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US needs balanced Asia policy

Publication Date : 06-12-2013


The Cairo Conference held 70 years ago between leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom and China, resulted in a declaration broadcast through radio on  1 Dec 1943, that all the territories Japan had taken from China such as northeastern China and Taiwan, including the Diaoyu Islands, should be returned to China.

Japan finally signed the Instrument of Surrender on 2 Sept  1945, and by doing so accepted the terms of the Potsdam Proclamation of 26 July 1945. That proclamation stipulated, in clause 8, that the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and that Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to four specified islands, which did not include the Diaoyu Islands.

History tells us that the next steps were not so straightforward, especially in relations between China and the US. There followed a testing period in international relations, including an unhelpful 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which failed to recognise China's territorial interests as both the Chinese mainland and Taiwan were absent.

Equally unfortunate was the decision in 1972 to include the Diaoyu Islands in the scope of the reversion of Okinawa prefecture to Japanese rule, after the latter was placed under US trusteeship in 1945. This resulted in the current situation, in which the disputed islands are seen by the US as being within the range of the application of the Japan-US Security Treaty, while saying that administration does not imply sovereignty.

It was the Chinese people who suffered at the hands of the Japanese during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression that started in 1937. As someone who has lived in Nanjing and visited the moving Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum, it is not hard to understand the pain and suffering of the Chinese people when Japanese troops killed about 300,000 Chinese nationals, including women and children, in Nanjing, then China's capital, in two weeks in December 1937. It is equally hard to understand why Japanese leaders, in the face of overwhelming evidence, often deny the scale of the Nanjing massacre, claim that Korean sex slaves worked willingly and continue to worship at the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours World War II criminals. This is in stark contrast to Germany apologising for its World War II crimes.

Yet China remains focused on peaceful resolution of disputes - and the Diaoyu Islands have been a disputed territory for more than 30 years - and has been willing to put the islands' issue on the back-burner for later generations to address, as Deng Xiaoping suggested, "when there is more wisdom" and perhaps when global interconnections make unnecessary friction clearly undesirable.

It was Japan that re-ignited the issue in September 2012 when it announced the "nationalisation" of the Diaoyu Islands. The action is nothing but part of Japan's greater aggressiveness towardsChina.

China has realised that passively accepting Japan's aggressive actions would lead others to believe that no issue of territorial integrity is involved in the Diaoyu Islands dispute. So China has rightly responded to the provocation. Japan has had an ADIZ for many years, so China has the right to establish one over the territory it claims. When such events occur, it is not helpful for the US to appear to take sides.

US Vice-President Joe Biden is paying a visit to Japan, China and the Republic of Korea this week and, as an experienced hand in foreign policy, he should know that a balanced approach to international relations in the region is needed.

By appearing too readily to support the aggressor in Sino-Japanese issues, the US is exhibiting a lack of understanding of Chinese people's feelings. Also, this does not help the relationship between the two most important powers of the 21st century. The Diaoyu Islands dispute must be resolved directly between China and Japan. The US and China fought together to defeat a Japan bent on territorial acquisition and that lesson of history must not be forgotten.

The author is an economist and director of China Programmes at CAPA International Education, an UK-US based organisation that cooperates with Capital Normal University and Shanghai International Studies University.



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