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Home > Debates Last Updated: 17:59 07/02/2008
Comment (July 2, 2008)

Comment on Sheila Smith's Article "A New Agenda for Japan and China"

Adrian Malin (University of Southern California, USA)

In Sheila Smith's recent article, she points out new agenda in Japan and China relations, highlighting several key events which she believes signal the transition to a cooperative relationship between the two countries. Following years of antagonism, and poor economic, social, and political ties, both China and Japan are proactively beginning anew, with their sights on the future of common-interest growth. Their governments, after having spent a significant amount of time at a significant distance from each other, have newly committed to annual state visits to emphasize "mutually strategic interests," including such issues as global climate change, peace on the Korean Peninsula, and bilateral economic prosperity.

As referenced by Smith in her commentary, the focus of new relations between the two countries is forward-thinking, while not ignoring their troubled past. One of the most significant new policy accomplishments was an agreement between the two nations to cooperate to combat the global warming/climate change phenomenon—both being significant contributors to the global CO2 emissions, according to sources on the subject. Specifically, the accord emphasized a new CSS (carbon dioxide capture and storage) technology project to help China, now the leading culprit in global CO2 emissions, having surpassed even the United States, Europe, and Japan in the category. This agreement was one of the first parts of a larger movement which Smith refers to as both countries cooperating in "pursuing basic and universal values acknowledged by the international community" that begins with a "focus…on replanting seeds of friendship in the next generation…among the youth of China and Japan" ultimately to achieve "mutually strategic interests."

I basically agree with Smith's thoughts on this topic, but I think she could have developed ideas about how Japan and China might replant these "seeds of friendship in the next generation." I believe it is very important for the both countries to focus on young generations who are more open-minded about creating friendly relationships between their citizens to foster deep long-term relations, to nourish economic, social, and political growth. It is critical for both Japan and China to emphasize human interactions starting with the "teenage" range (high school) through colleges, and professional schools— by providing large scale student exchange programs (with financially support) which will enable students to form bonds and educate them on each other's cultures in an effort to elevate the level of understanding. Over time, as students become adult citizens in business and other arenas, such bonds will strengthen the countries' ties, both culturally, economically, and politically— facilitating economic relations and cooperation on international issues, such as the CSS agreement.

This was emphasized in a recent course on Contract Law by Dr. Kamrany, at the University of Southern California, in which Dr. Kamrany discussed how cultural barriers, language and behavioral differences all increase the cost of doing business, by way of creating an environment where transactions are less efficient, ultimately lessening the amount of trade and other economic relations between the two parties. The smaller these differences (cultural misunderstandings) are, the less the "cost/difficulty of trade (economic transactions) becomes," and thus bilateral economic relations can be facilitated more easily with less friction.

In her article, Sheila Smith further develops her discussion by pointing out the importance of the emphasis on a joint diplomatic relationship for Japan and China in order to continue building a positive, cooperative relationship. Since the departure of the controversial Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi in September of 2006, two Japanese Prime Ministers have visited China in an effort to 'break the ice' after years of antagonism. Smith argues that "Japanese and Chinese leaders need to persuade [and remind] their publics that their future destinies can be shared…[because]… public sensitivities remain just below the surface."

Again, this is a stance where I am highly supportive of Smith, but I think she could have even further emphasized the importance of public persuasion by the leaders in both nations regarding the benefits of a more cooperative relationship and she could have included further thoughts on how they might go about using their power of the "bully pulpit." The Japanese and Chinese governments should continue to promote positive relations, and downplay any "hiccups" or rifts between the nations to persuade their respective citizens. At the same time, the leaders of each country can provide a significant image of their nation toward outside, and shape how the international community accordingly interacts with each other.

In a smart move, the both governments have committed themselves to make each other a diplomatic priority, promising a constant high level of governmental interaction and cooperation. By maintaining close diplomatic contacts, it can open the doors for increased relations at all levels, ultimately leading to increased economic activity and an increased shared desire for mutual prosperity and peace. A recent example is the post-earthquake aid Japan offered to the Chinese following the devastating earthquake in the Sichuan province in May 2007, when Japan offered $5 million in emergency aid, and its disaster relief team and task force. Both financial and human aids were well received by China's government and citizens in a time of need, strengthening the image of peace and support between the two nations.

Smith's article on new agenda between Japan and China is largely accurate and persuasive, but could have gone a step further by shedding some light on "broader" benefits of the new agenda. For example, China would benefit from learning most closely from some important aspects of Japan's post-war economic growth such as currency re-evaluation, market opening measures and fuel-efficient technological development. In matters of currency re-evaluation and market opening, China could go slowly, but in matters of environmental protection and related technological development, there is certainly a need for haste. In this respect, Japan is acknowledged the world over as a leading innovator in fuel efficient technology such as producing fuel efficient cars – whereas China has a negative world-wide reputation as the largest air polluter due to their apparent lack of environmental concerns with their ever-increasing numbers of coal producing plants. This perception needs to change with fundamental policy changes on the part of the Chinese government.

In my view, it is important that China should reexamine some fundamental fields, including education with focus on international standards, and administrative and regulatory reforms to meet international standards for construction, food quality, hygiene, safety, and pollution control, where China could learn from exchanges with Japan. The negative publicity around lack of regulatory standards in poultry production (avian flu outbreaks), toy production (high lead levels in exported toys), as well as cement production and building codes (school collapses during the big earthquake) has contributed to an international lack of consumer confidence in China's base line of being concerned about general human welfare. Active R&D and openness in all those fundamental fields in China might well create more jobs for skilled workers and improve basic infrastructure to sustain peaceful development in that country for decades to come. Japan has an incentive to help and share knowledge with China to achieve such desirable development performance, because Japan's trade and foreign investment toward China would increase as a result of such exchanges, possibly leading to economic, social and political developments in China with more disincentives to have any significant conflict between themselves or in their neighboring regions such the general Korean peninsula, which should contribute to peace and cooperation in the Asian region as a whole.

Smith's article summarizes the recent history of diplomatic advances for Japan and China, and can be regarded as a good introduction to the positive steps that their political leaders have taken in mending their past and in forging their future of mutual interest. In this regard, she could have had a stronger ending by pointing out a possibility of the two leaders to work more intensely along with the leader of the U.S. to solve wider economic as well as security issues in the Asia-Pacific region, rather than just reminding the U.S. that they should offer condolences and assistance as Japan did for the recent natural disaster in China.

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