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US-China-Japan trilateral relations

Friday 4 April, 2014

I attended this event organized by the Japan Society;  The US-Japan-China triangle: building a path to trilateral cooperation which featured a panel discussion with Gerald Curtis of Columbia U., Jia Qingguo of Peking U., Alan Romberg of the Henry L. Stimson Center, & Yoshihide Soeya of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars & Keio U.  The panel was moderated by Donald Zagoria of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.  I arrived late & missed Jia’s talk.

Soeya put today’s situation in historical context.  In 1971-2, China asserted itself while Japan avoided the issue.  During the 1980’s, Japan invested in China to modernize the country.  Deng Xiaoping then made courageous reforms.  Recently Japan’s Abe made an exception in visiting the Yaksun Islands.  In an interview in the  June-July issue of Foreign Affairs, he said it was not a big deal & that they were entitled to a right of self-defense, exerting a nationalistic tendency.  But he can’t carry out this policy with his current agenda.

Romberg called trilateral cooperation wildly unrealistic, & perhaps impossible.  There is no resolve to manage the dynamics.  China & the US have positive & negative effects which offset each other.  Their external behavior is erratic;  while they seek peace, they will also respond if challenged.  Aggression is in the eye of the beholder.  Japan is skeptical of China’s methods.  The US-China relationship is broader & deeper.  Their national interests differ.  For example, China sees the US & Japan as limiting the opportunities to bring China’s poor out of poverty.  There are no prospects for peace if these problems can’t be resolved.  Talks should lie ahead, but won’t.  Abe won’t visit the shrine again as PM.  The US seeks to lower the heat, but won’t mediate.  US/Japan alliances are alive & well.

Curtis addressed 4 issues:

  1. The islands are a dominant issue in Chinese/Japanese relations.  No 1 wants to go to war, but accidents do happen.  Japan must recognize the dispute & be willing to talk.  The Chinese must withdraw during such talks.  There seems to be no resolution because neither side expresses a willingness to compromise.
  2. China is conducting a nonsensical propaganda campaign against Abe, but that may be backfiring.  Both sides need to back off.
  3. Yaksuni is a sensitive issue.  Abe’s visit was not in the national interest.  Visiting the shrine resulted in sending a political message.  The hope is Abe will get this over with & foster better relations.
  4. After America’s pivot to Asia, we are stronger, but relatively smaller.  Obama is weak & doesn’t support Japan-the republicans do.  The world & the US have changed & we can’t go back to the way the world existed before.

Panel Q&A

If Japan acknowledges the Sekuka Isles, they can at least start negotiations.  Japan wants China to reduce it’s patrols in the area.  The solution could be the transfer of property rights by both of them.  The fishery agreement between the 2 is a recognized issue & related.  China will continue to assert itself until stopped.

Open Q&A

Japan is different from Germany after World War II in that the Japanese never apologized for the atrocities they inflicted on others, while the Germans did.

There is a poisoned atmosphere between China & Japan, which isn’t surprising.  They need to solve these problems to build trust.

Transferring property rights to the UN is not an option because that would be viewed as surrender, which is unacceptable.

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