18 July Start a virtuous cycle of Sino-Japan interactions

18 July Start a virtuous cycle of Sino-Japan interactions
Japan's Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera (left) and China's People's Liberation Army deputy chief of general staff Qi Jianguo at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2013.

JAPAN/CHINA - At a time when Japan's relations with China cannot get any worse, the country's Defence Ministry has released a defence White Paper which has made Chinese officials and analysts go white with rage.

The lengthy tome, which is the first White Paper released by the Shinzo Abe government, commented that China's lack of clarity about the vision behind its military build-up could lead to "distrust and misunderstanding".

In addition, Chinese incursions into the waters and airspace near Japan were "dangerous acts" that could lead to "contingency situation( s)".

Understandably, the document drew much flak from China. The Global Times, the nationalist paper, said that the paper only underscored Japan's "hysteria" over China.

The paper does have a point. Although the two countries have largely lived at peace with each other for at least 2,000 years, there has been existential competition between them over the past century or so.

To China, Japan stands at the vanguard of the US "rebalance" back to Asia. Gone are previous conceptions of the US-Japanese alliance being a "bottle cap" that inhibited Japanese power; Chinese analysts now believe the alliance is an "eggshell" that facilitates the growth of Japanese power.

To Japan, China is trying to usurp the US-led order that has been laid down for the past 60 years. No wonder, Japanese soldiers stormed a Californian beach last month, in a show of force that could be applied to the two countries' dispute over the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands.

Therein, it is easy to see how things could go pear-shaped.

In January, the Japanese alleged that a Chinese frigate had directed fire-control radar at a Japanese naval destroyer in the East China Sea - a move that the Chinese denied strenuously. One can only imagine what could happen in subsequent clashes as military commanders on the ground take things into their hands.

Things do not have to be this way. What both countries need are visionary leaders who can see the forest for the trees, and view bilateral relations from a strategic perspective.

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