China and Japan appear set for a long-term engagement, based on a two-track approach, where Tokyo’s decision to build its military muscle can be leveraged to negotiate with Beijing from a position of strength.
Japan’s long-term strategy to bond with Beijing on the basis of parity was apparent in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s address to parliament, which convened for a 150-day session on Monday.
The Nikkei Asian Review is reporting that Mr. Abe reiterated Japan’s readiness to push ahead with his “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy,” which pursues stability and prosperity on the basis of an international rules-based order in the region.
The report highlighted that the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy policy was “originally” seen as aimed at addressing China’s maritime assertiveness, signalling a shift in stance.
It added, “But (Mr.) Abe also said Japan will cooperate with Beijing to meet growing demand for building infrastructure in Asia, bearing in mind President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” cross-border infrastructure initiative.”
Diplomatic sources told The Hindu that in Japanese perception, the Indo-Pacific doctrine was not focused on China’s so-called “containment”. Instead it was an expression of anxiety regarding the uninterrupted flow of trade along important regional sea lanes.
Mr. Abe said that Japan and China were “inseparable,” countries. He added that Japan “will seek to meet the expectations of the international community by developing friendly relations (with China) in a stable manner.”
Mr. Abe expressed his resolve to have reciprocal visits between him and Chinese President Xi Jinping “as soon as possible”. This would be in tune with the 40th anniversary of the peace and friendship treaty between the two countries.
The sources said that the process of reciprocal visits could begin with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s visit to Japan for a trilateral meeting of China, Japan and South Korea. That could be followed by a visit to China by Mr. Abe. Mr. Abe’s arrival in Beijing would set the stage for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s return visit to Japan.
Next year, Mr. Xi is also expected to visit Japan, which would host the G-20 summit, the sources said.
On its part, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has cautiously welcomed the possibility of a flurry of top level exchanges between China and Japan.
In response to a question on Mr. Abe’s remarks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, on Tuesday said, “With the principle of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, China stands ready to work with Japan and other parties to promote the Belt and Road initiative and achieve common development and prosperity of countries in this region.”
In his policy speech, Mr. Abe exhorted law makers to prepare for major amendments in Japan’s existing pacifist-constitution. “We will be creating our nation, looking ahead 50 years or 100 years. It is the Constitution that narrates the shape and ideal form of the country,” he observed.
Mr. Abe’s express resolve to revamp Japan’s defence capability, including introduction of land-based Aegis Ashore missile defence system, citing the threat from North Korea. Mr. Abe’s directional address has been preceded by a visit to China in late December by Toshihiro Nikai, number two in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
During his stay Mr. Nikai had met Mr. Xi and invited him to visit Tokyo, Kyodo news agency had reported. In a rare address to the Communist Party of China (CPC) Party School, Mr. Nikai underscored that that the two countries must forge a future-oriented cooperative relationship. He said that a bilateral “mutually beneficial relationship,” should transition to shape peace and prosperity in Asia and beyond.