Bloomberg Businessweek just published a piece that will undoubtedly be the toast of the Central Party School in Beijing. Entitled “Japan’s Politicians Anger China Afresh,” by Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, it is a classic exercise in how to subordinate one’s national interest for fear of offending Peking. In Einhorn’s view, apparently, conservatives everywhere are of a capitalist running-dog stripe, lemmings who instinctively “provoke” China during election season. Einhorn thus kicks off by knocking Mitt Romney, and then dutifully labels former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who is likely to become premier again next month, as a “China-basher” for, quelle horreur, meeting the Dalai Lama in Tokyo in mid-November and being “willing to risk China’s ire” by visiting in October the controversial Yasukuni Shrine (dedicated to Japan’s World War II dead). In Einhorn’s world, it seems, one’s moral beliefs and political actions should be decided on a WWMD (What Would Mao Do) basis.
Yet liberal wisdom can be found even when it is well-hidden, so Einhorn then praises Barack Obama for having had the courage to shuffle the Dalai Lama in and out through the White House servants’ entrance for a no-press, non-Oval Office meeting in 2011. The height of diplomatic sophistication, in his view, was the follow-on to this dismissive treatment of the Dalai Lama, when the “White House made a point of reassuring China that the U.S. wasn’t interested in fighting about Tibet.” Well, sure, why “fight” about tangential things like human rights and repression in Tibet, when Peking is being so supportive on other crucial issues such as Iran, North Korea, Sudan, disputed territories in the East and South China Sea, etc.? Oh, wait, it appears that giving the Dalai Lama a tray of drinks to serve in the Map Room in order to lull Chinese suspicions that he was there for anything other than to fill a last-minute waiter shortage didn’t quite get Hu Jintao to see things our way.
Returning to his theme, Einhorn quotes without comment Chinese state media’s denunciation of the Dalai Lama for using the Japanese term for the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea (the islands at the heart of the latest Sino-Japanese conflict), thereby masterfully mashing together Tibetan “separatist” views and Japan’s intention to maintain control over its territory, as though it were a giant plot by scheming Tokyo warlords.
Yet he is even more flummoxed by those pesky Japanese politicians “from both the ruling party and the opposition,” who for some inscrutable reason “seem to feel there’s little reason to defer to Chinese feelings.” But of course to “defer” to China is clearly the way to world peace and to show how mature one’s foreign policy is. It’s a good thing Einhorn didn’t write his panegyric to Peking’s peaceful policies after Abe caused fears of World War III by stating recently that he would strengthen Japan’s military. I mean, forget that Japan flies 40-year old fighters, has no bomber force, no missile force, and only 18 submarines to China’s 70, as well as fielding a total military strength of 240,000 versus China’s roughly 2.3 million. They certainly have no reason to worry about a growing and assertive neighbor with a population ten times their size, which abets massive demonstrations against their country, and sends dozens of fishing and maritime patrol boats into their claimed waters.
Einhorn stops short of calling Abe a war-monger, though he doesn’t quite explain why Abe’s (along with 100 Japanese Diet members) meeting with the Dalai Lama is a “more serious matter” for China than run-of-the mill Tibetan protests, including self-immolation. Yet he conveniently omits (one assumes he knows) that Abe’s first overseas visit as premier in 2006 was to . . . China. Perhaps there is some subtlety to Japan’s likely next leader, or at least a recognition that one’s own country’s interests come first, not China’s. Perhaps there is even the tiniest of chances that Abe may send strong-enough signals that Japan intends to protect its interests and be powerful enough not to be intimidated that Peking will understand the wisdom of not pushing things too far. In a crazy, cats-and-dogs-living-together world, that could even lead to more stable relations between the two.
China may not be the world’s biggest bogeyman. It may not have a grand plan to become Asia’s hegemon or the most powerful country in the world. In fact, as I wrote recently in another context, we would be wise to pay attention to its growing weaknesses and the brittleness of its system. Yet it nonetheless is consistently probing the resolve of other states, from Vietnam to Japan and America. The stronger it gets relative to its neighbors, and the more it senses weakness or lack of resolve in Washington, the more assertive it becomes. Washing all our foreign policy through a Chinese filter, as Einhorn seems to advocate, will only embolden new leader Xi Jinping, and quite possibly lead to tragic miscalculation.
For their part, Japan’s leaders regularly make their share of stupid mistakes. Visiting Yasukuni Shrine may well be one of them. They refuse to pull their weight in global peacekeeping activities, and continue to hamstring themselves from participating in collective security operations, while cutting their defense budget. Their inability to forge working relations of trust with neighbors such as South Korea is due equally to domestic resistance over acknowledging Japan’s imperial atrocities as it is to calculating political machinations by other countries. Yet only from the safe perch of BloombergBusinessweek’s Hong Kong bureau is adhering to Chinese foreign-policy goals seen as the epitome of statecraft.
India, China Want to Broaden Economic Ties
NEW DELHI — Asia’s two fast-growing economies – India and China – have looked at ways to deepen economic ties as they battle a global slowdown. A territorial dispute between the two countries, however, continues to be an irritant.
Wrapping up the second strategic economic dialogue in New Delhi on Monday, Indian and Chinese officials signed agreements to step up cooperation in areas such as railways, energy, environmental protection and information technology.
Indian and Chinese officials also agreed to coordinate strategies in areas of common interest, such as reform of the international monetary and financial systems and climate change.
The two countries say it is important to raise their level of economic engagement in the current global economic situation.
The head of the Indian delegation, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, stressed the need to make their trade more balanced.
Trade between the two countries has boomed over the past decade, reaching $75 billion last year. It is heavily skewed in China’s favor, though, with the trade deficit totaling $40 billion. India exports mainly raw materials, like iron ore, while China sells cheap manufactured goods in Indian markets.
Alka Acharya, professor of Chinese studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the two countries want to broaden the economic relationship.
“We are looking at joint investments, joint ventures, more investments by China into infrastructure and how do we actually make the trade basket much more comprehensive than it is now. This has clearly come onto the priority,” said Acharya.
India wants greater market access in areas such as services, information technology and pharmaceuticals – areas in which its companies have a strong edge. China wants India to make it easier for Chinese workers to get visas.
Though the economic relationship is flourishing, differences over a long-running boundary dispute continue to trouble the Asian neighbors. India claims 16,000 kilometers of Chinese-controlled territory in the Himalayas, while Beijing claims the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which adjoins Tibet.
Days before the economic dialogue was held, India began issuing visas to Chinese visitors with maps showing the two disputed territories as its own.
It is a tit-for-tat action by New Delhi against China, which shows the disputed regions as part of its territory in new e-passports it is issuing.
The two countries have failed to resolve the boundary dispute despite 15 rounds of talks. However, their blossoming economic relationship is expected to help keep ties between the Asian giants on an even keel in the coming years.
China slams anew Philippines’ stand on territorial row, calls Aquino ‘rude’
MANILA, Philippines–While parrying international criticism over questionable maps on its new electronic passport, China on Monday returned the favor and blasted the Philippines’ claim to the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales as a “misinterpretation” of international law stipulating territorial delineations based on exclusive economic zones.
A Chinese national daily also called President Benigno Aquino III “rude” for pushing for the internationalization of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute and rejecting contrary position of known China allies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) at the bloc’s recent summit in Phnom Penh.
In a statement sent Monday, the Chinese Embassy in Manila cited the China National Institute for South China Sea Studies’ analysis of the Philippines’ claim to the Panatag Shoal debunking Manila’s EEZ-based assertion to the resource-rich territory.
The institute reiterated China’s historical ownership of the shoal, known to the Chinese as Huangyan Island, as it disputed the Philippines’ claim that invoked the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
“Clearly, the Philippines here has misinterpreted and misapplied Unclos on the basis of its own interests, which is contrary to international law and to Unclos,” said the Chinese institute.
“It has been an established basic principle of international law that ‘the land dominates the sea.’ Coastal states derive their sovereign rights and jurisdiction over EEZs from their territorial sovereignty. Hence, Unclos cannot serve as a basis for a country to claim sovereignty over China’s Huangyan Island,” the statement further read.
Last week, the Philippines reiterated its claim to part of the Spratly Islands and the Panatag Shoal, citing an Unclos provision that prods nations to respect each other’s EEZs within 200 nautical miles of their shores.
This as China issued new electronic passports stamped with a map that declared disputed West Philippine Sea territories as part of its borders. This has infuriated claimant countries Vietnam and the Philippines, as the move forces recognition of China’s claims every time its citizen bearing the e-passport is allowed to enter both countries.
China also just announced the successful landing of a fighter jet on its aircraft carrier, a projection of its power as a growing military might amid the unresolved maritime dispute.
The Panatag Shoal, site of a standoff between Chinese and Philippine naval ships last summer, is roughly 125 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine shore in Zambales.
China, however, maintains that the territory “has always belonged to China” and that the Philippines’ claim is “to the detriment of China’s territorial sovereignty.”
“[The Philippines’ claim] is not only a misinterpretation and abuse of Unclos, but also represents a violation of the fundamental principle of the inviolability of territorial sovereignty enshrined in the UN Charter,” the statement said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said at least three Chinese ships remain at the shoal months since the Philippines pulled out ships due to inclement weather. The Philippine Coast Guard said it was ready to send back a ship to patrol around the shoal.
Aquino earlier called on China to pull out its ships from the shoal and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario criticized the continuing Chinese presence, saying it hampered the progress of talks.
Chinese national newspaper China Daily also criticized Aquino for asserting his stern stand to include other countries in discussions on the West Philippine Sea during the Cambodia summit.
Aquino had countered Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of this year’s Asean Chair Cambodia, when the latter announced that the Asean had reached a consensus not to internationalize the West Philippine Sea dispute. The disputed waters are a vital international trading route.
“[I]t was very rude of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to interrupt and rebuke Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, alleging that no such consensus had been reached and he would continue to speak out on the global stage,” said the editorial that came out Friday.
“Aquino’s undiplomatic move was ill-advised, and will not help solve the issue in peace,” said the editorial titled “A rude Manila helps no one.”
The Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam protested the supposed “consensus” saying there was no such agreement.
The editorial also criticized Manila’s invitation to fellow claimant countries Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam for four-way talks on the maritime dispute next month.
ASEAN at a Crossroads
The 7th East Asia Summit (EAS) held last week was notable for a number of reasons, including the launching of a new regional free trade agreement and the introduction of several U.S. proposals on energy and maritime security. But the elephant in the room once again was the South China Sea (SCS) and disagreements among ASEAN countries stoked in part by China.
Just over four months ago, ASEAN failed to issue a joint statement at its foreign minister’s meeting for the first time because host nation, Cambodia, insisted that language on the SCS should not even be mentioned. Many suspected that China had used its economic leverage on Cambodia to ensure ASEAN remained divided on the issue, and a few reports even suggested Cambodian officials had shared drafts of the statement with Chinese interlocutors.
Those who were perturbed by those developments are unlikely find any relief from developments of the past week. This time, at the ASEAN Summit, Cambodia tried to force through the idea that ASEAN leaders had come to a consensus “that they will not internationalize the South China Sea issue from now on”, in the words of Foreign Ministry official Kao Kim Hourn. The trouble is that the language, which was strikingly similar to Chinese mantras, did not reflect what was agreed upon. At least five ASEAN countries objected and Cambodia was eventually forced to remove the controversial language from the final declaration. The Philippines was particularly vexed, with President Benigno Aquino openly rebuking Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario insisting that there was an attempt to translate statements “into a consensus without our consent”.
While Cambodia was attempting to dilute ASEAN’s consensus on the SCS, China was seeking to downplay the issue within the EAS’ multilateral setting. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao repeated the all-too-familiar Chinese assertion that territorial disputes should not be discussed at multilateral events but bilaterally between China and each of the ASEAN claimant states. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang and Chinese envoys also repeatedly attempted to sidestep the issue, saying that it should not be a “stumbling block” in ASEAN-China relations and that the main focus of the EAS should be greater economic cooperation amid the international financial crisis. ASEAN had in fact agreed to formally ask China to start talks on a code of conduct (CoC) on the SCS before the EAS had begun, according to outgoing ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, but Premier Wen played down the need for urgent action on the issue. “On the ASEAN side, we are ready, willing and very much committed, but it takes two to tango”, Pitsuwan said.
Given that tensions over the SCS have dominated two rounds of meetings this year, how can ASEAN ensure that this will not happen again next year? The Philippines, twice bitten and thrice shy, announced after the EAS that it will host a meeting in Manila on December 12 with fellow claimants Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia. The four countries should use this as an opportunity to coordinate strategies on how to best advance their claims to China in a more unified way. One way to do so would be to make their claims explicit by codifying them in domestic legislation and multilateral frameworks in accordance with international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), followed by a process where stakeholders clarify convergences and divergences. Only by being clear about their own claims can ASEAN states prevent China from exploiting divisions and ambiguities that exist within the bloc in future summits or dealings. That will also help facilitate negotiations on the CoC between ASEAN states and China.
Furthermore, ASEAN countries should continue to engage with next year’s ASEAN chair (and SCS claimant) Brunei on how it plans on handling the SCS issue in multilateral forums as appropriate. Brunei has traditionally preferred a low-key approach in dealing with contentious issues like the SCS, exemplified during ASEAN deliberations in July this year when its delegation simply said it would be “guided by” the decision of the ASEAN chair, as opposed to other claimants who insisted on a reference to the dispute in the joint communique. In 2013, the government in Bandar Seri Begawan will no longer have the luxury of simply deferring to other countries or remaining neutral as ASEAN chair. If Brunei needs any advice or guidance on tackling divisive issues, the organization’s more experienced members should be prepared to provide it.
Lastly, ASEAN states should not give in to intimidation by China on the SCS. Beijing has used such tactics in the past with claimant states, with its China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) calling for foreign oil and gas companies to explore nine blocks in disputed waters in violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty and its quarantine of imported tropical fruit from the Philippines after saber-rattling in the Scarborough Shoal. A new wave of intimidation appears to be taking shape just a few days after China downplayed territorial disputes at the EAS, with Beijing releasing fresh passports containing a map of China which includes parts of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and others as well as disputed territory on the Indian border. Asian countries have rightly expressed outrage at the move and have responded by refusing to stamp them or drawing up their own maps. It is important that these countries continue to register their official protests in this manner in case Beijing tries to assert later on that stamping the passports could be regarded as effectively endorsing its claims.
Cambodia’s chairmanship this year has shown ASEAN that it is only as strong as its weakest link. In order to prevent outside actors from exploiting divisions within the bloc, ASEAN states must redouble their efforts at unifying their positions where they should and taking a clear stand where they must. Only then can the bloc continue to effectively occupy the driver’s seat in pushing for greater regional integration in the Asia-Pacific.