Tue, Jan 18, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Japan proves difficult for China

By Sushil Seth

It would seem that Japan is emerging as Beijing's targeted bad boy. Internet users are posting angry messages on Web sites designed to let out their hatred against Japan -- some are even predicting war in the not too distant future. The Chinese authorities are quick to shut down sites advocating democracy and other activities frowned on by them. But they look the other way where Japan-bashing is concerned.

Why is Beijing allowing it? One explanation could be that it is a safety valve to channel popular disaffection into an over-arching national cause with the broadest popular appeal. Japan fits the bill. It hasn't apologized adequately for its wartime atrocities and it has sought to whitewash its history books by tinkering with wartime facts to paint Japan in a favorable light.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has angered China by his annual visits to the Yasukini shrine, which houses its war dead, including World War II war criminals. Its recent defense policy white paper has infuriated Beijing by labeling China (and North Korea) as security threats. According to press reports, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Koizumi -- are barely on speaking terms.

And Japan is proving difficult to manage in terms of China's regional and global leadership ambitions.

China is working to become a superpower. The timing is right because the US is stuck with Iraq and global terrorism. In other words, the US is over-extending itself. According to Qian Qichen (錢其琛), China's former foreign minister and an influential policy formulator, the US' doctrine of pre-emption and overdependence on military force will lead to "absolute insecurity of the American Empire and its demise because of expansion it cannot cope with."

Therefore, China sees excellent opportunities in America's predicament. It has already made quite an impact in Southeast Asia through a series of diplomatic and trade initiatives -- ?the most important being a free-trade agreement with ASEAN.

Additionally, South Korea has virtually detached itself from its alliance with the US. According to academics James Auer and Robyn Lim "? South Korea has become a de facto ally of China. Thus its value to the US as an ally has been undermined, and the congruence of strategic interest that underpinned this alliance during the Cold War is rapidly eroding."

Seoul is not comfortable with Washington's hard line on North Korea. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has been urging the US to be more tolerant of North Korea, even calling its nuclear ambitions an "understandable" attempt at defense. Both North and South Korea are now part of China's regional political and security zone.

Looking north, Beijing has cleared the decks to further develop relations with Russia with the signing of a border agreement between the two countries. And it is seeking to improve relations with India.

In other words, China's political and security environment is quite benign. Even the US seems keen to keep China on its side, aware of its own difficult situation. That would explain why Washington is keen to "rein in" Taipei, lest it provokes China and creates more difficulties for the US.

The trick for Beijing, though, is to manage its relationship with the US without seemingly challenging its global supremacy. This might make the US less concerned about China's regional and global ambitions. And it could even create a political partnership of sorts between the two countries.

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