Dr. HO, C.P. Patrick
Deputy Chairman and Secretary General, China Energy Fund Committee
New Dynamic in the Trilateral Relations
Congratulations everyone! The world didn't end in 2012 as predicted by an ancient Mayan prophesy. Life goes on!
Indeed, the year 2012 was an eventful one for world politics. It marked the 40th anniversary of the normalization of the diplomatic ties between China and Japan, and the 40th anniversary of the publication of the Shanghai Communiqué of China and the United States.
The year also marked the beginning of the newly-elected leaders’ terms of office in China and Japan, plus the re-election of President Obama of the U.S. How the three countries will act, and interact, during this early stage of their administrations in advancing their respective country’s political, economic and social development will significantly impact the long term prospects of peace, stability and prosperity in Asia Pacific, if not the entire world.
Successful trilateral cooperation rests on three stable and productive bilateral relationships.
Among the three, U.S.-Japan relations have been structured, stable, and strong since the end of the Cold War, especially since the mid-1990s, when Japan and the US issued the "Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation".
Sino-U.S. relations have improved greatly since the late 1990s and were stable in the last decade during the Bush administration’s implementation of its War on Terror doctrine. However, the nature and structure of the long-term bilateral relationship between the United States and China had become somewhat uncertain, unsettled, and unclear, especially after President Obama announced his "Pivot to Asia” strategy in 2011.
Bilateral relations between China and Japan were basically stable from the early 1970s until the end of the 20th century. The Sino-Japan relationship got off to a good start in the early days of the Democratic Party of Japan-led government, with frequent high-level interactions, solid progress in the result-oriented exchanges and greater cooperation in various fields. However, the relationship has since been met with challenges from structural changes inside both countries and between the two nations. After Prime Minister Hatoyama lost power in July 2010, the centre of gravity within the ruling coalition was shifted to the centrists and conservatives. During Noda’s term of office, the dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands caused a tense emotional confrontation between the two nations, resulting in a security crisis. After only three years in power, Japan’s Democratic Party lost the parliamentary election to the Liberal Democratic Party last month. Significantly, in his election campaign, Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe argued that Japan should station government personnel on the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. As a result, China-Japan relations quickly plunged into a new low.
Sino-Japan Trust Deficit
The recent 8th Public Opinion Survey on China-Japan Relations, sponsored by China Daily and the Japanese non-profit think tank Genron NPO, shows that 84 percent of ordinary Japanese people harbor negative attitudes toward China, while the proportion of Chinese people holding a negative impression of Japan also remains high.
When Japanese people were asked what is the first thing they associate with China, 31.5 percent of the public chose “Diaoyu Islands”, much higher than the Great Wall (26.4 percent).
The Diaoyu Islands dispute may have triggered this further negative shift in our two peoples’ impressions of each other, but more fundamentally, it is inadequate political and security mutual trust between the two countries that has caused the situation to fester and emotions to reach boiling-point.
The power balance between China and Japan and the perceptions of that balance are major determinants in shaping Sino-Japan relations. The generational change in Japan’s leadership and general public, the rising Japanese nationalism, and the right-wing politics and policies all challenge the foundations of bilateral relations between Japan and China. In his comments on Japan’s strategy towards China in the 21st century, Prime Minister Abe takes China as the top concern with regard to Japan’s foreign relations and security. He also tries to seek more allies by strengthening the US-Japan alliance.
Sino-US Trust Deficit
On the other hand, the Obama Administration’s "Pivot to Asia” strategy has drawn considerable attention in Asia. Some Chinese analysts believe Washington is adopting a “New Cold War” strategy in response to a perceived threat from China, and a fear of American decline.
Although President Obama denied that the United States was introducing a containment policy against China, given the frequent power turnovers between the two main parties in the United States, interspersed by election rhetoric every two to four years, with the usual China-bashing indulged in by both parties during national elections, the Chinese people are always puzzled when trying to decipher U.S. intentions.
Although U.S. objectives might be subject to interpretation, U.S. military, economic, ideological, and diplomatic capabilities are relatively easy to read. By 2020, the US Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last year, the United States will have 60 percent of its naval forces in the Pacific and 40 percent in the Atlantic, in contrast to the current 50-50 split.
The operational capabilities of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific are magnified by bilateral defense treaties with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and South Korea and cooperative arrangements with other partners. Taken together, this U.S. defense posture has created, according to some Chinese strategists, "a strategic ring of encirclement" or “a c-shaped encirclement” around China, despite what the U.S. Government has staunchly denied.
In fact, the Sino-US trust deficit was adroitly addressed by Xi Jinping, China’s newly elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, during his visit to the United States last year.
On December 13, 2012, Mr Xi emphasized again the importance of Sino-US relations when he met with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in Beijing. “Both China and the United States should be innovative and make efforts to accumulate positive energy to build a China-U.S. cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit,” he said. “They should also create a new type of bilateral ties between major powers, regardless of difficulties.”
Understanding the Rise of China
Why do so many Americans and Japanese worry about China's foreign strategy regarding the future? To neutral observers, China's stable growth in the past 30 years and the success of the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games and 2010 Shanghai World Expo highlight its rapid emergence as a responsible global Power. Despite this, China is still perceived as the only country posing a possible threat to U.S. predominance.
In fact, China is simultaneously a developed and a developing country. Here are some facts and figures that may help people understand the real China:
- A population of 1.3 billion (roughly four times the number of people in the United States, and three times the number of people in the EU)
- 9.6 million square kilometers of territory (which is the third largest in the world, behind only Russia and Canada)
- The 2nd largest economy in the world
But at the same time, the following are inconvenient truths:
- 150 million people live below the poverty line (taking the United Nations' standard of one US dollar a day)
- 10 million people have no access to electricity
- 24 million people are in need of employment each year ( a greater figure than the population of Canada)
- Per capita GDP of US$ 5,417, ranking the 90th in the world.
Different from those China observers, the world as seen from Beijing is a terrain of hazards, beginning with the congested streets and polluted air outside the senior officials’ windows, to land borders and sea-lanes thousands of miles away, to the mines and oil fields of distant continents. There is really no easy way for China to proceed on the road to prosperity.
As Andrew Nathan writes in his new book, China's Search for Security, the widespread perceptions of China as an aggressive, expansionist power are baseless. Although China's relative power has grown significantly in recent decades, the main tasks of Chinese foreign policy are defensive and have not changed much since the Cold War era: to blunt destabilizing influences from abroad, to avoid territorial losses, to reduce its neighbours’ suspicions, and to sustain economic growth.
Looking back over China’s 60-year history since the founding of the People's Republic of China, there have been no civil wars and no invasion or aggression outside its borders. There has been no refugee problem, no conflicts or financial crisis triggered by China. We try to absorb and solve our own challenging problems, including those by-products of modernization, urbanization and industrialization, instead of troubling others. The principles governing our foreign policy have remained unchanged, just as our position toward the Diaoyu Islands has always remained the same.
Five thousand years in Chinese history shows that serious economic problems can always be managed through determined diplomacy and negotiation. However, in light of its historical legacy, particularly after its struggles in modern times, its core national interests are non-negotiable and rightfully inflexible. The Chinese government has the unshakable resolve and will to uphold the nation's territorial sovereignty. It has the confidence and ability to safeguard China's state sovereignty and territorial integrity.
National sovereignty, national security, and territorial integrity, however, are the kinds of issues that if unresolved through diplomacy, can lead to head-on confrontation.
China, the United States and Japan should all have a correct and clear understanding of one another’s core values and national interests, and be prepared to compromise and come to terms with issues at the periphery.
Dialogue is indispensible in mitigating and resolving conflicts. But just bringing the two sides to meet might be the first step to break the ice. A dialogue is meaningful only when both sides, besides stating their respective positions, also listen to the other’s position so that an understanding of one another’s rights and difficulties can be achieved. But a relationship can only be successful if it is humanized. Understanding with empathy can place us in the other’s shoes and help us realize why and how the other side acts in the way it did, and took the decisions it made. Only with this humanizing touch and empathy can the relationship be endowed with respect. Trust must be built on respect; mutual respect of one another’s plight and of one another’s struggle and mission. We can only trust the people we respect, and respect the people whom we trust. With trust and respect, cooperation arrives easily and automatically.
Trilateral dialogue between China, the United States and Japan will be pivotal to promote communications and understanding leading to a new harmonious relationship based on mutual respect and appreciation in this globalized world.
The most obvious common interest between the U.S., Japan and China is economic development and cooperation. They are already major economic partners, bound together by trade and commercial integration. The United States is China’s largest trading partner, and Japan the second largest (EU exluded). China is America’s second largest trading partner, and Japan is the fourth largest (EU exluded). China has become the largest trade partner of Japan, and the United States is Japan’s second largest trade partner.
Other potential issues warranting cooperation include: energy and the related task of helping stabilize the Middle East, global issues like fighting HIV/AIDS, SARS, avian flu, promoting trade and investment, and counter-terrorism. We must realize that the development and policies of any one of the three would not only have a very serious knock-on effect on the other two, but also the whole of Asia and even the world.
It is increasingly obvious that each country is locked into a particular perspective and that the world looks very different among the various parties, depending on which (or whose) lens is used. A productive trilateral relationship can be created only if the three countries overcome their prejudices and suspicions and act in accordance with their mutual interests and address their common concerns with open minds and hearts.
Washington and Tokyo should make their alliance more transparent to allay Chinese disquiets. On the other hand, Beijing can do more to explain its long-term strategic intentions. While the vast majority of the Japanese and Chinese public remains committed to pacifism, the rise of the so-called New Right with strong, and oftentimes notorious, revisionist views of history has cast a long shadow over the two countries’ relationship. I do hope that our leaders could humble themselves, listen to their peoples, and ask what it takes to fulfill their dreams. Nationalism and turning to the right should not be the answer to our respective aspirations and ambitions.
A unilateral approach is no longer appropriate to make or maintain peace and stability. A China-U.S.-Japan trilateral dialogue can serve as a platform for an exchange of views and ideas on issues of common concern. It is not an alliance and will not be one. It does not replace and cannot replace the function of bilateral relations. The function and aim of a trilateral strategic or security dialogue is to provide an opportunity for each of the three parties to realize that the action and decision taken unilaterally by anyone of the three, to protect and further the national interest of the respective country, would also have important far reaching implications to the peace and security in this region and in the world.
For more than a century, East Asia has suffered much in its quest for self-dependence. It has gone through the dark ages of colonisations, endless civil wars, natural disasters one after another, two World Wars, and two atomic bombs. Now comes the 21st century. Countries in East Asia have been on the rise. Our people are being fed; illiteracy is being swept away; cities are being built; and our people are enjoying better living conditions and better quality of life. Our economies are growing from strengths to strengths.
Maintaining peace in this region is of paramount importance to all of us if we all want to continue to prosper.
We, Chinese, understand this very well, I think our American friends also understand this, and I hope our Japanese friends can also understand this.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are truly living in historic times, and the opportunity for building new confidence and trust is one of the greatest challenges facing the China-US-Japan trilateral relationship. I am confident that our peoples will have the wisdom and courage to truly grasp this moment and begin to build a better world in the years ahead.
I hope today’s proceedings have not just been intellectually stimulating, but have also given us a new sense of hope from the fresh ideas and novel views that have arisen from your participation. Although we sometimes have different views on specific issues, I believe one voice stood out - that the people of the three countries all expect their leaders to demonstrate goodwill to one another to achieve greater harmony in this trilateral relationship. I am sure this hope will be heard by all three governments and can be translated into constructive decisions and positive actions that can be implemented in the future.
In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let us promote a new spirit of cooperation. Let us remember the purpose of this colloquium is to learn from the others that which we do not know, to listen to different voices which we have not heard, and to open up our minds for multiple perspectives which are still foreign to us. Only then can we begin to share insights, to discover common goals, and to overcome obstacles leading to a better world for generations to come.