How Can Tensions in the Asia Pacific Region Be Addressed?
The thriving economies of countries in the Asia Pacific region remain threatened by political tensions that surface every time a sticky issue comes up. Japan and South Korea ties are less than friendly, despite both being US allies. China is at loggerheads with many of its smaller neighbors over territorial disputes and its aggressive militarization of the contested islands.
With President Trump scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal done by the previous administration, it would be wise for these Asian nations to band together, not to fight a superpower, but to find alternative solutions that would be favorable for them in light of the uncertainty of US policies that affect them.
Japan and China are two of the richest countries in the world, with the former generally viewed as “old money” and the latter as “nouveau riche.” Flattering or derogatory implications aside, it cannot be denied that both are the chief entities that make this once destitute eastern region now a powerful force in the international economic landscape.
It is therefore incumbent upon these countries’ leaders to rethink their differences and find ways to improve their relations. Achieving respectful politeness will pave the way for productive dialogues that will protect their solid global standing and safeguard the fiscal and defense forces’ stability not only for themselves but also for the other emerging Asian economies. Other than China’s military belligerence, the delusional leader of rogue nation North Korea is proceeding with his nuclearization goals, causing global agitation. Tokyo’s Abe Shinzo wields more influence in fixing the strained ties with China, his country being a long-time major US ally and a seemingly unsinkable force. But it won’t be an easy job for Abe, with the sitting US president flip-flopping on his views of Beijing’s Xi Jinping and giving the Japanese Prime Minister a politically induced headache.
Historical accounts allege that the fight for regional supremacy between the two countries already existed 1,500 years ago. China had the upper hand in geographical dimensions but Japan’s innovative progress in the 19th century and its victories in the Japan-Qing War in 1895 and over Russia in 1905 solidified its superiority over its Goliath-size neighbor. The Sino-Japanese bond was on friendlier footing in the mid-1970s to the ‘80s but events in the following decade cropped up that led to tensions that have not abated since then.
In the 1990s, nationalistic Japanese historians revised school textbooks to cast the nation in a better light and instill patriotism in the minds of the young children. Among the revisions were the downplaying of the crimes committed by the Japanese Imperial Army against its enemies in World War ll, including China, and the purported sanitization of the events that occurred in the Rape of Nanking in 1937. The number of people killed in that massacre has never been factually established and various counts put them between 40,000 and 300,000.
A thorny issue that has hounded the two countries is China’s insistence that Japan apologize for its WWll atrocities through financial compensation. But a book by author June Dreyer mentions an incontestable fact – 70 percent of Japanese aid in the 1980s went to China. The never-ending demand for apologies now does not solicit sympathy from the Japanese but has the opposite effect of annoying them.
Adding to the tensions is the continuing dispute between Tokyo and Beijing of ownership of the Senkaku Islands, or Diaoyu Islands as China calls them. The United States had given back control of the islands to Japan under the Okinawa Reversion Agreement. China, however, does not honor the agreement, insisting that the islands belongs to them. The long-held animosity escalated in 2012 when Japan purchased the set if islands from a private individual for more than 2 billion yen.
An accord that is mutually acceptable can put to rest these contentious issues if leaders Abe and Xi are open to rebuilding the damaged lines of communication. Further, Japan’s prime minister should nurture its relations with the new US administration and maintain the cordial ties it had with the previous resident of the White House. Pres. Trump’s vacillating moods now has him favoring Pres. Xi, and Abe must be careful not to offend him. Japan needs Washington and Beijing for economic and security soundness.
For its part, China should keep in mind that its current economic strength cannot continue if it repeatedly provokes other nations with its combative and hostile behavior. It should learn to respect the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration denying its rights to the Spratly Islands in favor of the Philippines. Despite the court’s ruling in July 2016, China continued building artificial reefs and a military airfield on the contested land. and ignored several countries’ requests to abide by the legal decision.
Earlier this year, three China Coast Guard ships entered the waters around Senkaku Islands, which is the subject of a Japan-China territorial dispute. The move came days after US Secretary of State James Mattis paid a visit to Japan and reaffirmed its government’s support for Japan’s claim.
Notwithstanding the recent chill in relations, Abe and Xi have vowed to resume communication and restore healthy ties when the two met on the sidelines at the G20 summit in Hamburg earlier this month.