Interviewed by Kaite Yusuke
As China displays more hegemonic tendencies in the global arena, it is increasingly important for Japan to find ways to avoid serious confrontation and maintain stable relations with Beijing, while keeping stable ties with the U.S. as well. The Mainichi Shimbun interviewed Miyamoto Yuji (75), who served as Japanese Ambassador to China until 2010.
Q: What is Beijing’s view of the Biden administration’s hardline approach toward China?
Miyamoto: I assume the Chinese government must be finding Biden a very tough adversary. Unlike former U.S. President Donald Trump, whom China could sometimes persuade by “offering money,” the Biden administration has formulated a comprehensive China policy from security to value systems. Only having known a “gentle U.S.” until now, I believe the current Chinese leadership was perhaps a bit unprepared. I expect that the Chinese are bewildered by the “stern U.S.,” which doesn’t doesn’t easily let off a nation regarded as a competitor. I think the Chinese leadership is still debating how to proceed.
Q: What do you think is necessary for the two countries to achieve a stable relationship?
Miyamoto: At the core of U.S. policy regarding China is a vision of peaceful coexistence based on competition and cooperation. A senior U.S. government official indicated that the focus will be on competition for the foreseeable future. Although China doesn’t intend to engage in an open confrontation with the U.S., China’s policy remains resolute opposition to the U.S. where its core interests are threatened.
I expect that the two countries will be involved in disputes over military and economic issues but will gradually learn to act more flexibly [toward each other]. If a military confrontation were to loom over Taiwan, a counterforce would work to restore a more neutral situation. This will continue for five or maybe ten years, before the two countries settle into a more stable bilateral relationship. The dynamic of their relationship would be akin to striking out with the right hand while offering to shake hands with the left one. Still, both sides would learn not to rush to punch each other. They need to interact with each other to achieve this balance. That is why crisis management during this [precarious learning] period is especially important.
Q: “Taiwan” was stipulated in the Joint Statement released after the Japan-U.S. Summit meeting. How should Japan approach the Taiwan issue?
Miyamoto: The U.S. thinks China is more likely to interfere with Taiwan because [the region’s] military balance has tipped in China’s favor. Currently, the U.S. is trying to push the diplomatic boundary of “One China” policy. A cabinet-level visit to Taiwan under the Trump administration was one example. On its part, China is increasing military pressure on Taiwan to convey its displeasure to the U.S. The current situation surrounding the Taiwan Strait is dangerous because the U.S. is trying to determine a diplomatic red line and China is trying to figure out a military boundary. Japan must adhere to the baseline of the Japan-China Joint Communique in 1972 that stipulated Japan would “fully understand and respect” China’s position with regard to Taiwan. If a need arose for China to prevent Taiwan from gaining independence, China would have no choice but to resort to military force even if it meant war with the U.S. Taiwan is a sensitive and difficult issue. The politicians involved should exercise caution in their speech.
Q: How do you think we should manage Japan-China relations?
Miyamoto: The issue of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture has added to the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty an important dimension, which is protection of Japan’s territory from China. Previously, the two pillars of the treaty had been the U.S.’s providing nuclear deterrence and the SDF’s providing logistic support for the U.S. military. The third pillar [involving the Senkakus] has pulled Japan closer to the U.S. Meanwhile, the Chinese economy is extremely important for Japan. Japan must conduct business in the Chinese market and realize maximum profits to vitalize the Japanese economy. So, as more military issues arise with China, more diplomatic and economic cooperation is needed to keep the bilateral relationship on an even keel. The current U.S. goal of peaceful coexistence with China based on competition and cooperation can be applied to Japan-China relations as well. We have entered an era where Japanese and Chinese leaders must create, through dialogue, a new bilateral relationship that embraces the contradicting concepts of competition and cooperation.
Miyamoto Yuji was born in 1946. After graduating from Kyoto University School of Law, Miyamoto entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1969. He was chief of the MOFA China Division, Consul General in Atlanta, and Ambassador to Myanmar before serving as the Japanese Ambassador to China from 2006 to 2010. He retired in 2010. Miyamoto currently heads the Miyamoto Institute of Asian Research and is acting chair of the Japan-China Friendship Center.