24.05.2017 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Evolution of China’s Relations with the Leading Regional Players

6735345435The string of events that accompanied the recent forum in Beijing that was devoted to the One Belt-One road project has confirmed the thesis of the ultra-high dynamics of the political game between the leading powers in the Asian-Pacific region.

Among the negative aspects of this forum was absence of the official delegation from India at this forum, but this fact compliments the overall picture of mutual distrust and growing suspicion in the relations between the two Asian giants.

Each of these giants, of course, has its own explanation to explain the present state of bilateral relations, that is extremely poor. China’s position on the matter has been illustrated by a picture published in the Global Times, which shows a fun party, that represents the recent forum in Beijing. While the guests are celebrating, there is a lonely, gloomy elephant sitting at a separate table, with his back turned on the crowd. However, it should be noted that if any of the participants would bother enough to ask the elephant about the reason of his bad mood, he would certainly say something logic and worthy of everybody’s attention.

Be as it may, but just two days after the Chinese forum, India’s Navy, supported by its colleagues from Singapore, launched large-scale naval exercises in the South China Sea. China has been in a difficult situation in this area even without the rapidly expanding and more persistent by the day Indian presence, due a number of territorial disputes that remain unresolved, along with the growing pressure that is being applied on Beijing by the US and Japan.

However, the above mentioned forum saw a number of positive moments, like the presence of Japan’s delegation headed by the secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (TDP), Toshihiro Nikai, who carried out the mission of deliviring Shinzo Abe’s personal letter to Chinese President.

This fact is particularly noteworthy, since until recently the future of Sino-Japanese relations looked even more grim than the one that analysts are anticipating in Indian-Chinese relations. Suffice it to say that the parties avoided any open discussions at various summits, except for brief contacts during large events like the G-20. Moreover, the project on the creation of a free trade zone between China, Japan and South Korea remains permanently frozen.

In the course of his meeting with Toshihiro Nikai, Xi Jinping pronounced the words that were absent from the official bilateral rhetoric for a long time. In particular, he recalled that this year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, and the next will mark the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on Peace and Friendship between China and Japan. In the course of these decades, the Chinese leader noted, both countries were playing an important role in ensuring peace and stability in the region, thus achieving significant benefits for the common good. At this point, however, those relations can be characterized by positive moments and serious challenges. Therefore, Xi Jinping is convinced that there’s a need to pinpoint existing problems and “take effective measures” to address them.

However, the most significant part of the speech that the Chinese leader pronounced was about China and Japan, as the two leading economies of the world, must be interested in the development of economic globalization and trade liberalization.

In his turn, Toshihiro Nikai thanked China’s President for the invitation to participate in the forum, and expressed his hope for the development of all aspects of cooperation between China and Japan.

It’s noteworthy that Xi Jinping offered a new approach to the problems of history that have been preventing Beijing from improving political relations with Tokyo. Instead of the previous requirement of “honest self-assessment” of Tokyo’s role in the events that took place almost a century ago, Xi Jinping offered the high Japanese guest the image of a “mirror-history”, in which one can peer in order to avoid past mistakes in a successful future.

The glimpses of light in what would seem hopelessly dark prospects of the future of Sino-Japanese political relations is the direct consequence of the serious shifts in the US-China-Japan strategic triangle that occurred after last year’s American presidential election. Once Washington buried the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Japan was especially optimistic about, the US-Japanese relations have been on a sliding slope.

Negotiations between the United States and Japan on the formation of a new framework for economic relations are difficult and have not yield any concrete results. The recent problems with the American business of one of the largest Japanese industrial and financial conglomerates Toshiba fit into the overall picture of the general unhappiness that dominates the US-Japanese relations. As Washington adopts protectionist measures, both Tokyo and Beijing are determined to work together to jointly search for ways to continue the globalization of world economic ties. For the economies of both countries are significantly oriented towards the import of manufactured goods and services.

In this regard, the joint statement about the rejection of all forms of protectionism that was made at the beginning of the month in Yokohama by the representatives o China, Japan and South Korea at the ministerial meeting of the ASEAN + 3 forum has marked a drastic turn in the balance of powers in the world.

There is no doubt who those states behind statement were regarding as the primary source of the threat of protectionism. Just last year the US Department of Commerce introduced customs tariffs for some imported steel semi-finished products from eight countries, including Japan and South Korea, noting that the governments of those states had allegedly been providing support to steel producers. The new realities in world markets, created by the policies of Donald Trump, push the leading Asian powers to coordinate their response.

Just recently, the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo has openly called on Japan to join the initiative of the One Belt, One Road project. This was impossible to imagine just a few months ago. Although, of course, no miracles are taking place in Japanese-Chinese relations and the problems that have been pushing those states apart haven’t gone anywhere.

However, the first positive steps in the Sino-Japanese relations are providing international analysts with good enough grounds for optimism. Especially, when those positive signals are being manifested amid the growing mutual distrust between China and India.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine ‘New Eastern Outlook.