US President Barack Obama steps from the Air Force One as he arrives in Tokyo, Japan on April 23, 2014. Obama began a four-country trip through the Asia-Pacific region on Wednesday. (Left)
Future hangs in the balance
The US president should persuade Japan’s right-wingers of the error of their ways during his trip to the region to ensure stability.
After undergoing nearly seven decades of development since the end of World War II, Asia has already taken on a new look, witnessing not only the rise of a group of industrialized countries and regions during the latter part of the 20th century, but also the emergence of a number of economies that have grown to be the engine of global economic growth in the new century.
However, Asia’s development is still unbalanced.
First, Asia’s political cooperation is out of step with its economic dynamism. Political trust, particularly in East Asia, is still severely lacking. The actions and comments of Japanese right-wingers, who go so far as to complain of injustice when it comes to the Tokyo Trials and try to strengthen the country’s control of territory it annexed illegally during its imperialist past, have undoubtedly sown the seeds of deep mistrust among East Asian countries.
Second, in the context of the strained relations between some countries in the region, some Western media have been hyping speculation that the Asian economy might slow further. It is true economies in East Asia have recently experienced moderate or medium-speed growth after years of high-speed expansion. But this tendency is in line with the law of development, and also is connected to the fatigued global economy. Even so, the development speed of Asia’s emerging economies still far exceeds that of Western developed countries, and their momentum is increasingly reshaping the global landscape.
Because of the existence of various rifts and the lack of mutual trust, the region is in desperate need of candid dialogue. The trust deficit in Asia has affected the progress of regional economic cooperation, but at the same time it also suggests that there is great potential for further economic, investment and trade cooperation in the region, including the construction of regional free trade areas.
Asia needs to accumulate constructive positive energy, give full play to the spirit of countries being in the same boat, and effectively alleviate regional tensions to change the negative factors into positive elements. Moreover, Asia should oppose any shortsighted actions to set up small cliques.
Currently in Asia, there are serious differences between those countries adhering to unity and cooperation to benefit all and those trying to form cliques and factions to benefit themselves. It is Japan that is leading such divisiveness, as it has tried to piece together an Asian version of NATO, and antagonized its neighbors by clinging obstinately to its denial of historical facts and even embarked along the road of glorifying aggression.
Any responsible power must go all out to contribute to regional peace and stability based on human morality and justice. As a great power with tremendous economic and military presence in the region, how the United States sets out its Asia-Pacific position will make all the difference to Asia’s stability and development. Whether Washington will offer constructive cooperation to Asian countries’ efforts to enhance mutual trust and erase the doubts of its intentions has a direct bearing on regional peace, as well as the US’ own strategic interests.
Thus the eyes of the world are focused on US President Barack Obama’s four-nation trip to Asia that began in Japan on Wednesday.
If the US can aim high and think big and cooperate sincerely with countries in the region to establish a common security and trust mechanism that is suitable to the characteristics of the Asia-Pacific region, it will surely receive a share of Asia’s peace dividend and be genuinely welcomed among Asian countries.
However, if the US is unwilling or unable to contribute to Asia-Pacific stability, and instead takes sides in the region’s various historical and sovereignty disputes, it will be hard for the country to become the kind of responsible power that can benefit Asia. If the US only looks at short-term interests and sits watching Japan turning its military ambition into reality step by step, not only will the troublemaker’s interests be ultimately damaged, but also those of the US.
History has repeatedly shown us that a country that employs a policy of appeasement will eventually shoot itself in the foot.
The author is a professor and associate dean of the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University.
Contributed by Shen Dingli China Daily
Japan reassured over Diaoyu
US President Barack Obama started his four-nation Asia tour on Wednesday by overtly supporting Japan over its disputed territory with China, which experts say will exacerbate the already tense situation in East Asia.
In a written interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun published on Wednesday, Obama stated that the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea fall under Article 5 of the Japan-US Security Treaty, which obliges the US to protect Japan if there are conflicts over Japan-administered territories. He also supported moves by Japan to ease self-defense limits in his remarks.
“We oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands,” Obama said, adding that the US engagement with China “does not and will not come at the expense of Japan or any other ally.”
While Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been seeking to ease the restrictions on its collective self-defense rights prohibited by Japan’s Pacifist Constitution, Obama welcomed Japan playing a greater role in international security.
“I commend Prime Minister Abe for his efforts to strengthen Japan’s defense forces and to deepen the coordination between our militaries, including by reviewing existing limits on the exercise of collective self-defense,” Obama said, requesting Japan’s Self-Defense Forces “do more within the framework of our alliance.”
This is the first time that an incumbent US president has made such open remarks in support of Japan.
“Abe, more than any of his predecessors, has made headway on what Washington has long wanted from Japan, to become a more assertive partner in regional security,” Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan Campus, told the Global Times.
Obama, who is making the first full state visit to Japan by a US President since 1996, is expected to assuage worries by Tokyo and other allies regarding his commitment to their defense, without hurting vital US ties with Asia’s biggest economy – China.
Such assurances are likely to be high on the agenda when Obama meets Abe at a symbolic summit on Thursday.
“If Obama intends to improve relations with China, he is likely to antagonize the ally. To the extent that he improves relations with the allies, he’ll antagonize Beijing,” Kingston said, adding that Obama is on a “mission impossible.”
“Obama wants a better relationship with Beijing, but he thinks that Beijing also needs to think about modifying its behavior,” Kingston noted.
Shi Yinhong, director of the Center on American Studies at the Renmin University of China, said the remarks are intended to warn China while reassuring Japan and other US allies of its security guarantee, which has been under suspicion due to the way the US has dealt with the Ukraine issue.
“Japan will be very satisfied this time. But this will encourage Tokyo to step up its confrontation with Beijing,” Shi told the Global Times, adding that it will further strain tensions in Asia and even damage Sino-US relations.
Japan has ramped up its military surveillance capabilities on its westernmost island of Yonaguni, which is close to the Diaoyu Islands, by starting construction of a radar unit on Saturday.
Reiterating that the Diaoyu Islands are an inherent part of China’s territory, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said China is strongly opposed that the islands being part of the security treaty, which was reached during the Cold War and should not damage China’s sovereignty and rightful interests.
Obama and Abe are also keen to show progress on a two-way trade pact. This is seen as critical to a broader regional deal that would be one of the world’s biggest trade agreements and is central to Obama’s “pivot” towards Asia.