Japan must adopt strategic approach to deal with aggressive Chinese intent
China's policy of avidly increasing its national prosperity and military strength is destabilizing East Asia. However, the existence of China as a giant yet expanding market is also vital for Japan's economic growth.The mission of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration will be to implement its foreign policy in a strategic manner. The administration needs to increase pressure on China to check the nation’s expansionism, but at the same time tenaciously persuade its Asian neighbor to engage in international cooperation.
In November, Xi Jinping became the head of the Chinese Communist Party by assuming the post of general secretary. Xi, who also heads the military, is scheduled to become president during the National People’s Congress in March.
The Xi administration’s top concern is to maintain the Communist Party’s sole grip on power. The key to achieving this goal is securing sustainable economic growth.
However, a mountain of problems lies ahead of the administration.
Xi faced with internal problems
It has become difficult for China to sustain the high level of growth the nation had enjoyed, so public anger regarding the nation’s chronic problems - such as serious income disparities, a corrupt bureaucracy, an unfair judicial system and environmental pollution - is primed to explode. Violent demonstrations are occurring frequently across the nation. The scale of the demonstrations is growing, and their actions are becoming more destructive.
Xi, the son of a former deputy prime minster, is known as the leader of the so-called princelings, the influential offspring of high-ranking party officials. It seems unlikely he will be bold enough to act against the vested interests of the privileged classes by carrying out drastic reforms to rectify income disparities and other problems. Xi’s hard-line diplomacy is a reflection of the unstable internal domestic situation.
Since launching his administration, Xi has touted the slogan "great renewal of the Chinese nation." Though once a great empire, China could not stop the world powers from invading during the closing years of the Qing dynasty, partly due to its neglect of maritime interests. Xi’s slogan is believed to reflect China’s modern history of humiliation.
Xi expressed his policy of expanding China’s military capability when he inspected military troops in December. He said the nation’s dream of "great renewal" means a dream of becoming "a great power" and possessing "a strong military."
In a recent report, Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies said cooperation between China’s military and marine authorities is deepening.
"If countries around China send their militaries to protect their [maritime] interests, it is likely Chinese forces will be dispatched," the institute said in the report.
China’s maritime ambitions
China has surpassed Japan in gross domestic product, and is now chasing the world’s largest economy, the United States. For China, a prerequisite to obtaining the status of a world superpower is to first become a major maritime power.
Backed by massive military forces, China will likely strengthen its policy of aggressively pursuing its maritime interests, such as resources and sea lanes.
The situation is extremely volatile, with China taking a hard-line stance supported by the nationalism that is growing as the country becomes a major economic power. China is likely to assert its presence more aggressively in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The US strategy of attaching greater importance to Asia is aimed at putting a brake on such attempts by China.
Japan should establish a long-term framework to allow authorities to do everything they can when conducting patrol and surveillance activities for the waters and airspace around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.
It is reasonable for Abe to regard Japan-China relations as "the biggest issue in the nation’s foreign and security policy in the 21st century" and advocate the necessity of establishing strategic diplomacy in cooperation with other concerned countries.
Deterrence should be upgraded
It is most important for Japan to call on China to exercise self-restraint, in cooperation with Southeast Asian countries, India, Australia and other nations, while at the same time making the Japan-US alliance much stronger.
Japan-China ties today are the most strained since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1972, and this situation has seriously affected the Japanese public’s sentiment toward the neighboring country.
A public opinion survey conducted by the Cabinet Office last autumn found that a record 80 per cent of Japanese "do not feel close to China."
China, which publicly claims sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, has been dispatching ships and aircraft to intrude into the Japanese waters and airspace around the islets.
It is against international law for China to try to forcibly and unilaterally change the status quo regarding the Senkaku Islands, which Japan effectively controls. Japan should present China’s false and improper actions and demonstrate the legitimacy of Japan’s territorial claim to the islands to the international community.
The US Senate has approved an amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act confirming that the Senkaku Islands are subject to Article 5 of the Japan-US Security Treaty obliging the United States to defend Japan in case of hostilities.
This should serve as a significant deterrent against China.
Japan’s participation in the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership multinational trade framework also could help keep China’s influence from ballooning.
It is important to include China in an economic partnership framework for the Asia-Pacific region in the future. China’s recent boycott against Japanese goods has dampened investment sentiment in Japan toward that country.
More and more Japanese companies are seeking to do business in countries other than China, as it has been losing its advantages as a manufacturing base.
China should be aware that the boycott has damaged not only the Japanese economy but also its own.
Japan and China have to resume exchanges between their leaders. It is important for the two countries to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests by separating the Senkaku dispute from other political, economic and cultural ties.