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Foreign Policy

Seeking the Common Denominator

May 13 , 2015

At long last, Abe held a meeting with Xi Jinping in Bandung and addressed the joint meeting of the US Congress in Washington, DC. Diplomatically, he seems to have achieved success with both opportunities. The reality, however, is not so promising.

China’s launch of the AIIB, which has resonated across the world, is apparently resisted by the US and Japan. China, on the other hand, is not resistant to the US-dominated TPP. It has even expressed its willingness to join the treaty. It is Japan who has adopted a delaying tactic and is yet to conclude the substantive negotiations with the US. And every time the US and Japan amend the Japan-US defense guidelines, China would express its strong discontent.

These episodes, which epitomize the triangular relations between China, the US and Japan, point to the lack of mutual trust among these three powers in the Asia Pacific. With lots of misgivings among them, they are far from finding the biggest common denominator for cooperation.

What is the focus of attention for China, the US and Japan when it comes to their relations? For China, it is always the issue of historical responsibility. Seventy years have passed since World War II ended. Why wouldn’t Japan take up its responsibility as a country that committed the crime of aggression during the war and apologize for the tremendous suffering it inflicted on the people of the Asia Pacific region? Why would Japan even attempt to whitewash and deny its wrongdoings time and again? The time-honored Chinese nation is not narrow-minded or revengeful. But the adages such as “past experience, if not forgotten, can serve as a guide for the future” are always in the cultural DNA of China. The Chinese believe that recognition of historical responsibility is the only way to avoid recurrence of past mistakes.

The Chinese struggle to understand why the US, also a victim of Japanese aggression and a country that experienced the Pearl Harbor, the Badaan Death March, the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Iwo Jima, could turn a blind eye and sit idly by when Abe and other Japanese politicians visited the Yasukuni Shrine and described the “comfort women” forced into sex slavery by the Japanese army as just victims of “human trafficking”, and even connive at Japan’s attempts to lift the ban on “collective self defense”. China’s worry: If Japan is allowed to have its way, it will only be a matter of time for Japan to rearm and embark on the path of militarism.

For the US, the focus is China’s rise. The US will do whatever it can to retain its supremacy in the world. To this end, it unveiled the “return to the Asia Pacific” and “rebalancing to the Asia Pacific” strategy. Given the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the US must find a strategic fulcrum to curb China’s rise. And Japan is ultimately identified by the US as this fulcrum. To achieve its objective, the US would put aside everything, be it historical facts, war responsibilities or the feelings of the victimized countries in Asia. Pragmatism is the only thing that the US cares about. It is intent on using Japan to contain China. Years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the US seems convinced that it has to use Japan as a gateway to achieve its strategic goal of suppressing China, just as it did many years ago to disintegrate the Soviet Union.

For Japan, the focus is achieving unrivaled leadership in Asia. A large number of Japanese right-wingers view Japan as one of the earliest modernized countries that should be on a par with the US and European powers. They can by no means accept the fact that Japan is now outgrown by China. Given the change in the balance of power, Japan understands that it must follow the US lead and join hands with the US in China-bashing if it is to retain its leadership in Asia. This explains why Abe went out of his way to curry favor with the US during the joint session of the US Congress.

It seems that the US and Japan are now ganging up against China. But the truth is that the interactions among the three countries have gone far beyond the constraint of some politicians’ stereotypical mentality. The flow of capital, material, technology and people has brought the countries ever closer together. They are deeply interdependent and inter-connected. When one sneezes, the others may catch cold. They live in a community of common destiny where the rise or decline of one country will seriously affect the other two, and no country can benefit at the expense of the others. Bearing this in mind, the three countries might as well spend more time engaging in exchanges and dialogue and seeking the biggest common denominator of mutually beneficial cooperation. It has been 70 years since the end of World War II. Without such wisdom and vision, the leaders would fail to live up to the responsibilities of big-power status as well as the history, culture and people of their countries.

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