Experts call for better Japan-China relations
to build peaceful order in Northeast Asia

February 11, 2016

Japan and China should make greater efforts to build trusting relations between the two countries in order to establish a peaceful order in Northeast Asia, according to noted Japanese researchers.

China's increasing political presence in the world is threatening to erode the basis of the U.S.-led international security system, said former Japanese Ambassador to China Yuji Miyamoto. The present global political order built around the United States is "at a major turning point," he said.

 Yoshihide Soeya, a professor at Keio University's Law Faculty, said that today's world is in a "chaotic situation" with two different kinds of phenomena taking place simultaneously -- that is, incidents whose solutions require a non-conventional approach, such as refugees and confusion in bankrupt states, and geopolitical conflicts, such as Ukraine.

 Hideshi Tokuchi, a senior fellow at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, noted that three complex threats are emerging around the world, warning that they are making it more difficult to improve the global security environment. Specifically, he mentioned border disputes between sovereign states, postmodern threats, notably international terrorism and cybercrimes, and pre-modern incidents, as instanced by attempts to restore the caliphate system.

The three were discussing ways to build a peaceful order in Northeast Asia and Japan's role to this end at a debate organized by the independent Japanese think tank The Genron NPO at the end of January.

They shared the view that the Korean Peninsula will be an important challenge for Japan's security policy in the years ahead, noting that Japan and South Korea should clearly make known their common goals to improve the regional environment.

工藤泰志 According to a recent Genron NPO survey of 103 well-informed Japanese, 80 percent of them observed that the political situation in Northeast Asia is unstable. When asked to mention specific points of concern, the most frequent reply involved China's military buildup, followed by North Korea's nuclear and missile threats, according to Genron NPO President Yasushi Kudo, who served as moderator at the debate.

 Miyamoto, chairman of the Miyamoto Institute of Asian Research, said that Chinese people have apparently come to envision "a China-oriented Asia," adding such a mindset among them will have no small influence on efforts to improve the security environment in East Asia.

Asia is a growth center in the world as a whole and the regional situation is more stable than before, but the region actually lacks stability, because China is not a part of the regional security system led by the United States, said Tokuchi, who was vice minister of defense for international affairs until 2015.

Security in the region has been maintained by the U.S.-led "Hub-and-Spokes" system, Tokuchi noted. Japan's new security policy initiative in pursuit of the right to collective self-defense has laid a systemic framework for enhancing cooperation with not only the United States but also other countries concerned, he said.

At the end of the spokes are countries like Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Australia, and in order to improve the balance of power in the region, these countries should strengthen their partnerships based on common values, Tokuchi said.

China is vigorously expanding its presence in various fields around the world, but this does not mean that China's leadership is universally hawkish, Miyamoto noted.

When he had discussions with a Chinese military official, he mentioned the moral point of view in the East that the strong should help, not pick on, the weak, and his Chinese counterpart did not take issue with him. "We should not be too optimistic on this point, but efforts also must be made to draw philosophic, moral elements from among the Chinese," Miyamoto said.

According to responses to the questionnaire, 54.4 percent of the interviewed expected China's political influence to be even stronger 10 years from now. Meanwhile, 25.2 percent of the polled, while foreseeing a lack of government action in pursuit of peace in the region, expected that private-sector efforts will grow to build a peaceful order in the region.
The idea that "China should be at the center of Asia" when it becomes strong is perhaps shared by almost all Chinese while there are some with different views, Soeya said. "It is important to refrain from creating an environment for a self-satisfying prediction on China policy," he said. Efforts to help foster diversified views among Chinese people should be an important task, coupled with a stronger Japan-U.S. security system, in Japan's Asia-Pacific strategy to better deal with China's increasing presence in the world, he said.

Referring to a series of moves to build Chinese-led global or regional systems, as exemplified by the inauguration of the Chinese-engineered Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank last year, Miyamoto said that it will be difficult even for China to continue to ignore the world's established ideas and rules.

Soeya said that efforts should be made to introduce a "device" for China so that it may become accustomed to the conventional universal ideas and values held by the West.

In discussions about the Korean Peninsula situation and China's moves to build strongholds on some disputed islands in the South China Sea, Tokuchi said that the creation of a multilateral security system should be explored on the basis of cooperative relations between the United States and its allies.

The U.S. military presence in the region must be supported as a short-term measure to stabilize the situation, but the disputes in the area will not be solved in the long run without coastal countries improving their capabilities to deal with the situation, he said.

Soeya stressed that what happens on the Korean Peninsula will be important for Japan's security policy in the years ahead. The more unstable the security environment in the region is, the more important South Korea will be for Japan.

The questionnaire shows that 40 percent of the polled expect the current North Korean regime will only last another 10 years. In that event, various problems will arise, among them how to reunify the two Koreas, he said.

The United States should continue to lead the world in various fields for the foreseeable future, but almost all Chinese no doubt believe that they will eventually catch up with and surpass America, Miyamoto said. The problem is that Chinese people are not aware as yet that they must build an order for the world in a responsible manner, if they do so.

In view of China's continued moves to strengthen its military capability, the countries concerned should ask China why it needs to have so big a military: Is it for establishing a Chinese-oriented order in Asia, or in the world, Miyamoto said. Because Chinese people then should think about their role in the world in various ways, countries should provide them with "materials to think about," he said.

Since there will be an exchange of visits between Japan's and China's top leaders this year, among them Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, the two countries should use the occasion to build the foundation for mutual ties of trust to establish a peaceful order in Northeast Asia, Miyamoto said.

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