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Tempering Japan's belligerence
Publication Date : 26-08-2013
Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former US President John F. Kennedy, has been nominated to be US Ambassador to Japan. For China, the question is what role she will play in the relations between the United States, Japan and China at a time when relations between China and Japan have soured, and relations between China and the US have good momentum.
China and Japan have fundamentally different views of history and territorial disputes over the Diaoyu Islands and East China Sea.
Although complicated, these questions can be resolved so long as the two sides negotiate with each other calmly. The trouble is that the US, because of its alliance has shown partiality toward Japan rather than taking a neutral position. This has fuelled not only the resurgence of right-wing militarism in Japan, but also nationalism in China, pushing East Asia into a situation that is becoming difficult to control.
Many analysts have questioned Kennedy's lack of diplomatic experience. But she can always bear in mind the nightmares caused by the US' military interventions in Korea and Indochina, and the US' experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. She will be aware of the consequences of the US being dragged into a pointless war in Asia by Japan?
Kennedy should show impartiality toward China and Japan, a posture conducive to taking the heat out of the dispute between the two countries, and she should persuade Japan to pursue a more rational track of consultation and negotiation.
Kennedy can also promote trilateral economic cooperation and trade. According to Eurostat figures published in mid-August, the eurozone grew by 0.3 per cent in the second quarter of this year. In the same period, the US' economy grew by 0.4 per cent and Japan's economy grew by 0.6 per cent. The Chinese economy, meanwhile, grew by 7.5 per cent. This means that for the first time since the outbreak of the global financial crisis at the end of 2008, the US, China, Japan and Europe, the four major economies in the world, all registered growth. Although it is too soon to conclude that the crisis is over, there does seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel at last.
Economic growth is at the core of any country's national interests. Economic relations and trade between China, the US and Japan link the three countries closely together and the level of interdependence means that they share the good times and the bad times. A commitment to promoting trilateral economic cooperation and trade will be the key to a successful ambassadorship for Kennedy.
Kennedy is also expected to criticise the growing rightist tendency in Japan. She will arrive in Tokyo at a sensitive moment, when Shinzo Abe's administration is getting ready to challenge the post-World War II institutional arrangements.
In his speech to mark the 68th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II on August 15, Prime Minister Abe issued no apology for the great sufferings Japan inflicted on Asian peoples. And he did not make the same vow as the one he made during his first stint as Prime Minister, that Japan would never go to war again. While Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso has talked about learning from Nazi Germany's model of changing Japan's peace constitution. The right-wingers' horrifying attitude is "the only mistake Japan made during World War II was to lose the war". This has naturally outraged China, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries and surely cannot be accepted by the US, which fought a bloody war against the Japanese fascists.
Kennedy should be aware that bashing the belligerent right wing and steering Japan back to the path of rationality is in the best interests, not only of Japan, but also of the region and the US.
Kennedy has been away from politics for many years. And this time she has on her shoulders the responsibility of serving her country. Chinese people expect much from her, but in meeting their expectations, she will be hailed as greater than her grandfather Joseph and add another chapter of glory to the Kennedy family.
The author is an associate researcher of Institute of Japanese Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.www.chinausfocus.com