, Abe is put­ting in more ef­forts to im­prove ties with China. This is re­flected in his per­sis­tent ef­forts to in­vite the Chi­nese leader to Ja­pan.

How­ever, Abe is not a pro-china politi­cian. His zeal to in­vite Chi­nese lead­ers to visit Ja­pan is ul­ti­mately driven by Ja­pan’s self-in­ter­est.

As the host coun­try of the 14th G20 Lead­ers’ Sum­mit, Ja­pan called for main­tain­ing the free trade sys­tem. At a press con­fer­ence fol­low­ing the sum­mit on June 29, Abe stressed again that “the G20 agreed on fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples back­ing a free trade sys­tem.” This un­der­scores Abe’s pref­er­ence for the prin­ci­ples of free trade.

The China-us trade dis­pute shows how strong a pro­po­nent of free trade China is. China has al­ways stuck to this stand in trade talks with the US. Xi re­it­er­ated China’s po­si­tion of strength­en­ing co­op­er­a­tion and up­hold­ing mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism on sev­eral oc­ca­sions dur­ing the G20 sum­mit.

Ja­pan is an is­land coun­try and re­al­izes the sig­nif­i­cance of in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic and trade co­op­er­a­tion. More­over, pro­tec­tion­ism has brought keenly felt pain to Ja­pan, not to men­tion the Plaza Ac­cord in 1985, which is con­sid­ered the di­rect cause of Ja­pan’s eco­nomic ruin. Cur­rently, whether the US will be­gin a Sec­tion 301 in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Ja­pan’s au­to­mo­bile ex­port to the US de­pends on their fu­ture trade ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Even so, con­strained by its mil­i­tary alliance with the US, Ja­pan is still avoiding the cru­cial is­sue of who caused the free trade cri­sis in the first place when trum­pet­ing the im­por­tance of free trade prin­ci­ples. Al­though Tokyo has never men­tioned it ex­plic­itly, it has been taken on by the US from time to time.

Just ahead of the G20 sum­mit, it was re­ported that US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is not sat­is­fied with the Treaty of Mu­tual Co­op­er­a­tion and Se­cu­rity be­tween the US and Ja­pan and is con­sid­er­ing to pull out of it, which made the Ja­panese govern­ment uneasy in the run up to the Osaka sum­mit.

China’s de­fense of free trade prin­ci­ples at the sum­mit prompted Ja­panese politi­cians, such as Chief Cabi­net Sec­re­tary Yoshi­hide Suga, to speak highly of Xi’s visit, be­cause Tokyo and Bei­jing are on the same page over the con­tri­bu­tion of free trade to pro­mot­ing bi­lat­eral re­la­tions.

The year 2019 marks the 70th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China. Bei­jing-tokyo ties are poised for a new decade.

Pres­i­dent Xi is plan­ning a state visit to Ja­pan in the spring of 2020 un­der the in­vi­ta­tion of Abe. Bi­lat­eral re­la­tions are likely to see an up­swing in the near fu­ture.

Whether to fo­cus on open­ness to cre­ate more space for de­vel­op­ment or fol­low uni­lat­er­al­ism against the ob­jec­tive law of hu­man his­tory af­fects not only China and Ja­pan, but also global de­vel­op­ment. If Ja­pan hopes to be a re­spon­si­ble re­gional power, it must make the right choice. The author is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the School of His­tory & Cul­tures, Sichuan Univer­sity. opin­[email protected]­al­times.com.cn

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