Event ReportsPublished on Oct 16, 2014
The increased interdependence between the various players in the East Asia region is a potential area that needs to be harnessed more effectively to foster the relations and avoid the territorial conflicts and animosity, according to Hitoshi Tanaka of the Japan Research Institute.
US's total power cannot be challenged by China, says Japanese expert

The current Japan-China relations are driven by the frustration of Japan that stems from the unprecedented growth of China at its door step while its economy stagnated for about two decades due to its sustained conservationist (nationalist) policy, until Shinzo Abe came into power, according to Mr. Hitoshi Tanaka, Chairman of the Institute for International Strategy, the Japan Research Institute, Tokyo.

Giving a talk on "Changing East Asia: Japan’s Strategy" at Observer Research Foundation on October 16, Mr Tanaka, said the US is no longer the only super power anymore. The fact that US President Obama hesitated very much to intervene in the question of Syria, and the rather unsuccessful wars waged against Iraq and Afghanistan, which each took 7-8 years for the troops to withdraw, are testimonies to this.

Mr Tanaka posited that while the future leadership of the US as the single most powerful nation has come under question, the US total power in the sense of military plus soft plus economic powers cannot be challenged by China, although it may give the US a run for its GDP. With this rationale, he mooted that India provides an excellent platform for Japanese investments, considering the current rapport between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Abe.

During the talk, Mr Tanaka pointed out several contradictory trends in the region where on the one hand there is an increased interdependence and integration, but on the other, there are many contested issues such as territorial conflicts, China’s maritime activities in East and South China Seas, and North Korea.

A veteran Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Tanaka recalled that one of his most successful diplomatic acts was the inclusion of India and Australia as members of the East Asian Summit. Foreign policy and changing East Asia, according to Mr Tanaka, can be understood by studying the following broad categories namely: Changing power focus, Change in external attitude to major powers, increased interdependence, uncertainty about the future and Lack of vision.

Mr. Tanaka speculated that by the year 2020, the US, most probably, would be maintaining an economy four times that of Japan and China three times that of Japan. The question remains how exactly Japan will cope with this turn of events by which Japan would only be the third largest economy in the world, considering the fact that China’s GDP used to be only one-third of that of Japan.

Mr. Tanaka observed that the external attitudes of the major powers can be mainly attributed to the domestic evolution. China is the most typical example whose external policy is entirely influenced by the domestic evolution of governance. However, China faces huge social problems, in spite of its emergence as a global power. One can see more and more uprisings and mass demonstrations, most recently in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the midst of this mayhem, China still proposes economic plans for doubling their GDP. Moreover, China, known for its aggressive external attitude, now talks of a new model for big power relations with the US, under the leadership of Mr. Xi Jinping.

Mr. Tanaka also said that the increased interdependence between the various players in the East Asia region is a potential area that needs to be harnessed more effectively to foster the relations and avoid the territorial conflicts and animosity.

He further noted that there is considerable uncertainty about the future of the region and that the present state of the region is worrisome. He propounded that, contrary to the popular notion, the question of South and East Asia is not isolated from the rest of the world.

To support his statement, Mr. Tanaka illustrated the case of Russia. He stated that Russia as of now sees Ukraine as the last resort after the tremendous loss following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Unless the U.S. decides to intervene, Russia will persist in its expansion. He further noted that, if it is not checked, Russia’s ambition could well turn to East Asia, whether or not China approves.

On a similar note, many new institutions are proposed in the region, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by China, which also raise key questions; for example, what is India’s take?. Mr. Tanaka said that the underlying philosophy of these new institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is unlike that of the global institutions such as the World Bank and that whether India takes the side with China is more of an ideological question that will be solely decided by the evolution of democracy in India under the new government.

Speaking about the ASEAN, as the most important group of the East Asian countries, Mr. Tanaka said it was imagined to be a group on the lines of the European Union model, with the underlying philosophy that the situation of the region can be improved when managed from a single centre. But such a situation is not possible in the East Asia region because of the stark differences among the constituent members and the absence of a common objective .East Asian countries are yet to envision a set of common objectives or goals.

He reiterated the significance of interdependence and the need for promoting such relations for better regional integration. Investigating the possible factors of interdependent relations, Mr. Tanaka said that he sees no such scope for interdependence in national security, mainly due to starkly different security perceptions of individual countries in the region. However, security networks (bilateral, trilateral etc.) can be more successful, but they too require substantial confidence building measures in order to be successful, according to Mr Tanaka. He enumerated the successful examples of security cooperation between US and Japan, US-Japan-India and US-Japan-Australia and the negotiations underway for US-Japan-Korea in support of his statement.

Mr. Tanaka emphasized on the urgent need for confidence building measures to be adopted between US, Japan and China . He referred to the incursions into the Indian territory by China at the time of President Xi Jinping’s visit to India. Some experts have commented that this was a demonstration of power by China. Even though the Chinese action amounted to a limited confrontation, it constituted very dangerous trend, he said.

Chairing the talk, Prof. K.V. Kesavan raised key questions such as the possible implications of changing East Asia for India and the strategies of the Japanese government under the leadership of Abe.

Speaking about the scope of regional integration in East Asia, Mr Tanaka said that the strategic importance of economic groupings should be recognized. He advocated the need for better legislations and rules concerning economic investment and trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Another potential area for regional cooperation, Mr Tanaka suggested, is in the field of energy, which will have very strong geopolitical impact. In the present scenario, when China is in dire need of technological aid for its shale gas extraction and Japan endeavouring to get back on track with nuclear energy post-Fukushima, there is a requirement of precise energy cooperation in the region.

He suggested that forums such as the East Asia Summit, which provides a primary platform for regional issues in East Asia, should also include conventionally non-strategic, but contributory topics such as energy cooperation in its agenda. He concluded his talk on the note that there is a huge potential for cooperation and regional integration in the area and that can be achieved only after addressing these ’missing links.’

The talk was intended to be a prelude to a larger conference on "Regional Integration in the Indo-Pacific: Prospects & Challenges" to be hosted by the Observer Research Foundation in November, 2014.

(This report is prepared by Kaveri Ashok, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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