Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Waiting for Wen

It seems that today is a China kind of day, as Chinese Premier Wen begins his three-day visit to Japan today.

The much-quoted purpose of this trip is to "melt the ice" between Japan and China.

Call me a skeptic, but I think I'm with the Carnegie Endowment's Minxin Pei, who wrote in an op-ed in the FT (subscription required), "...It would be naive to see the improvement in atmosphere between Tokyo and Beijing as a substantive step towards removing tensions between the two countries. Few detect a fundamental shift in either’s policy. Neither China nor Japan has made real concessions on key bilateral disputes."

I'm not all that convinced that negotiated solutions to many of the bilateral issues between China and Japan are possible, seeing as how they're rooted in the region's changing power dynamics. Let's not forget the insecurity that China's emergence spurs in Japan, even as interdependence between them grows.

But, that said, it is as imperative -- or more imperative -- for Japan to talk with China as it is for the US to talk with China. Regular Sino-Japanese summits -- with or without concrete progress -- have value in and of themselves; stability in the region depends on open communication within the US-China-Japan strategic triangle, and given the issues between Tokyo and Beijing, the Sino-Japanese leg of the triangle may be the most important.

Such is life in multipolar Asia, where every day brings another initiative to enhance communication and cooperation.


David said...

I completely agree with your statement, "it is as imperative -- or more imperative -- for Japan to talk with China as it is for the US to talk with China. Regular Sino-Japanese summits -- with or without concrete progress -- have value in and of themselves".

How Japan and China inter-act with each other greatly affects North-East Asia.

In my opinion, the fact that Asia is "multipolar" is one reason why looking at this part of the world is so interesting.


Anonymous said...

Hi...I'm new to this blog but I'm always looking for people to talk about Japanese politics. I noticed you've blogged a few times about the need for Prime Minister Abe to "step back" from the abduction issue. I couldn't disagree with this statement more. If a government can not protect its citizens from a basic security--the basic freedom to live without fear of being kidnapped by a foreign country--then what good is it? It is the government's job to lobby on behalf of these people regardless of how angry it makes the North Koreans. What you fail to mention or realize is the strategy you suggest is exactly the strategy the Japanese government took for at least 10 years after the bombing of the Korean airliner in 1987. Back then, they knew it was a North Korean spy who'd been trained by a Japanese abductee but everytime the Japanese brough the issue up at talks, the North Koreans walked out. Where did it get them? Absolutely nowhere. And, by the way, back then the North Korean response to any suggestion that they'd abducted Japanese people was that it didn't happen. It was only when the families and the general public got involved that the Japanese government had to do something. And even then they were reluctant. So, the fact that the government has finally come around for the families, some of who have waited 30 years, should be seen as an important step forward not backward. Of course, there are always going to be people who just recently learned of the abductions (probably about 90 per cent of the world) and are going to say things like, "Oh, but this makes the North Koreans angry. Can't these people just stop talking about it." But so what? Can you imagine for one second how the United States would react if Americans (a 13-year-old girl in one case) was kidnapped by North Korea. Would be a totally different story. I think the Japanese have handled this situation with the utmost respect and honor for diplomacy and so-called "proper channels". North Korea simply uses the issue to fuel anti-Japanese sentiment.

-- Bill