[VIEWPOINT]China-Japan dispute affects usThe dispute over the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands has set back Beijing’s “new security concept” in its relations with Japan, which was pursued by Chinese President Hu Jintao since he was inaugurated March 2003.
The “new security concept” promotes a flexible attitude toward the historical discord with Japan and Japan’s attempts to revise its pacifist constitution.
Since 2001, the relationship between China and Japan had become chilly thanks to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to the Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japanese war dead, including the war criminals of World War II. It was expected that Mr. Hu’s “new security concept” would bring a breakthrough development in China-Japan relations.
The new security concept began from a strategic thinking that since China needed sustainable economic development, Beijing should not extend its diplomatic front too much, but instead concentrate on defending its core interests.
One of China’s major interests is preventing the independence of Taiwan, and the new strategy focused on stabilizing the relations with neighbors to pressure Taiwan. The new security concept seemed to have been realized when Mr. Hu and Mr. Koizumi met in St. Petersburg in May 2003 and resumed talks between China and Japan that had been previously suspended.
But the situation unfolded differently from what China had hoped. After a gas bomb left by the Japanese imperial army exploded, killing people in the northeast region in August, and hundreds of Japanese were revealed to have attended a party with prostitutes in Guangdong Province in September 2003, anti-Japanese sentiment was heightened in China again.
And as Mr. Koizumi took the attitude of fanning the trend of leaning to the right in Japan by visiting the Yasukuni shrine again in January, the concept of new security was dampened. On top of it all, the latest friction over Diaoyutai has made it clear that that China’s new concept is ruined.
In February, seven Chinese activists landed on the disputed land in the East China Sea, claiming dominion, and the Japanese police arrested them.
The Chinese government issued a protest to Tokyo, but Japan responded with a resolution declaring the islands its territory at the National Security Council of the lower house on March 30.
After the incident, the Chinese vice foreign minister was absent at the signing ceremony of Japan’s loan to China, which he was supposed to attend. In the foreign ministers’ meeting between China and Japan, which began on April 3, neither side showed any signs of concession.
Both governments cautiously addressed the dispute over the Diaoyutai since there was no immediate solution to the trouble. But now that the arrest of the Chinese activists has put the territorial dispute up front, both Tokyo and Beijing cannot retreat on the issue unless there is a convincing reason. Neither side can afford to ignore the pressure from the rising nationalism in each country.
As the Chinese government’s grip on its society loosens increasingly with the rise up of the right-wing forces in Japan, the Chinese government is also experiencing difficulties in controlling the nationalistic energy in the country.
Chinese activists who claimed the possession of the Diaoyutai have grown more aggressive and landed on the islands currently administered by Japan in October and February. The changed attitude of the activists exhibits the growing nationalistic movement in China.
The recent incidents confirm that despite the qualitative and quantitative growth in economic exchanges so far, the relationship between China and Japan cannot develop into a partnership in the truest sense at least for now.
Considering that China’s and Japan’s economic and political influences will only grow in Northeast Asia, the instability between Tokyo and Beijing could be seen as the biggest obstacle to the peaceful development of the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asian region.
As Koreans, we cannot but worry about the increasing nationalistic pressures in both countries. In Northeast Asia, the Korean Peninsula is more likely to become a victim of the rising nationalism in our neighboring countries than a beneficiary.
Therefore, we need to work harder to find a way to overcome the vicious cycle of nationalism in Northeast Asia. Creating a sense of community in Northeast Asia through the elevation of cooperation and trust in the civilian sector cannot be attained overnight. But our untiring efforts are crucial at this moment.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Sungkonghoe University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Nam-joo