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Japan’s plot can't hurt China-Asean ties
Publication Date : 11-12-2013
Japan has been busy trying to drive a wedge between China and Asean member states by using China's newly established Air Defence Identification Zone as a pretext. This is a typical case of the pot calling the kettle black, because Japan established its ADIZ way back in 1969.
Moreover, by "nationalising" China's Diaoyu Islands in September last year, it is also responsible for escalating tensions in the East China Sea.
Japan's hawkish politicians not only deny the terror and suffering they unleashed on their Asian neighbours before and during World War II, but also ignore the Cairo Declaration. Japan is thus making a fool of itself by pretending to be a peace-loving country in order to force Asean to oppose China's ADIZ at the December 13-15 Japan-Asean summit in Tokyo.
During his visit to Japan last week, US Vice-President Joe Biden refused to issue a joint statement with Japan against China's ADIZ despite Japanese zealots' calls to "reinforce alliance to deal with China's forceful methods". This indicates that even though the US backs Japan, it avoids roiling China because of the significance of the new type major-power relationship between Beijing and Washington.
The Japanese media expect the Japan-Asean summit to issue a joint communiqu against China's ADIZ. But they are likely to be disappointed because Asia-Pacific is an inclusive region and sound cooperation should be the agenda of the Tokyo summit, which will mark the 40th anniversary of Japan-Asean ties. If the Japan-ASEAN summit does issue such a communiqu against China's ADIZ, it would cast a shadow on 10 years' strategic partnership between China and Asean.
In fact, except for the Philippines, other Asean member states have always viewed skeptically Japan's eagerness to strengthen economic and security ties with the Southeast Asian association. Also, many diplomats and scholars from Asean member states have more than once said Asean should not be caught in disputes between China and Japan.
No matter what plot it hatches, it will be very difficult for Japan to persuade ASEAN to join hands with it to contain China.
China is Asean's largest trading partner, with their trade volume crossing US$400 billion last year, compared with US$250 billion between Japan and Asean. And, as President Xi Jinping told the Indonesian parliament in October, China and Asean are trying to increase their trade volume to US$1 trillion by 2020.
Although competition between China and Japan will benefit Asean, the latter cannot take sides, because that would compromise its interests.
Japan has been trying to use China's maritime territorial disputes with some Asean member states - saying Beijing could establish an ADIZ even over the South China Sea - to force them to take action against China.
But such tricks are not expected to work, because China is not the first country to establish an ADIZ. More than 20 countries and regions have one, with the US establishing its ADIZ six decades ago and Japan's four-decade-old ADIZ being only 130 kilometres from China's coastline.
China's ADIZ is not no-fly zone and will not hinder aviation freedom over the high seas. It is aimed only at strengthening national defence, and people who are making a hue and cry over it are either misguided or have ulterior motives.
China does have maritime disputes with some Southeast Asian countries, but they are manageable and can be resolved only through bilateral dialogue. Asean is not and will never be the platform to resolve these disputes.
The visits of President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang to Southeast Asia in October have not only promoted bilateral ties with the Asean member states, but also "upgraded" the China-Asean development road map. Xi's proposal to build a new "maritime silk road" is a mutually beneficial arrangement for both China and Asean.
At an academic conference organised by Hainan University and the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences over the weekend, Chinese scholars highlighted the importance of adding security to the "maritime silk road" to make it more compact.
The academics cited the example of Zheng He, an admiral during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), as historical proof of China's peaceful maritime strategy. The most famous explorer in China led seven maritime expeditions, sailing through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean into the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, and reaching as far west as the east coast of Africa. But unlike Western explorers and navigators, Zheng's large fleets never invaded another country.
Hopefully, Asean member states will refer to history and make the decision that serves their own rather than Japan's interests.
The author is an editor with China Daily.