Is China following Japan?

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Is China following Japan?

Liugong Island in Weihai, Shandong Province, is the site of the Sino-Japanese War Museum. It opened in March 1985, on the 90th anniversary of China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), when Qing China had to sign the humiliating Treaty of Shimonoseki. I visited the museum in September and saw a sign that read, “Do not forget national humiliation.”

The Chinese take pride as the origin of East Asian civilization and have a victim mentality for having been surpassed and invaded by Japan twice in modern times. So you will often meet Chinese people who openly denounce Japan and the Japanese.

But nowadays, scholars of international law say the Japanese people also speak ill of China. Japanese naval experts argue that the Japanese militarists had challenged U.S. naval hegemony through the invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the Pacific War in 1941 - which resulted in catastrophes - and China is repeating Japan’s past faults by prioritizing exclusive core interests and advocating an increase in naval power. The argument reflects Japan’s perception of considering China’s emergence as a serious security threat.

Japanese writer Ryotaro Shiba criticized Japanese militarists’ past conduct by comparing the country to “a drunken fox riding on a horse.”

The Chinese would be outraged about such accusations. They would refute that Japan maliciously distorts China’s strategic intention when it goes “China’s path” of emphasizing peaceful coexistence and prosperity.

However, China can only win the understanding and trust of its neighbors by proving its intention with actions, not words. The upcoming meeting on defining the maritime border between Korea and China this month will be a chance not just for Korea but for China as well.

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is an area that extends no more than 200 nautical miles from the coastlines, but the width of the West Sea (called the Yellow Sea in China) is narrower than 400 nautical miles. So Korea and China need to agree on a border. While drawing a line in the middle is the generally accepted practice in the international community, China has been claiming that the length of the coastline based on the continental shelf and population also should be taken into account. Therefore, the EEZ has not been finalized since 1986.

The Korea-China relationship is considered to be smooth as the Park Geun-hye and Xi Jinping’s partnership has matured enough to discuss the sensitive issue of maritime borders in the summit. Just in time, the Korean National Assembly processed the ratification of a free trade deal with China. Now, the real test of Seoul-Beijing relations takes place in the West Sea. If China uses its power to pressure Korea, it will only prove that Japan’s theory of China pursuing maritime hegemony buoyed by its growing prowess was right. Hopefully, China won’t suffer a great loss by pursuing a small gain.

The author is a deputy editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 7, Page 34

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