Thu, Feb 23, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Japan and China: the keys to East Asian peace

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

Since the 1980s Japan has been trying to transform itself into a "normal" nation: since it began on its path to democratization, Taiwan has been trying to do the same thing.

In fact, there are quite a few East Asian countries in pursuit of this very same goal, including North Korea and China.

Japan falls short of being "normal" in that its political and diplomatic status is inconsistent with its role as one of the globe's economic superpowers. Furthermore, it is still bound by its "peaceful" Constitution despite the fact that it commands the most powerful military in the East Asian region, not counting the US presence. Taiwan is not a "normal" country because there is no agreement as to whether it is a sovereign nation, even among its own people. Both of these countries are split on how they see themselves.

The same is true for China, and its schizophrenic view of its position in the world has so far made it impossible for it to develop a harmonious and appropriate foreign policy. Take its policy on Japan: on the one hand it is worried the US will remain in East Asia and continue its strategic alliance with Tokyo, containing China's expansion through its "island chain" strategy.

On the other, it is concerned the US will retreat from the region, leaving Japan free to develop its national defense forces, which may include nuclear weapons, an eventuality that will scupper China's chances of becoming the region's only superpower. China's policy is, therefore, contradictory when it comes to US-Japan relations.

China's foreign policy regarding Russia is another case in point. In the past, China looked to Russia for leadership, but now tends to look down on it. It continues, however, to rely heavily on Moscow for military technology.

Their relationship has become more complex recently in a world where oil and raw materials are becoming more valuable. Russia is rich in both, whereas China suffers from insufficient supplies. China's policy regarding Russia, then, is also contradictory.

China originally saw the US as an enemy, and in a multi-polar world wanted to position itself to offset the power of the US. However, since Sept. 11 Beijing has been forced to accept the US' status as the world's only superpower, and it also relies on the US as a market for its goods. As far as China is concerned, the US is an obstacle to its expansion, but given the situation it had to transfer its energies from opposing the US to opposing Japan, which it sees as complicit in US obstruction of its ambitions. In this, China is again contradictory.

China relies on Taiwanese entrepreneurs to help it build up its foreign reserves and for technology transfer. At the same time, it is doing everything to strangle Taiwan's efforts to participate in the international community. It considers itself superior to India, but secretly envies its software industry. None of this reflects consistency.

The EU was born out of the need to prevent far-reaching and deep-seated enmity between European countries. Germany and France, where nationalism was once rife, now work together. Given that the East Asian countries we have already mentioned are not considered "normal" countries, such a thought may be inconceivable for the time being, and the conflicts we see now between China and Japan present another obstacle.

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