Coping with China

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 4
EDITORIAL: Coping with China

The South Korean island of Daeyeonpyeongdo remained desolate on New Year's Day, with most islanders having relocated temporarily to the mainland city of Incheon and elsewhere following North Korea's artillery assault in November.

That was the first time since the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement in 1953 that South Korean civilians were killed in a direct attack from North Korea.

Naturally, the shock and outrage of the islanders were immense, especially as their island had remained unscathed during the war.

The people of South Korea are also deeply offended by China's stance of continuing to support aberrant North Korea.

Beijing did not condemn Pyongyang for the artillery assault, just as it hadn't over the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship last spring. Moreover, China effectively blocked the United Nations Security Council from issuing a declaration to condemn North Korea. The South Korean people's frustration with China is all too understandable.

On the other hand, South Korea's political community and mass media are now urging the public to get reacquainted with China.

South Korea and China established diplomatic relations in 1992. At the time, China had yet to emerge completely from its isolation after being blasted by the international community over the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989.

Reacquainting with a neighbor

Today, nearly 60 percent of foreign students in South Korea are Chinese nationals, while one in three foreign students in China are South Korean. Bilateral exchanges have expanded faster than expected.

China has come a long way since 1992, having now become a major power and closing in on the United States. Its military capabilities have grown rapidly, especially at sea. China, in fact, is even transforming East Asia's security environment.

China's relationship with the United States is becoming the most important bilateral relationship for the stability of the world. Yet, it is hard to read Chinese politics and diplomacy.

This is why South Korea feels it must "study" China closely while maintaining its alliance with the United States. The same applies to Japan, as well.

China being a communist state, the process of policy-making there reminds us of a black box. But we cannot simply dismiss China as "different" and keep our distance, especially in light of our turbulent relations.

It's a shame, really, because a good relationship between Japan and China should help stabilize China's relationship with the United States and contribute to peace in the Asia-Pacific region.

Deng Xiaoping, who led China's open-door reformist policy, once noted to the effect: "The more developed a country becomes, the more humble it must become and learn not to criticize others thoughtlessly. The country must not say or do anything which cannot be handled by its means."

China appears to have abandoned Deng's "taoguangyanghui" (hide one's talents and bide one's time) policy. But Deng also said, "China will never let anyone interfere in its domestic policy, and China will never compromise on that score."

One thing is clear: China has faithfully adhered to Deng's guiding principle that "the only truth is development," and it focused on economic development as the ultimate national interest.

Changes in national interest

A policy of putting priority on economic development above all seems to have restored China's self-confidence. And as nationalism grew along with the economy, issues of sovereignty and territory also became matters of vital national interest in Beijing's eyes. Unless Japan takes due note of this change, Japan could harm its own national interests.

When Japan and China were at odds in September over the disputed Senkaku Islands, China and Russia held a summit and issued a joint statement to the effect that matters that pertain to their core interests, such as sovereignty, unification and territorial security, are the most important elements in their strategic partnership.

The statement could be interpreted as a declaration by China and Russia that they were resolved to form a united front in their disputes with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and the Northern Territories held by Russia since the end of World War II.

Immediately after the joint declaration was issued, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made a visit to one of the northern islands. China's foreign policy ought to be understood in a broader context.

Apparently, some members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan believe it is impossible to establish personal ties with Beijing officials because China is a dictatorship. But these members are wrong. They need only to look at China's relations with the United States.

For a while, disputes over the renminbi and bilateral trade, as well as Washington's sale of weapons to Taiwan, kept China's relations with the United States stormier than those with Japan. But now, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is scheduled to visit Beijing shortly. Likewise, Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit Washington officially this month for the first time in five years.

These visits are part of superpower strategic diplomacy, but they are being made possible because the bilateral relationship also rests on extensive private-level exchanges.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who unlocked the doors of China-U.S. relations, has visited China well over 100 times. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke has served for years as an adviser on business with China. The resilience of the China-U.S. relationship ultimately owes to personal relations.

The DPJ, whose contacts with China are notably scarcer than those established by the Liberal Democratic Party, needs to focus all its energy on building them up.

Once that is done, the DPJ must make every use of intergovernmental and interparty channels of dialogue, as Washington and Beijing have done in advancing their strategic partnership and economic talks.

Only then will our country be able to deal strategically with political, economic, security and environment issues.

Important role for netizens

To make the people of China understand who we really are, it is vital that we express ourselves to China's 400 million-plus Internet users, not only through government channels but also through private channels.

According to Michael Anti, a prominent Chinese blogger and journalist, the established media are influenced by the government, but bloggers are free to express all sorts of opinions. In fact, Twitter, which Beijing is unable to monitor completely, has today become a forum that shapes public opinion in China.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing invites influential Chinese bloggers every month to exchange their opinions with the ambassador himself. This is said to be what President Barack Obama wants.

It would be good if Japan also were to explore this new path of diplomacy by which both the government and the private sector will reach out directly to the people of China.

by kiyoshimat | 2011-01-06 12:07 | 英字新聞

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