Finessing China

In the midst of rising tensions between the US and China, Japan and China held a ministerial-level strategic economic dialogue akin to those held between the US and China and the US and Australia, a timely reminder of what’s at stake.

The summit did not produce much in the way of concrete results, much to Amaki Naoto’s consternation. The two governments agreed to cooperate on green technology, and Foreign Ministers Yang and Komura made resolution of the East China Sea gas fields dispute a priority for Prime Minister Fukuda’s visit at month’s end.

Amaki is particularly mad because Japan has lagged behind the US and European countries in pursuing these ties with China, despite historical and geographic links. He suggests that the reason is that “there lurks in the hearts of some Japanese a stubborn feeling of contempt for China.”

Whatever the reason, Japan cannot afford to wait any longer, and this is a positive step, even if the concrete results were limited. With visits by both Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Fukuda in the coming weeks, perhaps more progress will be made — maybe the two will even coordinate on how Japan should deal with China.

The point is that the mutually beneficial economic relationships enjoyed by Japan, the US, Australia, and just about every other country that trades with China will not be sustainable over the long term without institutionalized interactions among governments not just on economic matters, but in the security realm as well. A stable, orderly security environment is needed not just as an end in itself, but as a buttress for the emerging economic order in the Asia-Pacific.

Trust — from either side — will not grow overnight, and there will be setbacks (i.e., the current naval dispute). But the alternative is undesirable. So should the US and its allies continue to hedge and strengthen their alliances? Of course. But they should avoid the crusading rhetoric that carries the unmistakable whiff of encirclement and they should put as much effort into establishing a viable security organization that includes China as they do into strengthening existing bilateral alliances, even as they pursue economic cooperation in bilateral and multilateral settings.

This approach will take finesse on the part of the US and its allies. The Bush administration, for all its lack of finesse in other areas, has actually done this reasonably well in recent years. It was Prime Minister Abe’s, not President Bush’s, rhetoric that threatened to undermine this balanced approach — and it was Prime Minister Koizumi who sent Sino-Japanese relations into a deep freeze. Both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Pacific Command have worked to cultivate relationships with the PLA. And the administration has managed to avoid the temptation of playing to the anti-China crowd at home on the economic front.

But should Washington falter, the task of managing this balanced approach will have to be shouldered by Mr. Fukuda and the new bridge builder in Canberra, as they try to coax both the US and China to contribute to the creation of regularized, if not always harmonious, relations in Asia.

2 thoughts on “Finessing China

  1. Bryce

    Isn\’t it as a result of the fact that his foreign policy with the rest of the world is so crap that Bush hasn\’t had any major problems with China? I think the Chinese government is trying to prove that, given their growth over recent years, their nation is a responsible emerging great power. (I\’m not saying that China IS a responsible emerging great power – that is just the image they want to convey.)Basically, I get the impression that at the moment, if you don\’t cause the Chinese government problems, they won\’t cause them for you (unless you happen to represent Japan). Heck, they\’ll even let your people trade with theirs. And at the moment Bush is too tied up elsewhere to cause the Chinese government problems. Such is the making of a successful bilateral relationship.Unfortunately, \”not causing the Chinese government problems\” includes being circumspect about copyright infringement, labour standards and mandatory organ donation gulags for the falun gong.


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