By Sasae Kenichiro, president of the Japan Institute of International Affairs
China and Russia have been integrated economically with the West following the development of globalization after the end of the Cold War. This integration is based on the concept that mutual dependence fosters peace because parties work to preserve their economic interests.
Japan has also developed thanks to an increase in the number of trade deals with China. Former Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro once said China is “not a threat, but an opportunity.” There was a hope [in Japan] that if [China’s] middle class matures, the Chinese political system would democratize.
At some point, China’s defense policy began to turn bullish from a national sovereignty perspective. The conflict over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture shows that China is following a path different from that of Japan and the West.
This negative aspect [of China] became particularly pronounced in the past five or six years. [Japan] has begun to see China’s “dissimilarity” as a threat. But it is not a good idea for Japan to deepen confrontation with China. Japan should share interests with China as much as it can.
On the economic front, Japan should continue to pursue ordinary trade investment. The issue of unfair trade practices can be corrected to some extent through negotiations.
On the other hand, advanced technologies are deeply connected to China’s military industry. In China, the economy is not separate from politics and the military. [Japan] should reduce its reliance on China for the sake of economic security.
It is obvious that there is a military imbalance in East Asia.
Japan needs to make efforts to repair the imbalance and exercise the deterrence with the U.S. Japan also needs to deal with North Korea and Russia. Defense capability is important to prevent future conflicts from happening. A widening gap in national defense could undermine safety. Diplomacy unsupported by power is meaningless.
Now the aspects of conflict and competition are emphasized in the U.S.-China relationship. But dialogue and negotiations, including at the summit level, will probably begin in a short while. If the shape of the domestic regime comes into view after the Communist Party’s congress in October, there is a strong possibility that the situation will change.
China does not seek confrontation with the U.S. over the Taiwan issue. Holding dialogue in a situation where there are conflicting interests with a counterpart country is not contradictory at all. Japan and China can hold summit-level meetings and agree on matters of mutual interest while maintaining their positions.
China’s plan to become a “superpower” includes unification with Taiwan. This means if Taiwan aims to become independent, China will not hesitate to use force.
Neither Japan nor the U.S. wants Taiwan’s independence. If China thinks the U.S.’s attitude warrants unification by force, that will be a security issue not only for China and Taiwan but for the entire region.
[Japan] should make diplomatic efforts and obtain the economic strength to support them to be able to engage in a flexible and well-modulated diplomacy according to China’s attitude.