China and Japan are both keen to alleviate tensions, but some actions need to be taken for this to happen.
AT the recent Asean Foreign Ministers meeting in Myanmar, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met on the sidelines with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. Even though it was brief, it marked the first time since bilateral tensions began that top officials of both countries have met each other.
Does this signal the beginning of a reconciliation between the two Asian giants? Not likely.
There are four major reasons, which are deep seated and multifaceted, militating against a genuine reconciliation. The first is the territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands where conflicting claims based on history are unlikely to be resolved as neither side seems willing to budge.
Japan claims that the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands were terra nullis (unoccupied) when seized by them along with Taiwan in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, while the Chinese on their part insisted that there was evidence of Chinese settlement before the war.
The stakes have been heightened with talk of the presence of oil and gas reserves around the islands.
The second is also about history, not so much as a basis for territorial claim but of contrasting interpretations by both sides of the Japanese war record in Asia.
Many Japanese believe that their colonising attempts in East Asia were in the spirit of the times, no more illegitimate than western colonisation of Asia.
Why should so much be made of their colonisation and not that of the West? Also, some Japanese have even gone into denial mode, denying the existence of Japanese atrocities or if undeniable, downplaying the magnitude.
One such case is over the Nanjing Massacre. Some have denied its existence while others dispute the figures as given by the Chinese of 300,000 dead, arguing that the number is much smaller.
The Chinese give short shrift to the “no different from the West” argument as the Chinese were the colonised or semi-colonised victims.
Moreover, many Chinese also contend that even if the figures for the massacre were smaller (widely accepted figures range from 40,000 to 200,000), it is still a massacre.
A complicating aspect is that many Japanese, including their government, have conceded some wrongdoing and have apologised but the Chinese refuse to accept.
The Chinese refusal, these Japanese believe, suggests the Chinese want to use this to hold Japan to some kind of ransom whereas the Chinese do not believe the Japanese apologies are sincere.
And the third, a complex one, is the identification of enmity with the other with a powerful nationalist stream in either China or Japan. In the Chinese case, modern Chinese nationalism has roots in the anti-Japanese war.
It is contended by some that the Chinese communists find it useful to bolster their nationalist credentials by taking an anti-Japanese stance. And by the same token, the Japanese conservatives may find it useful to utilise anti-China sentiments among the Japanese to promote their agenda.
Anti-Japanese or anti-Chinese sentiments have their political uses.
And fourth, Japan is increasingly spooked by the rise of China, not because of the much played-up heavy increase in military expenditure. It is hard to see how China can be a greater threat to Japan, which has United States protection, in a few years time with increased military spending than now.
Rather, Japan fears being relegated to an inferior partner in bilateral relations they had dominated for more than a hundred years, and even more by being rendered irrelevant in Asia by this China rise.
Japan increasingly cannot abide sits irrelevance (witness Prime Minister Shinzo Abe going abroad and insisting in English, “Japan matters!”).
Many Japanese, not least Abe, believe Japan can only matter if China is checked.
Yet it is not in the interest of both for the tensions to continue as it would affect economic relations. Take for example bilateral trade.
It has deteriorated. In 2011, bilateral total trade amounted to about US$345bil (RM1.09 trillion). It went down to about US$333bil (RM1.06 trillion) in 2012 and further to US$312bil (RM992bil) in 2013.
There may be other factors contributing to the drop but bilateral tensions cannot be discounted as a reason. And more important, there is always the danger that conflicts could break out arising from accidental ship or airplane collisions, which might even lead to war with all its horrendous consequences.
I believe both sides are keen to alleviate tensions or achieve a thaw, even if genuine reconciliation is a long way off. Some action however needs to be taken in two areas for this to happen.
One, the Abe government should refrain from practising some of the more offensive aspects of his nationalism, the chief of which is not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine.
There has been an example in the past where a Prime Minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone, stopped his Yasukuni visit because of what he said were diplomatic reasons. Abe could use a similar reason.
The Chinese could reciprocate by toning down their campaign of condemning Japanese war iniquities and their lack of contrition. This could improve the atmosphere
Second, as suggested by Kevin Rudd and Joseph Nye in a Washington Post piece, steps should be taken to return the Senkakus/Diaoyu islands dispute to the agreement by Chou Enlai and Kakuei Tanaka in 1972 to leave the dispute to be solved by subsequent generations. (Some Japanese deny there was such an agreement.)
Rudd and Nye continued that the disputed islands and the surrounding areas be turned into a maritime ecological preserve where there will be no human habitation or usage for military purposes.
Where possible, joint exploration between both countries should be encouraged.
It is not necessary to state that such a thaw can only come about from politically courageous acts by both leaders. If such is forthcoming, than there is hope for a genuine rapprochement in the future.
Commented by Dr Lee Poh Ping The Star/Asia News Network
> Dr Lee Poh Ping is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of China Studies in the University of Malaya. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
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Dr Lee Poh Ping is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of China Studies in the University of Malaya. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own. http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20130726/100500.shtml
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|DR LEE POH PING - CURRICULUM VITAE|
|Dr. Lee Poh Ping|
|Senior Research Fellow|
|Institute of China Studies|
|Deputy Vice Chancellor(Research & Innovation)|
|Institute of China Studies, Deputy Vice Chancellor(Research & Innovation) Building, University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA|
PhD(Government) (1974), CORNELL UNIVERSITY, ITHACA
BA (History) (1967), UNIVERSITY OF MALAYA (UM)
|RECENT SELECTED PUBLICATIONS
|Article In Academic Journals|
Fan Pik Wah & Lee Poh Ping.2012.Writing an Alternative View of History through Fiction: the Novels of Xiao Hei. Foreign Literature Studies 34 5) 142-149. (ISI/SCOPUS Cited Publication)
(Project title), (Role), (From)-(Until), (Source), (Level).
THE CHINA MODEL: IMPLICATIONS OF THE CONTEMPORARY RISE OF CHINA, Co-Investigator, 2013-2015, HIR
Mencatat Isu-isu Sensitif Selepas Kemerdekaan Malaysia: Kajian Novel Xiao Hei, Co-Investigator, 2012-2013, Geran Penyelidikan Universiti Malaya (UMRG), National