Event ReportsPublished on Jan 05, 2017
Talk on China's role in the Asia-Pacific: A Japanese perspective
On 22nd December 2016, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), in association with the Embassy of Japan, arranged a lecture by Dr. Shin Kawashima. Dr. Kawashima, who is working as a Professor at the Tokyo University, spoke about China's foreign policy. The event was chaired by Dr. K.V. Kesavan, who is a senior fellow at ORF. Referring to the long and close historical ties between Japan and China, Dr. Kesavan stressed the need for India to understand Japan's perceptions on China's contemporary foreign policy. The rise of China has undoubtedly altered the geostrategic reality of the region. Initiatives like - the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the One Belt One Road, reflect China's long term vision in the region. With Japan, China has had strained relations for past ten years because of reasons like historical grievances and territorial dispute. Dr. Kawashima commenced his speech by talking about Chinese foreign policy since 1980s. Initially, China's foreign policy was focused on the economy. For instance, the domestic policy of developing the country's Western part, was linked to China's diplomatic endeavour of increasing cross-border trade. In 2007, the then President of the People's Republic of China, Hu Jintao, called for building a 'harmonious world'. A more cooperative attitude towards foreign countries invited investments during this time. After 2006, in addition to economic growth, China added 'security and sovereignty' to the main purpose of foreign policy. Major economic growth had put China on the path to become the second largest economic power. The Conservative Socialists emphasised on pursuing an aggressive foreign policy. However, Premier Wen Jiabao insisted on keeping the original policy as he felt China still needs economic growth. All of this changed in 2009. The global economic slowdown and the increased price of resources propelled China and other emerging powers to play an important roles in the world economy. Hu Jintao formulated 'Zhoubian Waijiao', which was the foreign policy for neighbouring countries. However, this policy created problems because China refused to compromise on territorial and security issues with the surrounding countries. Coming to Sino-Japanese relations, Prof. Kawashima reminded that China attached importance to economy even during the Koizumi period in Japan. PM Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni shrine had annoyed the Chinese, but they did not react much as Japanese trade was essential for them. In December 2008, China sent its vessels to the waters near the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. From the Japanese point of view, this meant that China had changed the status quo. This created a sense of alarm in the minds of Japanese leaders, and the upshot was the nationalisation of some of the Senkaku islands, which China was perceived as breaking the status quo. At this point, Prof. Kawashima illustrated through a chart indicating that in the early 1980s, almost 70% of the Japanese had a positive image of China. But in 1989, after the Tiananmen incident, almost 90% of the Japanese did not portray a favourable image of the Chinese. Around 2014-2015, China's aggressive maritime activities were increasingly noticeable in the South China sea. A major reason was China's need to protect its coastal area, which is it's hub of industries. Although China has signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), it has its own perception with respect to sea. The Chinese conception of the 'Nine-Dash Line' is a case in point. Speaking about Indo-Japanese cooperation, Prof. Kawashima said that the Chabahar port and the ports of northern Sri Lanka are the strategic areas in the Indian Ocean, where it is necessary to balance China in order to maintain peace in the region. Furthermore, Prof. Kawashima commented about nature of President Xi Jinping's administration and his policies. In the last party convention of the Chinese Communist Party, it was decided that Xi would hereafter be referred to as the 'core' ('hexin' in Mandarin) of the party. However, this has not led Xi to behave like a dictator. Even though there are serious differences between top leaders of the party, the principle of 'collective leadership' has never been abandoned. President Xi has a clear concept of Asia which excludes the US and strengthens China's position. As a great regional power, Xi believes China can provide institutions like the AIIB, 1B1R, to bring in as many Asian countries as possible. China's 'One Belt, One Road' (1B1R) policy has two parts: the land silk road, and the maritime silk road. The first aspect consists of a series of infrastructure projects, aims at supporting the national enterprises and solving problem of surplus production. The second part entails building maritime connectivity. This is the 'real' strategy, whereby China seeks to gradually challenge USA and reduce its influence. After Prof. Kawashima's presentation, Ambassador T.C.A. Rangachari offered his observations on China's foreign policy and India-China relations. He expressed doubts as to whether China is certain about its own set of core interests, as they keep changing over the years. Keeping in view China's increasing strategic influence in the Asia-Pacific region, he made a strong case for India and Japan to work together, not necessarily to contain China, but to make sure that China conforms to acceptable international behavioural conduct. A brief question and answer session followed Ambassador Rangachari's remarks. In his closing remarks, Ambassador H.H.S. Viswanathan thanked Prof. Kawashima for his extremely erudite presentation. He appreciated the interest shown in the subject by the audience. (The event report was prepapred by Ms Avantika Deb, Research Intern, ORF Delhi)
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.