Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Lessons to be Learned from 9/24
CHINO Keiko  / Journalist

November 12, 2010
I once wrote that "9/17" was perhaps as important to the Japanese as "9/11" was to the Americans. The implication was that while 9/11 had changed the world, 9/17 changed Japan.

As readers are well aware, 9/11 was the day the United States was struck by simultaneous terrorist attacks in 2001. On 9/17, 2002, then Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro visited North Korea and met with General Secretary Kim Jong-il, who admitted to the abduction of Japanese nationals and apologized for the first time. That day, the Japanese people realized with shock the true nature of the North Korean state.

To this, I would now like to add 9/24. September again, through some coincidence. 9/24 is the day the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office in Okinawa suddenly released a Chinese captain detained for letting his trawler collide with patrol vessels of Japan's Coast Guard. This came as a surprise, since Japan's official stance was to "deal with the incident judiciously in accordance with domestic law".

"How could he be released? It made me so angry I couldn't sleep for two nights."
"Me neither. I felt so frustrated I decided to cancel my trip to China."

The other day, I attended a high school alumni meeting and was stunned by the vehemence with which normally graceful housewives were criticizing the government and China, lamenting over the situation. Yet, even theirs was a mild reaction compared with what has transpired since.

After 9/24, perception toward China began to change in the eyes of Japan and the world. There was a heightened sense of alarm that gave way to a chorus of criticism from the international community, especially after China embargoed exports of rare earths, a strategically important material, to Japan.

Professor Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate in economics at Princeton University, contributed a column in the New York Times on October 18. His commentary alone is enough to illustrate the severity of the criticism faced by China.

In his article, Krugman went as far as to brand China a "rogue economic superpower," and recounted its unlawful behavior, going back to how it took over the production of rare earths, an industry once dominated by the United States, and how it shipped an entire U.S. production facility back home. His criticism was also pointed at U.S. policymakers who simply stood by as it happened.

Professor Krugman's opinions carry immeasurable weight, considering his high profile and status as a syndicated columnist whose articles are distributed around the world. In all honesty, China must surely be feeling the squeeze. If it isn't, the country is even more hopeless.

Meanwhile, in Japan the trawler incident was met with vociferous criticism as a diplomatic defeat. And that it certainly was.

However, neither did China emerge a victor. One could even say that China has suffered an even greater defeat. Despite its energetic efforts in public diplomacy in recent years and its slogan of "peaceful rise," the whole world has now discovered it was only intended to benefit China and China alone.

In addition, the string of subsequent events including the repeated occurrence of anti-Japanese demonstrations and the abrupt cancellation of a meeting between the Japanese and Chinese prime ministers have also shown that China itself is faced with serious issues both internally and externally. The situation is grave.

Still, this is no time for the Japanese to be feeling complacent or jubilant about China scoring an "own goal." China has indeed come under fire from the international community. But that was accomplished not by Japanese diplomatic effort. Japan basically had no plan of its own. And in that sense, Japan is faced with as grave a situation as China.

Let me propose the following so that we may remember the lessons offered by 9/24.

I will not touch upon the Japan-U.S. alliance, since its importance has been widely reconfirmed by the incident. Based on that premise, Japan should concentrate its wisdom and intelligence on diversifying its diplomatic efforts and developing multilateral cooperation.

One example is the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) held in July, where ASEAN included the issue surrounding the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in its agenda for the first time. Until now, China had consistently rejected discussing the issue in a multilateral arena, insisting it was a bilateral matter. By making it an issue, the ARF placed a certain limit to the Chinese attempt to turn the South China Sea into its inland sea and opened the way for future consultations.

Lest I be misunderstood, let me clarify that I am not proposing any multilateral venue for discussing the Senkaku Islands. Rather, I am suggesting that, when rare earths, labor issues and other problems arise in the future, we should avoid locking up the discussion to the bilateral context, and should try to deal with these issues in a somewhat wider context, which would have external repercussions. The latest incident has also taught us that China does care about its international standing.

This approach can also be applied to building a "Mutually Beneficial Relationship Based on Common Strategic Interests" between Japan and China, whose aim goes beyond developing amicable relations. Its significance lies in addressing the Japan-China relationship in a global context, based on the recognition that "Japan and China now have great influence on and bear a solemn responsibility for peace, stability, and development of the Asia-Pacific region and the world," as stated in their Joint Statement on Comprehensive Promotion of such a relationship.

As Professor Krugman has written: "China's response to the trawler incident is, I'm sorry to say, further evidence that the world's newest economic superpower isn't prepared to assume the responsibilities that go with that status." Given this outcome, Japan should not only parrot the importance of a "Mutually Beneficial Relationship Based on Common Strategic Interests," but explain why such a relationship must be respected to China as well as the international community. Japan needs to make a far greater effort to have its voice heard in the international arena.

Above all, we should follow the proverb "forewarned is forearmed" if we are to avoid re-igniting tensions between Japan and China. Our urgent task is to defend the Senkaku Islands and our other remote islands, including Okinawa and the Nansei Islands, to clearly express our will as a nation. And we better hurry, for there isn't much time.

Finally, China will be Japan's neighbor to the end of time. And precisely for that reason, Japan should maintain a careful distance in its relationship with China. Don't get too involved with the Chinese continent – it would do us good to remind ourselves of this lesson learned from modern history.

The writer is Columnist at the Sankei Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野境子 / ジャーナリスト

2010年 11月 12日

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(筆者は産経新聞 特別記者。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟