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Foreign Policy

Containment of China Is Abe’s Top Target

Jan 25 , 2013
  • Wu Jinglian

    Researcher, Development Research Center of State Council

Since last month’s reelection of Abe as the new Japanese prime minister, he has proclaimed time and again that given the great importance of the relationship between his country and China, he would devote himself to rebuilding its strategic ties. What people have seen from him, however, has been something totally different from his words.

At the beginning of 2013, he sent his deputy Aso to visit Myanmar; on January 5, he dispatched a special enjoy to Seoul to meet Park Geun-hye, the president-elect of South Korea; on January 9, he set his foreign minister Kishida off for a tour of the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei; and on January 16, he started his first round of foreign visits as the new prime minister, stopping first in Thailand before going to Vietnam and Indonesia.

It is not bad for Japan to make friends with as many Asian countries as possible. The crux here, however, is the close follow-up of each other by some key members in his cabinet to visit countries neighboring China, especially the Philippines and Vietnam that have been rowing with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea, moves that will easily make people suspect that the Japanese may be trying to put up an East Asian ring of encirclement to contain and guard against China.

As a matter of fact, this is not the first-time Abe and his ruling clique have made efforts to contain China. Six years ago when he was made Japan’s prime minister for the first time, Abe worked aggressively to promote security cooperation between Japan, the United States, Australia and India. When visiting India, for instance, he suggested creation of the Japan-India Union. Also, his foreign minister at that time even came up with the idea about creation of an ‘arc of freedom and prosperity’ on the Eurasian continent. All these attempts died on the vine due to refusal by India to roll up its banner of non-alignment and reluctance by the United States to send any misleading signals to China.

The factor behind Abe’s decision since his reelection to replay his old trick of containing China is the iciest point that Sino-Japanese relations have fallen to ever since normalization of diplomatic relations between the two. With their law-enforcing ships and airplanes confronting each other in this area, the situation has become truly explosive. There have been many signs that the measures taken by Abe are even more hawkish than his predecessor. On the one hand, he has time and again ordered military aircraft to intercept Chinese business planes performing routine cruising operations, and even threatened to order warplanes from Japanese Self-defense Air Force to fire warning shots at Chinese planes disregarding their radio warnings. On the other hand, he has been sending senior officials to tour countries neighboring China in an attempt to gang up on them and isolate China, thus forcing China to bow to Japan’s demands and conditions.

Abe highlighted his attempts to contain China when meeting reporters after the formation of his cabinet. Japan will keep a ‘bird’s-eye view’ of the whole world, and conduct its diplomacy from a strategic height, he told the reporters. As for his roadmap to improve relations with China, the first priority is to tighten its alliance with the United States, and the second step is to accelerate communication and exchange with countries cherishing values similar to those embraced by Japan or of strategic importance to Japan. Abe took these two steps almost immediately after his reelection. It was only after the US declined his planned US visit before or immediately after Obama’s inauguration that his regime changed to visit South Korea and other Southeast Asian countries neighboring China.

Frankly speaking, the trick Abe has been trying to play against China is nothing more than wishful thinking and over-confidence.

First of all, China is not afraid that its neighbors will be fooled and won over by Japan. After all, China has always followed a path of peaceful development and the policy of close contact. It has also joined hands with all neighboring countries to promote development of bilateral relations on the basis of equality, cooperation, and mutual benefit; deepened its economic integration with South Korea, India and ASEAN members; and brought bilateral trade with these countries onto a track of fast development. It is impossible for China’s influence in Asia to evaporate after one or two empty words from the Japanese.

Second, China will never waver in its stand on the Diaoyu Islands issue. Historical evidence and the International Law prove and support China’s sovereignty over these islands. Thanks to the consensus reached between the leaders of the two countries to shelve disputes over these islands, tremendous progress has been made in the exchange and cooperation between the two in all fields over the past four decades, contributing to lasting peace and prosperity in East Asia. Going after their own selfish interests, a handful of Japanese politicians have unilaterally backed off from the consensus and stirred up sharp confrontation between the two countries in the waters around the Diaoyu Islands. China, however, is a country that never bows to any pressure.

It is the involvement of the United States in the dispute that has instigated the Japanese rulers into willful provocations. It is true that the United States has proclaimed that it would not take sides when it comes to sovereign claims to the Diaoyu Islands, and expressed the hope that the parties concerned would settle their disputes in a peaceful manner. Meanwhile, it claimed that the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan applies to all territories under Japanese administration, which has undoubtedly given the Japanese rulers a powerful policy endorsement and erected a steep barrier blocking the disputing parties from coming to an agreement. Another negative impact of the United States is the National Defense Authorization Act recently signed by Obama, in which the US stand on the applicability of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan to the Diaoyu Islands is reiterated.

As the biggest and the second biggest economy in the world, both the United States and China have lots of domestic problems to solve, and both wish to aspire to peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific Region. What the United States should try to see and decide is whether it likes to be thrown unwillingly into a possible armed conflict that is being triggered by the Japanese rulers over the Diaoyu Islands. The United States is best advised to make good use of its influence over Japan to persuade the latter into giving up its ostrich policy of denying its territorial disputes with China and settling it through negotiation. At the same time, the United States should keep its words about not taking a stance in the Sino-Japanese sovereign disputes over the Diaoyu Islands and avoid giving the Japanese rulers any misleading signals.

Abe’s ongoing diplomatic games have put China on the alert and the international community on watch. It has also caught the close attention of the Japanese people. Half a year later, Japan will hold its quadrennial senate election. If Abe says one thing but does another , continues provoking China, and ruins the bilateral relations, he will see his restive second term coming to a rapid end.

Wu Jinanis a fellow researcher and deputy director of the Consulting Committee of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies

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