October 9, 2010
The following article appeared in Global Times on 29 September:
It now looks unlikely that the current Sino-Japanese dispute will be resolved next week in Brussels on the sidelines of the ASEM Asia-Europe Summit, when Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan will both be there. Whatever the true facts of the collision between a Chinese trawler and two Japanese coastguard ships in the East China Sea, the position has become very serious. China’s forcing Tokyo to release the Chinese captain is a short term diplomatic victory for China but may not be a good thing in the long run.
Western observers are confused as to why Beijing now insists upon an apology which Tokyo does not appear able to make, but has prompted a retaliatory demand for compensation. What is Beijing’s objective in taking the dispute one step further and how can the dispute be resolved? A fear is that pragmatism has been replaced by sentiment. The rhetoric is, of course, designed for domestic audiences. Sovereignty is also a root of the dispute. Both countries are applying very strict interpretations of sovereignty over disputed territories.
China and Japan are major trading and investment partners. This episode, which will not be quickly forgotten, increases mutual distrust and is likely to damage the commercial relationship.
More serious, however, it is a setback to Sino-Japanese reconciliation. It also risks stoking nationalism in both countries. China’s new assertiveness worries other Asian countries. The South China Sea, critically important to China, is the setting for several bilateral territorial disputes.
The incident and China’s subsequent action encourages other Asian countries to strengthen their military capability and form alliances. It also invites the United States to play an even more active role in the region, its presence being regarded by Beijing as an irritant. The South China Sea has been declared by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton an American national interest and by officials a Chinese core interest.
We Europeans know what balance of power games did to Europe, culminating in two huge European civil wars last century in which millions lost their lives. But a balance of power rivalry is now breaking out in Asia and its potential consequences must not be underestimated. It has been said that the next war will be over energy and/or water. It is not wise to dramatise but nor is it wise to be complacent. Vital waters, territorial disputes, energy claims and water shortages are an explosive mixture.
Current Chinese neighbourhood policy is not in China’s own interests. It will encourage an even greater American involvement in the region and promote alliances between the US and Asian countries. The United States has declared its support for Japan on the dispute and it has brought the two countries closer together when they are undergoing difficulties in their relationship. ASEAN has asked the United States to remain in the region. Despite China’s diplomatic success, China’s desired image of peaceful development and responsible international stakeholder have been damaged.
Chinese and Japanese economic growth needs stability in East Asia. The two countries must revitalise the peaceful coexistence, and dampen down nationalistic sentiments. Is it too late to follow Deng Xaoping, who said in 1978 that China and Japan should shelve the sovereignty issue and engage in joint development?Author : Stanley Crossick