Sendai quake shakes up East Asian politics

It might be inappropriate to equate the havoc of the Sendai earthquake in Japan with the impact of the 9/11 attack on the US. After all, they are totally different, one being a natural disaster and the other a terrorist attack.

But the two disasters share a great many similarities in terms of the consequences. Both caused the most deaths in the affected nation since World War II.

Except for delivering condolences to Japan, the most urgent thing is to evaluate the international impact of the Sendai earthquake.

Japan’s quake might not be as devastating as the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US, which altered the pattern of global politics for a decade. 

Nevertheless, taking Japan’s status in Asia in account, it is not overstating the case to say that the Sendai quake will quicken the restructuring of Asia-Pacific politics.

Above all, the Sendai quake will greatly shorten the adjustment period for the “Asian leadership contest,” which some scholars believe will mark the next decade.

Japan and China are expected to go through a period of cooperation and conflict as they tussle over hegemony in Asia.

There are still certain Japanese who are unwilling to admit China’s new status. Some even agitate for Japan to seize the ultimate chance to finally solve disputes with China when the two nations are well-matched in strength.

However, the destructive quake trauma will diminish Japan’s drive for leadership in the region.

The tremendous losses caused by the quake might result in Japan’s being permanently unable to compete with China, although economic experts are highly mixed in their expectations of how the disaster will affect growth.

This might seem a callous assessment, but reality should be put above moral considerations. The growing gap in strength between the two nations shows that disputes might be eased or set aside. 

The mutual dependence of Sino-Japanese economy and trade will be intensified. Earthquake reconstruction will considerably boost Japan’s import of Chinese commodities, including construction materials, textiles, labor and services.

It is estimated that Sino-Japan trade will increase by 20 to 30 percent annually in the next few years, followed by the acceleration of negotiations for a free trade area between Beijing and Tokyo and the renewed calls for an “East Asia Community.” Quake rebuilding gives impetus to East Asia integration.

Emotional ties between the two nations may grow.

Top Chinese leaders’ expression of condolences for Japan, the Chinese military’s willingness to provide aid, the initiative by 100 scholars to aid Japan, and the presence of Chinese search and rescue teams have all helped comfort the quake-torn Japanese and may boost future cooperation between the two nations.

Stratfor, the world’s most famous intelligence corporation, said that the most striking impact of the Sendai quake has been the mental shock on Japanese.

Lots of overseas media reported that the quake furnished a valuable chance for easing Sino-Japanese disputes.

One of my Japanese friends told me that China was more helpful than Western countries, which were occupied with discussing the strike on Libya and rarely cared about Japan after the quake hit.

If it is true that most Japanese people hold these views, it could inspire powerful public diplomacy and let the Japanese believe that China is a reliable friend in need. 

It sounds ideal, since Japan is the touchstone for China’s peaceful rise. Whether China could convey its goodwill is reliant on how convinced the Japanese are of China’s friendship.

Ten years ago, China grabbed the strategic chance of the 9/11 attack to boost Sino-US relations. Chinese aid in the worldwide “War on Terror” brought the two sides closer.

Now, the Sendai quake offers another precious opportunity for China and Japan to strengthen their future relations.

The author is a chief op-ed writer with the Chinese edition of Global Times. wangwen@globaltimes.com.cn

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