[Viewpoint] China, Japan dispute troubling

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[Viewpoint] China, Japan dispute troubling

Diplomats in China were stunned by a strange event. On the early morning of Sunday, Sept. 12, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, a deputy premier-level state councilor in charge of foreign affairs, summoned the Japanese Ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa, to the foreign ministry.

As an open protest about the clash between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese patrol boat in the East China Sea on Sept. 7, the China’s top-ranking foreign policy official called in the Japanese ambassador at the odd hour. Niwa had been summoned three times already, and he only came out after being lectured.

The unprecedented summons was condemned as a breach of diplomatic etiquette and protocol, but Beijing doesn’t seem to care - it will swallow criticism for the sake of its own national interests.

China is beating up on Japan. Beijing turned down a high-level dialogue. Instead, China blocked the export of rare earth minerals that the Japanese industry desperately needs and discouraged Chinese citizens from traveling to Japan. Beijing’s intention is to display its power.

The unusually stubborn moves of China led to various analyses.

“China is venting its anger to Japan, which is relatively easier to deal with, after the United States was critical over the territorial right issue in the South China Sea,” said an international affairs specialist.

With the hard-line moves, China certainly gained more than it bargained for by making a public issue out of the territorial right over the Diaoyu Islands, a disputed uninhabited group of islands also known as Senkaku Islands, currently controlled and administered by Japan.

A veteran Korean diplomat finds significant meaning from the moves, saying, “The latest diplomatic behavior of Beijing suggests considerable changes of foreign policy.” He interprets China’s bullying of Japan not as a one-time incident but a change of flow in China’s foreign policy.

He adds that China used to prefer a more quiet handling when it came to a sensitive subject in the past, but lately, it has turned to tough, hard-line responses. A Chinese diplomat’s face used to be expressionless, but now, the face shows emotion.

If the diplomatic maneuver of China has had changes, what would be the driving force that is hidden behind the veil?

Above all, what has made China so confident is the astonishing growth it has accomplished.

China, which had been a big, yet feeble, giant, has beefed up and transformed itself into a big and powerful giant as it went through market opening and national reform over the past three decades.

Moreover, we cannot take for granted the qualitative improvement of the Chinese community. The Chinese have access to the changes of the outside world in real time and are now actively speaking up on issues that are related to China’s national interests.

A Chinese diplomat said, “In the past, when an order came down from the top, people would have followed. However, today, the public opinion is so powerful that it cannot be ignored. The public is exerting pressure on government policies.”

Korea is tucked right between two very powerful neighbors. How should we respond to the showdown between Japan and China? The clash has begun in the East China Sea, but if the wind changes direction, it could become a typhoon and hit the Yellow Sea directly.

China has been eyeing the territorial right over Ieo Island in the Yellow Sea, which South Korea claims is its territory, and the Exclusive Economic Zone could become the next hot potato. The Ieo Island dispute and the economic zone are the reasons why Korea cannot sit back and watch the discord between China and Japan comfortably.

We need to have firm determination to proudly defend Korea’s national interests, using all possible and available means and measures.

It is a basic strategy in the art of war to stock up on hidden cards that can hurt the enemy in order not to surrender to unreasonable pressure and unjust threats.

Instead of raking up ideas in a bustle when the time comes, I would like to ask Korean diplomats to prepare a step-by-step contingency plan in advance.

*The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Chang Se-jeong
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