The Nation



China making waves on global stage

Washington must find ways to protect Japan's interest in the marine dispute while at the same time not antagonising Beijing

Last month China announced a new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), which requires foreign aircraft to identify themselves and their route when entering a disputed area of the East China Sea.

Beijing didn't go so far as to say it would shoot down aircraft entering the zone without permission, but nevertheless, given the ongoing dispute over this territory with Japan and other countries in the region, the ADIZ declaration was irksome.

And whenever Beijing announces something controversial, Washington is expected to respond.

Vice President Joe Biden has just arrived in China for meetings with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Biden first stopped in Japan, where he reaffirmed Washington's commitment to a long-time ally.

Biden is said to have a good personal rapport with Xi, but that is unlikely to influence negotiations between their countries, which will be dictated by strictly national interests. While in Tokyo, Biden said the US was "deeply concerned by the attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea".

Official Beijing mouthpiece the China Daily accused Biden of making "one-sided remarks". China's defence ministry declared that the country is "fully capable of exercising effective control" of the ADIZ and that its establishment was not aimed at curtailing any country in particular.

That might be the case, but given the context, Japan and South Korea are the likely targets in China's latest move in the marine dispute.

If anything, Beijing's announcement is at odds with its stated desire to act peacefully in territorial disputes.

Moreover, having the globe's second- and third-largest economies at loggerheads helps no one. It would benefit the whole world if these countries' hyper-nationalist governments could restrain their public-relations war and seek common ground from which to forge a mutually productive future.

Washington has urged China to exercise caution. But the US should also apply that same message to its ally, Japan. Tokyo's overly nationalist tone has given the US little room to manoeuvre. On the one hand, Japan expects Washington to come to the rescue of a longstanding ally. But, at the same time, a true ally should think about the wellbeing of its friends as well.

The announcement of the ADIZ is part of Beijing's attempt to project its power on the global stage. It is normal for a developing country to do so, especially when the global ambitions of China and its military remain unclear.

The challenge for Washington is to find ways to protect Japan's interests while at the same time not antagonising China. Beijing said earlier this year that it wants to work out a "new type of great-power relationship" with the US.

President Xi said in a speech that "safeguarding peace and stability in the neighbouring region is a major goal" of China's foreign policy.

Who knows? This developing balance of power might herald a more secure future for the region. But, in forging a new relationship with a fellow world power, Washington should take care not to jettison longstanding allies like Japan.

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