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Politics & Law

Western analysts got lost in the Abe-Xi maze, and failed to notice a coming synergy in East Asia


In response to Abe’s invitation to visit Japan, Xi Jinping says he will “seriously consider” during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China on Oct 26, 2018 (Reuters photo)

For unknown reasons, many Western political analysts made mistakes in understanding the Washington-Pyongyang relation (e.g. forecasting bloody nose strike, but being shockingly embarrassed by the Trump-Kim Singapore summit), and then the Pyongyang-Beijing relation (portraying a tension, but being surprisingly slapped by Kim’s three visits to Beijing before and after the Singapore summit).

Their latest error is the failure to realize why Prime Minister Abe is so keen on renovating the Japan-China relationship and has been so successful in doing so. A Voice of America Oct 23 article guessed that “… the US-China trade war is helping push Beijing and Tokyo closer … Analysts say the three-day trip is unlikely to resolve historic territorial disputes …… As relations between Beijing and Washington worsen, China is looking to build closer ties with Abe …” Before we laugh at all these nonsense ideas, take a look at The Asahi Shimbun’s Oct 27 report:

[1] China and Japan on Friday (Oct 26) pledged to forge closer ties as both countries stood together at an “historic turning point” (attention: it is of a “historic” grade or class! )

[2] the two neighbours looked to carve out new areas of cooperation and seek ways to promote trust (attention: they talk about “trust”)

[3] “From competition to co-existence, Japan and China bilateral relations have entered a new phase. Hand in hand with Premier Li, I would like to advance our ties forward,” Abe told reporters after the pair met on Friday morning (attention: a “new” phrase out of Abe’s lips while holding Li’s hand)

[4] “With President Xi Jinping, I would like to carve out a new era for China and Japan,” Abe said (attention: a “new” era out of Abe’s lips again while meeting Xi)

[5] “Our two countries bear large responsibility in achieving peace and stability in this region,” Abe said (attention: Ooh, how about the United States?)

[6] China and Japan signed an agreement to boost cooperation in the securities markets including the listing of exchange-trade funds (ETFs), and facilitate smoother customs clearance (attention: it is about money, and potentially huge amount…)

[7] The two sides also signed a currency swap agreement of up to 3.4 trillion yen ($30.29 billion), effective until 2021. A deal towards establishing a yuan clearing bank was also inked (attention: a JPY/RMB swap)

[8] More than 50 deals and agreements were signed (attention: making “deals” which need ‘trust’)

[9] Li said both sides had agreed that as major countries, China and Japan should uphold free trade and accelerate talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and on a China-Japan-Korea trade zone. RCEP is a free trade agreement proposed by China with Southeast Asia and various countries on the Pacific Rim including Japan (attention: it is RCEP in sight, not TPP which was initiated by Obama but abandoned by Trump)

The Western analysts have made lots of mistakes, this time. The most salient one is that the trade war, tariffs, Indo-Pacific containment, and even Washington’s realist strategy of seeing China as the top national threat (replacing terrorism) are neither sufficient nor necessary conditions for Japan and China to hammer out a “historic” turning point, given their long term dispute over several islands near Taiwan and many many many other political dissensions. Logically speaking, Tokyo should have further distanced away from Beijing so as to show Japan as a reliable ally of the US. The trade dispute between Japan and the US is relatively a minor issue, and happened before, e.g. in the 1980s.

The major reason for Abe to forge a new “era” with Beijing is the dramatic change in Korea. If the two Koreas co-operate further, they have great potential to become a fire-engine of economic growth in East Asia. The coming synergy of Russia-China-Korea tempts Abe to join this wealth pool, and rebuilding the Japan-China relation must be the first step.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

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About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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