July 01, 2015

"China’s disdain and Japan’s edginess are a sure recipe for a tense, contested Asia."

National Interest At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit late last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping began to restore their nations’ relations, attempting to overcome differences over islands in the East China Sea. by Sheila A. Smith via Council on Foreign Relations

'Again this year, the leaders of Asia’s two largest powers met at the Bandung Conference, demonstrating a slightly more relaxed and encouraging demeanor, suggesting that the maritime talks between their two governments were bearing some fruit. But it is not the territorial dispute itself that threatens improvement in the Japan-China relationship; it is their deep skepticism of each other’s ambitions in the region.

'Chinese officials have not been shy in suggesting that the changing balance of power between their nation and Japan is the root cause of their diplomatic difficulty. The most recent statement of China’s perception of the change in regional influence comes from Foreign Minister Wang Yi. After his speech at Beijing’s World Peace Forum last week, China’s foreign minister was asked about the prospects for Japan-China relations, and Xinhua quoted him as follows: “the crux of China-Japan relations is whether Japan can sincerely accept and welcome China’s revival and rise.” Wang was further quoted as saying, “China’s development has brought important benefit to Japan, but Japan is not fully prepared in its mindset for an increasingly powerful China.” The solution, from Wang’s perspective, is simply that the Japanese have to accept China’s growing power.

'Wang is not off the mark about Japan’s concerns about Chinese ambitions, and this too was amply demonstrated last week in Tokyo. Japan’s chief of the Joint Staff of the Self Defense Force, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano agreed to an interview with the Wall Street Journal, and openly acknowledged his concerns about China’s behavior in the South China Sea. Admiral Kawano noted that China’s program of island building in the disputed islands of the South China Sea created serious concerns for Japan because of its dependence on the sea lanes through the Malacca Straits. “Of course, the area is of the utmost importance for Japanese security,” he said. “We don’t have any plans to conduct surveillance in the South China Sea currently but depending on the situation, I think there is a chance we could consider doing so.” In Tokyo, there is a profound sense that China could be positioning itself to challenge Japan’s strategic interests, and a new willingness to work closely with others to improve maritime stability.'

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