Reconciliation between China and Japan: The Key Link to Security Cooperation in East Asia

By Van Ness, Peter | Asian Perspective, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Reconciliation between China and Japan: The Key Link to Security Cooperation in East Asia


Van Ness, Peter, Asian Perspective


The emerging power of China-be it "peaceful rise" or "China threat"-has been analyzed repeatedly by experts. But to date little has been concluded about America's precipitous relative decline, both in its hard and so-called "soft" power. The policy failures and disastrous initiatives of the George W. Bush administration have yet to be tallied up strategically. More important for Asia is the need to investigate the critically significant juncture between the two patterns: China's rise and the U.S. decline. That relationship, no matter how difficult it is to measure in material terms, has begun to reshape strategic relations around the world, and especially in East Asia. It is the major strategic transformative event of 2007, the Year of the Pig.

The crux of that structural shift in global power in East Asia has emerged in China's relations with Japan, America's most important Asian ally. It is there that the future of the region will very likely be decided. Will it be cooperation or confrontation? The stakes are high. Leaders in Beijing and Tokyo, responding to the changing strategic environment, will decide whether to make a future together as the key major powers in an East Asian Community or else to take sides in a renewed cold war between the United States and China. Crises over North Korea as a nuclearweapons power, Taiwan, territorial disputes in the East China Sea, or a possible Japanese decision to "go nuclear" will test their willingness to work together for the future of a peaceful and increasingly prosperous East Asia.

In August 2006 at the Australian National University, we convened an international workshop on "Reconciliation between China and Japan: A Search for Solutions," funded by the Department of International Relations in the Research School of Asian and Pacific Studies and the International Centre of Excellence in Asia-Pacific Studies.1 Twenty-one scholars from Australia, Japan, China, the United States, and several other countries participated. The ANU workshop was the first part of a continuing, collaborative project on historical reconciliation and cooperative security in East Asia. A second workshop, to be hosted by Amitav Acharya at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, will be convened later this year.2

The purpose of the ANU workshop was to prompt discussion and debate about the best ways to encourage reconciliation between Japan and China. Our objective was to produce concrete and realistic policy proposals for enhancing security cooperation between the two Asian powers, especially with respect to their participation in the Six Party Talks on the North Korean nuclear issue and in the potential East Asian Community.

Among sovereign states, it is always easier for governments to lapse into confrontation or even conflict than to work together to achieve mutual benefit. To cooperate requires conscientious design, constant attention, and committed care by all parties. In the proposed design for an East Asian Community, for example, none of the countries in the region, including Australia, wants to have to choose between China and Japan. They want to build viable security institutions that include both Asian powers. The analogy often mentioned is that, just as a security community in Europe required cooperation between Germany and France, so the East Asian Community will need to be built on security cooperation between China and Japan.

When Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro was in office, Japanese-Chinese economic relations continued to improve while their political-strategic relations grew worse-what has often been called "cold politics and hot economics." Analysts of the contemporary Sino-Japanese relationship have discussed with insight the nature of the bilateral problems (e.g., disputes about history and territory; geopolitical rivalry; Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine; competition for scarce energy resources; anti- Japanese demonstrations in China; and China's opposition to Japan's hopes for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council), but there has been little in the literature so far about how these conflicts might be resolved or at least ameliorated. …

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