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Monday, Oct. 22, 2012


Troubling times with China

As a territorial dispute between Japan and China drags on, it is now becoming increasingly clear that Japan has no choice but to rely on Washington more than ever. Although the United States and China may make mutual concessions on minor matters, the relationship between the two countries is deteriorating from a mid- to long-term viewpoint. This is nothing but divine grace for Japan.

Many people in Japan and elsewhere must have been dazzled by the recent rise of China to the world's major power both economically and militarily. But in what other major nation would mobs forcibly stop an official car of a foreign ambassador and rip off the national flag from it? And that was exactly what happened to Uichiro Niwa, Japan's envoy to China, when he was traveling in his official limousine. But the culprits received only light sentences.

And in what other major country would a foreign embassy, and factories and stores operated by businesses from a particular foreign country be subjected to riotous demonstration, arson or looting? The Japanese diplomatic mission and Japanese corporations were subjected to such violence following Tokyo's nationalization of three of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by Beijing.

Is it not flabbergasting that the government of the country where mass violence was allowed occupies a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, which has great responsibility for maintaining international order?

It is all too obvious that both the start and ending of the recent violent anti-Japanese demonstrations in China were engineered by the Beijing government. Even after the mob actions subsided, China sent fishing boats and surveillance ships to waters near the Senkakus, banned the sale of books written by Japanese authors or related to Japan and increased customs scrutiny of imports from Japan.

These concerted actions on both the official and private levels are inconceivable except in a country under a single-party dictatorship. They have proven that China cannot share with other members of the international community such universal values as democracy, rule of law and human rights.

During his recent tour of Asia, the primary mission of U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was to "rebalance" the situation in the region. At a joint press conference with his Japanese counterpart, Satoshi Morimoto, Panetta said that the basic aim of the rebalancing was to maintain and strengthen not only the American military presence but also laws, various standards and order in Asia. He said the Japanese-American alliance is key to the security and prosperity of Asia.

Panetta's emphasis on "rebalancing" is a clear indication that Washington is concerned with the crumbling of the old balance during the last three decades with the rapid rise of China.

This was reflected in a speech delivered by U.S. President Barack Obama before the Australian Parliament in November 2011, in which he emphasized the importance of international law and the freedom of navigation on high seas.

The highlight of Panetta's Asia tour came when he met with Xi Jinping — who is certain to be elected China's next president — on Sept. 19 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. According to the state-owned Xinhua News Agency, Xi said that Japan's nationalization of the three Senkaku islands was a farce and urged the U.S. to exercise caution and stay away from the territorial dispute with Japan over what the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands.

Xi's call for American neutrality is in line with China's intension of negotiating territorial disputes over some islands in the South China Sea strictly on a bilateral basis, thus breaking the united front of Southeast Asian countries concerned and neutralizing the U.S.

Xi was also quoted as saying to Panetta that the international community will never tolerate any Japanese conspiracy or attempt to challenge the postwar global order that he said had been established by the victory in the "anti-fascist" war. Does the next supreme leader of China still follow the Marxist view of history that World War II was an anti-fascist war? What then are his views on the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin? What country is challenging the present international order?

Although it is not known how Panetta reacted to Xi's comments, he is on record as saying during a meeting with students at a Chinese military academy that both the U.S. and China suffered deep wounds during the war, but that neither country could afford to live simply by looking back to the past, that the two countries must look to the future, and that, therefore, the U.S., China and Japan have built up mutual relations covering diplomatic, economic and even military fields. He expressed a hope that the three countries will cooperate to ensure peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

Asked what had impressed him most in the series of discussions with Chinese leaders, Panetta pointed to two things: that while the U.S. and China can agree on certain things, the two countries have different views on some other things and that young Chinese military officers fully understand the significance of Sino-American relations.

It is evident that the U.S., which has been carefully watching violations of rules by China in the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the South China Sea, finds it incomprehensible the way Beijing has been acting against Japan in connection with the dispute over the Senkaku Islands.

During the early days of the Obama administration, the U.S. did not take China's military and diplomatic rise seriously. Jeffrey Bader, senior director for East Asian affairs on the National Security Council from January 2009 to April 2011, kept calling upon Beijing to restrain hostile feelings toward Japan.

At the same time, he urged Japan not to provoke China by carrying out such acts as the prime minister visiting Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines Japan's war dead, in order to build a constructive relationship among the U.S., Japan and China. Bader's views were also echoed by former Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.

Sino-American relations started deteriorating first in December 2009 as the two countries locked horns at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen. Tensions mounted further in January 2010, when Washington announced an arms deal with Taiwan worth $6.4 billion.

In July the same year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton angered Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi at the Asian Regional Forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations when she said securing the freedom of navigation and respect for international law in the South China Sea are connected with the U.S. national interest. This view was diametrically opposed to Beijing's position that any territorial disputes in the area should be resolved bilaterally without involvement of third parties like the U.S.

Criticism against China is mounting among both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed American support for Japan and the Philippines on Sept. 12, saying that the U.S. Navy will continue to work for maintaining peace in the Pacific, including the South China Sea, as it has been doing since the end of World War II.

On Sept. 20, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt M. Campbell, testifying before Ros-Lehtinen's committee, said that the U.S., while strengthening its ties with its allies in the region — Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines — is also strengthening friendly relations with Singapore, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Vietnam, and promoting informal relations with Taiwan.

All of these U.S. actions indicate that Washington is building a net around China, and that is the true meaning of "rebalance" as emphasized by Panetta.

Despite these mounting tensions, all that Japanese leaders have been saying is that they will act "resolutely" with "firm resolve" and seek to resolve the territorial and other issues "from broad perspectives" and "through dialogue." These are nothing but empty words, and only show that Japan has no policy alternative but to continue relying on the U.S.

Japan is now paying the price for neglecting to do what it should have been doing in the fields of diplomacy and national defense.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the October issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japan's political, social and economic scenes.

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