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Comment: "Smug calculations" lack sincerity, analysis

People’s Daily, Beijing, 9 December 2005

"Smug calculations" lack sincerity, analysis

At the upcoming 11th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, the annual trilateral meeting of Chinese, Japanese and South Korean leaders gets aborted for the first time. Both China and South Korea believe that the three-party conference will be meaningless given the Japanese Prime Minister’s continuous shrine visits. However, Tokyo responded not by reflecting on its improper behavior but by accusing China of playing "diplomatic card" and "shunning Japan out", in an attempt to cover up the fact that Japan lacks fundamental sincerity towards the promotion of East Asia cooperation.

Under the proposal of Japanese former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, leaders from China, Japan and the ROK specially held an informal breakfast meeting when attending the ASEAN 10+3 summit in 1999. The same thing happened the next year. In 2001, proposed by then Korean President Kim Dae-Jung, the breakfast was upgraded into an annual formal conference, and six of them have been held by now. The two-hour close-door talks have become a gathering ground for dialogue, communication and discussion for cooperation among the three parties.

However, a looking back on Japanese acts in East Asia cooperation in recent years reveals easily that this country, from the bottom of its heart, has never treated this gathering very seriously.

Against the backdrop of continuously deepening economic globalization and regional cooperation, East Asia has attained fresh vigor after experiencing "miracle", "crisis" and system innovation. Meanwhile, Japan, who has long been given a "lift" under a multilateral free trade system, has been enveloped in economic bubbles over the past decade. Japan is craving a "return to Asia", and the kernel of its regional strategy is to "Japanize" regional policies, legal system, industrial division and financial and monetary fields. It mainly targets some ASEAN countries, at the same time avoiding Free Trade Agreement (FTA) but bending on Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

Signing FTAs with Asian countries, Japan believes, will help it neither in protecting disadvantageous sectors such as agriculture, nor in grasping dominance in investment, service, financial and monetary affairs and intellectual property rights. While EPA will not only enable it to protect weak sectors, highlight strategic advantages and grab the upper hand in negotiations, but will promote its policies and laws in East Asia and therefore dominate the process of system integration in this region.

To this end, Japan firstly signed an EPA with Singapore, and is now trying to promote it with ASEAN countries. At the same time, Japan never responded to the Chinese appeal to start FTA talks. Japan’s smug calculations are clear: to skirt around China and build up a so-called "new order in East Asia" led by itself.

Japan’s unwillingness to talk directly with China on FTA is out of the following considerations: first, the huge market released by China’s WTO accession is enough for Japanese companies, and zero-tariff between the two parties are not needed now; second, once a FTA is signed, Japan will be forced to open its agriculture and labor markets; third, Japan believes a big part of the current non-governmental business network in East Asia is in the hand of Chinese, which is not favorable to efforts to "Japanize" this region; fourth, Japan is afraid that the Chinese influence may stand in its way towards a political power.

So far, China’s regional cooperation strategy is characterized by equality, mutual benefit and common development. It has been regarded as a "strategic threat" by Japan since it runs counter to the Japanese appealing for economic, financial and monetary circles in this region.

Cooperation must be based on sincerity. If Koizumi really hopes to further discuss cooperation with China and the ROK at multilateral occasions such as the ASEAN summits, he should be better behaved and stop his shrine visits, for they will only keep the relations with the other two countries at the lowest ebb. "Smug calculations" lacking sincerity are no more than a one-sided daydream that will never come true.

This comment by Liu Junhong, associate research fellow with China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, is carried on the third page of People’s Daily, December 9, and is translated by People’s Daily Online

 source: People’s Daily