Strengthening Democracy through Power of Words
2016 / 10 / 03
Noted political watchers representing Japan and China actively exchanged views about a road map toward restoring peace in Northeast Asia amid North Korea's stepped-up nuclear ambitions and other moves in the region's security environment.
The occasion was the 12th Tokyo-Beijing Forum, jointly organized by the Japanese not-for-profit independent think tank Genron NPO and the China International Publishing Group in Tokyo in late September.
At the start of a breakout session on security issues, former Japanese Ambassador to China Yuji Miyamoto, who served as the moderator on the Japanese side, noted that the people of the two countries feel the other country poses a more serious military threat than ever before. He based his view on the findings of recent public opinion polls jointly carried out in Japan and China.
In a keynote speech from the Japanese side, Yoji Koda, a former vice admiral of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force, cited specific sources of threats and fears over security in Northeast Asia. Koda, who formerly served as commander in chief of the Self-Defense Fleet, called attention to North Korea's attempts to enhance its nuclear and missile technologies, and referred to China's moves to demonstrate its territorial claims over islands in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
Various Chinese vessels, not only fishing boats and coast guard cutters but also military ships are seen operating near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, Koda noted. Japan is at a loss as to what China's real intention is behind the moves, he said, warning that the series of incidents in the waters only strengthens a sense of distrust on the part of Japan.
Referring to China's attempt to keep Japan as an "outsider" and away from territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Koda noted that the area is a vitally important sea lane for Japan. Because free use of the seas is a right recognized under international law, Japan cannot overlook China's moves over the disputed territories in the South China Sea, he said.
His Chinese counterpart, Yao Yunzhu, director emeritus of the Center on China-American Defense Relations, the Academy of Military Science of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), stressed that stepped-up security cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea is also a threat to China, as is the case with North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Yao, a retired PLA major general, voiced her displeasure about the deployment of the THAAD (terminal high altitude area defense) anti-missile system by the United States and South Korea. The move will undermine the strategic stability of U.S.-China relations, and cause a rift in relations between China and South Korea, he warned. While recognizing the territorial dispute in the East China Sea as the biggest pending security issue between Japan and China, Yao said that the two countries should launch the proposed maritime and air communication mechanism as quickly as possible to avert accidental incidents in the disputed waters.
She said that China is closely watching the forthcoming style of operations by Japanese troops overseas, indirectly indicating China's lingering concerns about Japan's new security policy, proclaimed in September 2015, which allows the country the right to exercise collective self-defense, when necessary.
Following the keynote speeches from both sides, Koichi Isobe, a former lieutenant general of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force, stressed the importance for a tripartite endeavor by Japan, the United States and South Korea to contain North Korea's nuclear ambitions, but he also urged China to join the three-way mechanism in light of its strong influence on Pyongyang.
Zhang Tuosheng, chairman of the Academic Committee of the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies, dismissed Japan's concerns about China's recent moves in the disputed waters in the South China Sea. He emphasized that the United States is trying to redeploy its troops in the Philippines and moving to introduce an aircraft carrier in the region, in line with the Barack Obama administration's rebalancing policy in Asia.
The series of moves by China in the waters only represents a countermeasure against America's increased military presence in the region and China hopes there will be no military clashes in the area, Zhang said.
Hideshi Tokuchi, Japan's former vice minister of defense for international affairs, countered that stability is basically maintained in the South China Sea at present, largely thanks to U.S. efforts to maintain the equilibrium between the powers involved. It can be said that China also benefits from Washington's power-balancing policy, Tokuchi said.
In a discussion about specific ways to avert conflicts and restore peace in Northeast Asia, Zhang made nine proposals in order to normalize security relations between Japan and China.
First, the two countries should quickly set up an emergency communication mechanism to avoid unexpected incidents in the waters and the air around the disputed territories in the East China Sea, and second, they should manage the differences in their views about the situation in the South China Sea, he said.
His other proposals called for refraining from aggravating the Taiwan issue, reopening a high-level intergovernmental consultation between the two countries, creating a bilateral liaison mechanism also for law-enforcement officials to forestall accidental incidents, resuming top leaders' visits to each other's country, considering jointly tapping undersea natural resources in the East China Sea, and cooperating in helping to stabilize and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Zhang's ninth and last proposal envisaged introducing a tripartite framework of dialogue between Japan, the United States and China to build mutual confidence, and minimize misunderstandings over important issues.
Hitoshi Tanaka, a former deputy minister for foreign affairs of Japan, cited lack of mutual trust between the two countries as the foremost reason for their inability to draw an imaginative vision for co-prosperity in the future. Japan and China should find interests common to them in order to build "win-win" relations from now on, said Tanaka, chairman of the Institute for International Strategy, a part of the Japan Research Institute.
Specifically, he said that North Korea can be a field of common interest for the two countries to address. Tanaka proposed inaugurating a five-way consultation as a confidence-building mechanism in Northeast Asia. The proposed consultation would bring together Japan, the United States, China, Russia and South Korea.
Zhu Feng, a professor at Nanjing University, rejected the idea of five-way talks, recalling the failure of six-way talks since 2003 to stabilize the situation on the Korean Peninsula and noting the current chill in U.S.-China relations over the THAAD missile deployment.
Osamu Onoda, a former lieutenant general of Japan's Air Self-Defense Force, agreed on the importance of launching the three-way dialogue, as proposed by Zhang, to discuss regional strategic issues among Japan, the United States and China. Noting that many comments were made about regional order from the Japanese side, Yao asked Japanese participants actually what is the Japanese-envisaged order for this part of the world.
Toru Izumi, a former vice admiral of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force and a former commander in chief of the Self-Defense Fleet, stressed that protection of the existing order on the seas is vitally important for Japan because it is a maritime nation. If there is a flaw in the existing order or rules for navigation, he said, the situation should be improved not by action, but through dialogue sponsored by such entities as the United Nations. After a concluding debate following questions from the floor, Ambassador Miyamoto said that it is time for the two countries to start serious efforts toward finding solutions to the pending issues facing them.
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