Actions don't match words

Updated: 2013-01-08 07:56

By Su Xiaohui (China Daily)

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Actions don't match words

Japan lacks sincerity in improving relations with China and its growing militarism is causing concern in the region

The so-called purchase of the Diaoyu Islands by the Yoshihiko Noda government had a serious impact on the mutual trust between China and Japan. But after Japan's Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory in the House of Representatives election and Shinzo Abe became prime minister for the second time, China asked the new government to show sincerity and solve the dispute with China through negotiation.

Japan has made some positive responses, with Abe stating that the relationship between Japan and China is one of the most important bilateral ties for Japan, and China is an indispensable partner for Japan's economic growth. The new Japanese Ambassador to China Masato Kitera also said that the deadlock in bilateral relations would not help Japan's economy and the people of the two countries, and he said improving the bilateral relationship will be his top priority.

Unfortunately, up to now, Japan has failed to break the deadlock. What is worse, the country's domestic and foreign policies will probably have more negative influences on the bilateral relationship.

China is concerned about Japan turning more conservative. Japan has never properly dealt with its history of militarist aggression. On the contrary, the country has been trying to escape the post-World War II arrangements. It is widely believed that the new government led by the LDP will take action to invalidate the pacifist constitution, which is obviously an important part of the postwar arrangements.

Currently, the forces that support amending the constitution outweigh those who defend the constitution, and the calls for constitutional amendments from various political parties have got louder. The LDP compiled new proposals in April 2012 that included renaming the Self-Defense Forces the national defense forces. For Abe, changing the constitution is an unfinished task. In 2007, when he served as prime minister for the first time, the national referendum law was enacted. The law established the procedures for amending the constitution. Recently, Abe reaffirmed that revising Japan's pacifist constitution is his long-cherished goal.

At the same time, Japan will further its military buildup and will probably go beyond an exclusively defense-oriented strategy. Due to the restrictions imposed by the pacifist constitution the Self-Defense Forces are not allowed to possess intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, or attack aircraft carriers. However, Japan has been trying to bypass the constitution to upgrade its military capabilities. For instance, Japan has invested a lot in the Maritime Self-Defense Force. Its destroyers and frigates have anti-aircraft and antimissile capabilities. At the beginning of 2012, the keel laying ceremony for the first 22DDH helicopter carrier was held. The vessel is viewed as another breakthrough in strengthening Japan's maritime capabilities.

In addition, Abe wants to recast Japan's wartime history in less apologetic tones. In October, he visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which is seen as a symbol of Japan's past militarism. And, although he claimed recently that he will not join the ritual activity at the shrine in spring 2013, there is still a possibility that he will visit it during his term in office.

All the signs indicate that Japan is trying to escape the postwar regime. Therefore, other regional countries, including China, are concerned that Japan will not follow the path of peaceful development.

The developments in Japan's foreign affairs are worrying. Japan's 2012 edition of the Defense White Paper released by the government on July 31, emphasized Japan's concerns about China's defense development and military activities. It was notable that for the first time the White Paper touched upon China's internal affairs. It pointed to crisis management-related problems deriving from the possibility that the relationship between the leadership of the China's governing party and the People's Liberation Army had become "more complicated" and that the PLA had become "more assertive" in expressing its views on issues related to State sovereignty and maritime interests. At the same time, Japan has tried to gain international support for its claim to the Diaoyu Islands and the White Paper revealed the country's intention of containing China with collective actions.

Japan has strengthened its relationship with the United States and will continue to seek support from the US to gain an advantageous position in its territorial disputes. Japan is aware that the US has said it will support neither Japan nor China in the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands. However, Japan has managed to make the US confirm that the Diaoyu Islands fall within the scope of the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, and US President Barack Obama signed into law the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which contains sections relating to the Diaoyu Islands. In the future, Japan will continue to seek binding support from the US.

Consequently, the developments and trends in Japan's domestic and foreign policies reveal it is insincere when it says it wants to improve relations with China. China and Japan share warm economic ties, but the frozen political relationship will probably last for some time.Their economic cooperation is very likely to be harmed by the deadlock, which will cast more shadows on the future of the bilateral relationship.

The author is a research fellow at the Department of International Strategic Studies, China Institute of International Studies.

(China Daily 01/08/2013 page8)