Sino-US relations are the key to today’s global strategic patterns. They are alternately mysterious and reckless, with the two sides clashing, then making up with handshakes and hugs. The strange nature and unspoken rules of Sino-US relations make the world an unpredictable place.
The recent Sino-US summit shine the spotlight on the US and China once again. The visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the US for the first during the Obama administration has left many people believing that the US is paying more attention to China than ever before.
This development worries Japan most. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan is about to make a trip to the US. China is Japan’s largest trading partner and the US is its most important military ally. Every move between China and the US deeply affects Japan.
Japan’s concerns over Sino-US relations have focused on two possibilities. One is consistently highlighting the deep contradictions between the US and China, hoping that Sino-US relations will not become too close. The other is trusting that Sino-US cooperation will let China become a “responsible great power” on US-Japanese terms.
On January 21, the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun published an editorial entitled “China-US summit.” The editorial argued that due to the differences in value and political systems, there is an unbridgeable gulf between China and the US no matter how hard they work to strengthen cooperation.
The Asahi Shimbun pointed out that for a rapidly rising power like China and a country like the US, the sole superpower for years, it is not easy to go beyond a competitive adversarial relationship.
It went on to claim that on many issues such as food, energy, nuclear arms reduction, and global warming countermeasures, the US and China need to put aside minor differences so as to seek common ground and deepen mutually trusting relationship to make a common response.
On the same day, the Yomiuri Shimbun published two editorials: “The Sino-US summit benefits stability in the Asia-Pacific region” and “Rising dragon, China faces many challenges.”
These editorials pointed to the $45 billion in deals concluded during the Sino-US summit, but argued that, although the two countries are deepening their relationship, China still has many problems. It pointed in particular to the yuan exchange rate, China’s “maritime adventures,” and human rights issues, but concluded that for Japan, the construction of a trusting relationship between China and the US will contribute to stability in the Asia-Pacific region and the world.
Finally, the Mainichi Shimbun editorial, titled “The US-China summit needs to promote the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons,” argued that although China and the US are strengthening their cooperation, the potential conflicts are still unresolved.
The most worrying issue is military friction, and the most dangerous thing in the military field is the collapse of the balance of nuclear power. It called for joint negotiations on nuclear weapons reduction between China and the US, similar to those being carried out between China and Russia.
The editorials show that, although Japanese may be on board with the broad principles of Sino-US cooperation, they still hope that the potential rifts between China and the US will keep Japan the favorite regional ally of the US.
Nervous of the possibility of China eclipsing Japan entirely, they look to the country’s problems and wonder whether the rising dragon will be pulled down by the fetters of poverty and underdevelopment. Perhaps they even hope this will happen.
China needs to take steps to reassure Japan that its relationship with the US will not swamp its East Asian neighbors. The problems recognized are real, to some extent, but strong cooperation of the type shown in the recent visit by Hu can help reach across these gulfs.
At the same time, both China and the US can reach out to a nervous Japan, bringing it into a stable triangular relationship that helps ensure peace and prosperity for the whole of East Asia.
The author is director of the Tokyo-based Asia-Pacific Political and Economic Research Center. firstname.lastname@example.org