Will China-Japan defense dialogue produce practical effects?

15:45, August 02, 2011      

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The bilateral defense dialogue between China and Japan started in 1997 and is hosted alternatively by each side. The 9th China-Japan bilateral defense dialogue was held in Tokyo on July 26, 2011. This is the first vice ministerial defense dialogue in more than three years since 2008 and was conducted amid an atmosphere of improved overall bilateral ties.

According to reports, the Chinese side stressed during the dialogue that the two countries should make efforts to improve friendship, improve people's feelings towards each other, handle the sensitive issues properly and strengthen the strategic, mutually beneficial bilateral ties.

The Japanese side said that Japan is willing to work with the Chinese military to establish better understanding and mutual trust and jointly contribute to regional peace and stability. Both sides agreed to continue to strengthen exchanges and cooperation among their defense departments in bilateral and multilateral fields, promote the early establishment of a maritime liaison system and jointly preserve stability in the East China Sea.

Although the form and content of the dialogue is important, the practical effects of the dialogue are more important. Whether the bilateral defense dialogue between China and Japan can produce practical effects depends on the following three interrelated factors:

The first factor is whether the two countries will really respect four previously signed agreements. According to the "Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People's Republic of China" signed in 1978, the two countries "shall in their mutual relations settle all disputes by peaceful means, and shall refrain from the threat or use of force. Neither of them should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region or in any other region. Both sides should be opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony."

According to the "China-Japan Joint Statement on Promoting a Strategic and Mutually Beneficial Relationship in An All-round Way" released in 2008, "Long-term peaceful and friendly cooperation is the only choice for the two countries. Both sides are dedicated to promoting a strategic and mutually beneficial relationship in an all-round way to realize the lofty goal of peaceful coexistence, friendship from generation to generation, win-win cooperation and common development." As long as the two countries strictly obey previously signed agreements, the bilateral security consultation will maintain a solid foundation.

The second factor is whether the two countries can properly handle sensitive issues. The Diaoyu Islands dispute, which is rooted in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, was directly caused by the overlapping claims of China and Japan to the Diaoyu Islands and their adjacent waters and was complicated by active U.S intervention.

This extremely sensitive issue concerning national sentiments and natural resources is interwoven with other sensitive issues such as the Taiwan issue and the delimitation in the East China Sea and can thus easily affect the overall relations between the two countries. The Diaoyu Islands dispute is the epitome of the deep-seated conflict between the two countries.

In order to promote bilateral relations and to reduce the chance of a crisis occurring in the East China Sea, including the Diaoyu Islands, the two countries should treat sensitive issues with great care as well as strengthen cooperation in crisis management by establishing a maritime liaison mechanism and other means.

Third, it also depends on whether the defense departments of the two countries can establish mutual political trust during exchanges and cooperation. This first depends on whether the two parties can treat each other following a realistic and pragmatic approach.

Although China and Japan have confirmed that they are cooperation partners, not a threat to each other, and reaffirmed to support each other's peaceful development in the joint statement in 2008, the defense plan released by the Japanese government at the end of 2010 is actually based on the "China Threat" theory.

Japan transferred its defense focus to the so-called southwestern islands near Taiwan and the Diaoyu Island and even attempts to establish a military deterrence against China with the support of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Japan and the United States expressed concern about the "freedom of navigation" on the South China Sea while adding restrictions on the "freedom of navigation" on the East China Sea, which is unreasonable.

China's naval ships crossing the Miyako Strait adhered to international law and did not cause any security threats to Japan. Japan should abandon the attitude of conflict and strengthen cooperation in light of the growing Chinese defense force. This is perhaps the effective approach of establishing China-Japan political mutual trust.

By Liu Jiangyong, a special commentator of People's Daily and vice president of the Institute of Contemporary International Relations under the Tsinghua University, translated by People's Daily Online

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