High Time for Watershed in East-Asia Relations

Last month’s collision of a Chinese trawler and two Japanese Maritime Coast Guard vessels comes at a time when both countries were looking forward to warmer relationships. Since 2009, China has been Japan’s largest economic trading partner, and the new Japanese leadership under Prime Minister Naota Kan was reputedly the most pro-Chinese government in decades.

Yet as bilateral relations were strained by the collision, much of this goodwill has been dashed. The collision occurred in disputed waters near the Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyu by the Chinese), bringing disputed territory to the forefront of politics. In the end, China ratcheted up its grievances against Japan, and a bizarre slew of incidents—unusually thorough custom inspections of commodities headed for Japan, China’s sudden weeklong ban of rare earth exports, and the detention of 4 Japanese construction workers—seemed to be more than Japan wanted to bear.

Japan freed the trawler’s skipper on September 24th, perhaps in an effort to defuse escalating tensions. Another factor may be the host of multilateral talks scheduled to take place over the coming months, such as the G20, East Asian and Asia Pacific Economic Co-Operation Summits. In light of talks, Japan may have seen a need to bring about a quick conflict resolution.

However, Japan’s ultimate decision to free the skipper has several lasting implications. For one thing, China’s assertion of legitimacy over the islands seemed much more coordinated than Japan’s mixed-signal response during the weeks the trawler’s captain was detained. This underscored Japan’s ineptitude to appeal its stance to the international community. China, too, made a firm point that it intends to take a hard-line stance when the going gets rough, a clear contrast to the “peaceful rise” it has long preached to its neighbors. The collision has undoubtedly made nearby countries with territorial disputes with China fidgety, while simultaneously giving a wake-up call to the United States that it may not be able to get away by playing observer when tension in the region escalates.

As far as the islands and the development natural gas reserves in vicinity go, it is unfortunate that Japan and China cannot agree to jointly develop the large reserves of natural gas discovered in 1969 by ECAFE (UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East) near the islands in a harmonious manner. In essence, the struggle over disputed territories in East Asia is not just about development rights and EEZ’s (Exclusive Economic Zone). Making territorial claims is a way countries assert themselves as the nexus of power in the region. This means that geopolitically, the close proximity of the countries and the framework of an “East Asian” region makes reconciliation and integration that much more difficult, especially when so many countries are trying to become the leader of the region.

Where judicial interpretations of territorial claims differ, regional integration is the only way to avoid a zero-sum conflict. Though the region is stable on the surface, underlying mistrust still looms large. If true reconciliation does not take place, new conflicts will stir old grudges—in particular sentiments characterized by rumination on past victimizations. What the region desperately needs is historical reconciliation, now in the “forgiving and cleansing” way which is colored by religious overtones and therapeutic language, but macro-level psychological reconciliation where past wrongs become incorporated into a new narrative told by all parties. By combining narratives through reconciliation, mutual understanding will become more tenable, and region will not just be marked by increasing economic interdependence but increasing mutual trust as well.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

2 Responses to “High Time for Watershed in East-Asia Relations”

  1. Issuu.com says:

    Euh êtes vous sûr de ce que vous nous avancez ??

  2. Euh êtes vous certain de ce que vous nous écrivez ??

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