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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

Editorial: Building a mutually beneficial relationship between China and Japan

  • December 28, 2017
  • , Nikkei Asian Review , 10:00 a.m.
  • English Press

For people around the world, it is no easy task to grasp China as it really is since the East Asian power is changing by the minute. Imagine a man who talks about the China of today from his experience of living in the country 10 years ago, and another who analyses China’s present state based on what he saw in China when he made a business trip five years ago.

 

Unfortunately neither of them can depict the reality of today’s China. The high-speed rail lines that are sprawling across the mainland and subway networks spreading in regional cities did not exist a decade ago. Five years ago, there was not even the slightest bit of the “smartphone economy” in which everyone carries a smartphone and goes out without cash.

 

A recognition of China becomes out of date quickly because of the country’s rapid growth. On the other side of the coin, the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) remains unchanged. The ruling party is reinforcing its organization to maintain its authoritarian rule and placing tight controls on speech.

 

At the Communist Party congress held in late October, President Xi Jinping realized a further concentration of authority in his hands. He stressed the policy of letting the party give guidance on all activities at all organizations and places, such as the government, the military, the private sector and educational facilities. Many publicly traded companies have revised their articles of incorporation to allow the CCP to have its say in their business decisions.

 

The party’s presence is growing in corporate decision making, as party branches — entities at the lowest level of CCP organization — are now being set up even in foreign-owned companies, which previously enjoyed relatively greater freedom.

 

One cause for concern is a possible real estate bubble. China’s leaders have shown their intention to take three years to address the financial risk, on concerns that crushing an asset bubble in one stroke could produce serious side effects. As housing prices are still rising in regional cities, the danger of a bubble bursting will grow if regulatory authorities are slow to address the situation.

 

FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCES In his speech at the party congress, Xi laid out plans to basically achieve socialist modernization by 2035 and propel China into the position of strongest country in the world by the middle of the 21st century, the centennial of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. His address may be construed as presenting the target of overtaking America in economic terms by 2035, and gaining comprehensive national power enough to beat it even in warfare by 2050.

 

There is great significance in the fact that China’s top leadership has declared its ultra long-term policy course to become a wealthy and strong country, looking 18 years and 33 years ahead, at the twice-a-decade party congress. Countries around the world must pay more attention to the goals of this policy.

 

China has already started plans to develop artificial intelligence at huge costs. Other long-term programs include those for creating a “digital China,” or Internet-oriented country, by using big data, and for becoming a country strong on space technology. These projects are linked to the “Made in China 2025” campaign for upgrading the country’s manufacturing technology by 2025.

 

On the front of foreign policy, Chinese leaders place priority on the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, designed to create a massive economic zone along historic Silk Road routes. 

 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shifted toward a positive stance about the One Belt, One Road project, showing his readiness to cooperate. What needs to be done is to flesh out a pragmatic framework of cooperation beneficial to both sides.

 

Pundits are divided over whether China’s peculiar economic system is sustainable. But if China achieves growth at a certain speed by 2035, Japan, sandwiched between two superpowers, might be forced to adjust the direction of the course it takes: whether Japan should maintain and reinforce its alliance with the U.S., or rethink it to deepen ties with China.

 

Be that as it may, there are fundamental differences between the political regimes of Japan and China. While Japan has consistently pursued democracy since World War II’s end, China has continued its tradition of one-party rule. The difference in their positions toward security issues is also obvious, as seen in their reactions to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs. Still, Japan is cooperating with China mainly in the economic field, while making the Japan-U.S. security treaty its cornerstone for national defense. The paths Japan should choose to take are limited.

 

It is hard to get a real picture of China, which keeps growing and changing. But Japan cannot open the future of its relations with China unless it cultivates the ability to strategically analyze the country with a cool head. Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the Japan-China peace and friendship treaty. The year provides a good opportunity for the leaders of the two countries to restart frequent mutual visits. It is time for Japan and China to rebuild a partnership that would not belie the mutually beneficial relationship that the countries have vowed to pursue.

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