World Peace and Japan-China Relations
A Plenary Speech on Preserving World Peace at the 10th World Peace Forum
I.Tests for world peace
Nearly a quarter into the 21st century, world peace is facing a great test. The challenges posed by Russia’s military action in Ukraine are self-evident, but it would be superficial to assume that the Ukraine crisis is the only test for world peace. In my view, the crisis in the world today is a complex outcome of five trends that are coming at the same time and producing intertwined shockwaves. These five negative trends are:
First, the United States and China are seeing escalating confrontation between each other as the latter is coming closer to the former in terms of national power. As American political scientist Graham Allison noted in his study on the history of wars, tension can easily arise between a rising power and a ruling power that in many cases even lead to wars, which was referred to as the “Thucydides’ Trap”. Washington and Tokyo often attribute US-China confrontation to value differences. However, I believe that the essence of the conflict between China and the US is the “Thucydides’ Trap”. As the national power of the two countries will probably continue getting closer for decades to come, I am afraid, unfortunately, that we must all brace ourselves for a protracted confrontation.
Second, over the past 30 years after the end of the Cold War, the US has failed to effectively manage its relations with Russia, the principle successor of the Soviet Union, creating new instability. It is undeniable that the US has brushed aside Russian concerns on security guarantees, and instead has continued to poke at Russia’s insecurities with NATO’s expansion. Though a declining power, Russia is still a nuclear superpower, and stability must be carefully maintained when handling relations with it. However, judging from what countries like the US and the UK are doing, Russia’s security concerns are still being ignored.
Third, with the accelerated military expansion worldwide, the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons cannot be overlooked. According to data published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), global military expenditure has continued to rise since the turn of the 21st century and exceeded US$2 trillion in 2021 even amid the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Regrettably, the war in Ukraine could prompt countries to move even faster in their military expansion. Despite occasional incidents such as the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, overall there have never been any genuine concerns about the use of nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War three decades ago. Yet things are changing. As the situation in Ukraine evolves, the possibility of Russia resorting to nuclear weapons cannot be ruled out. Once that happens, the US could go toe-to-toe. The risk of nuclear war is growing.
Fourth, the ideological rivalry in international politics has once again become acute. During World War II and the Cold War, ideological rivalry was once a major factor in shaping international relations. For about two decades after the end of the Cold War, differences in ideology and values received little attention in the diplomatic arena. However, in recent years, dichotomous rhetoric such as “democracy against authoritarianism” and “freedom against autocracy” has been buzzing in international conferences, and Western countries are often quite ready to preach such narrative. Blind loyalty to so-called values—be it democracy or human rights—can lead one to view those who do not share those values as heretics and to marginalize them. When one side adopts such an attitude, the other side would have no other choice but to act accordingly. Therefore, the more the West plays up values-based diplomacy, the more acute the conflicts it will face with China and Russia.
Fifth, negative spillover effects of some countries’ domestic affairs on their diplomacy have intensified. Despite the indivisibility of a country’s diplomacy and domestic affairs—no matter what era one lives in—the former was once mainly carried out by experts, whereas the general public did not participate directly but passively accepted the results. Today, the US is witnessing not only a widening gap between the rich and the poor, but also a deepening social divide over race and religion. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled hostility against Asian Americans. The rise of social media has also played a role in fanning the flames. It is against this backdrop that populism has flourished. In order to gain support at home, politicians tend to create imaginary enemies abroad by blaming other countries for their own problems. Former US President Donald Trump tweeted fake news almost every day to attack and blame China, which is quite unforgettable. Since Joseph Biden took office, the basic framework has not changed much. A similar situation can be found in Japan, where decades of economic downturn have fueled anti-Chinese and anti-Korean sentiment, which has been exploited politically.
II.Managing and improving Japan-China relations
At present, we need to overcome institutional and value differences and demonstrate wisdom in defending against those adverse trends. The war in Ukraine is a tragedy. If we do not stand up to deal with it now, an even greater tragedy could be waiting ahead. We must all wake up to that dangerous possibility.
As a former Prime Minister of Japan, I believe that it would be the greatest contribution Japan could make to world peace if we could steer our relations with China out of the downward spiral and towards improvement and development.
Although Japan-China ties in recent years have not been as fraught with heated rhetoric as US-China or Australia-China relations, they have certainly been cooling. The Japanese government and the members of the Liberal Democratic Party have become more eager to play up value differences to escalate the confrontation between Japan and China. Japan has participated in several US-led multilateral mechanisms including the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP), and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), the effect of which is a de facto “encirclement of China”.
As a manifestation of the escalating conflicts and shifting military balance in the Western Pacific between China and the US since Trump administration, Japan and the US have been experiencing an undercurrent of growing tensions with China over security guarantees. Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, some politicians and media outlets have been hyping up extremely irresponsible rhetoric like “just as Russia invaded Ukraine, next in East Asia, China will unilaterally invade Taiwan”. At the same time, flimsy chants such as “democracies should unite against autocracies” have also become louder. In Japan today, how the local authority in Taiwan has made things difficult for the mainland of China in their “quest for Taiwan independence” is rarely mentioned.
Against this backdrop, some politicians in Japan are planning to push for a revision of the country’s national defense guidelines this December in an effort to increase defense spending, among other agendas. Unfortunately, if the revision comes through, it will only worsen the already strained Japan-China relationship. If the expansion of Japanese and US military forces causes China to further rev up its military power, it could lock everyone in an extremely vicious circle.
Fifty years ago, Japan and China’s leaderships pushed for the normalization of the bilateral diplomatic relations. It is an undeniable and nonnegligible fact that the ideological and value divergences between the two countries at that time were far greater than they are today. I believe that true diplomacy happens when countries with different values try to find better ways to get along with each other. This was well understood by the leaders of Japan and China 50 years ago. The 1972 Japan-China Joint Communique clearly stated that “in spite of the differences in their social systems, China and Japan should and can establish relations of peace and friendship”. Today, it is all the more important to revisit the aspiration of normalization of Japan and China diplomatic relations.
Specifically, as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China, the two governments should formally reaffirm the one-China principle, which is the cornerstone of Japan-China ties. In addition, the government and politicians in Japan should not follow the US in making provocative moves in support for “Taiwan independence”. If Japan and the US continue to play up values, the local authority of Taiwan could be buoyed up to take misguided steps, leading to the end of peace and stability in East Asia. On the contrary, if the Taiwan question is properly managed, even if the tensions between Japan, the US and China cannot be completely cleared up, at least we can avoid the tragedy of war.
In addition, the “quality” and “quantity” of communication between Japan and China could be improved. It is my sincere hope that people-to-people exchanges between the two countries will resume as soon as the pandemic subsides, which is also a prerequisite for enhancing communication between the two sides. To achieve truly mutual understanding and trust, face-to-face exchanges between the two peoples are absolutely necessary.
Japan and China are two independent sovereign states. It is not surprising that there are differences in their systems and perspectives. At present, the leaders and governments of Japan and China lack smooth communication because of their differences, it is neither wise nor successful diplomacy. If usual communication is like this, once tension emerges, communication between Japan and China will become even more difficult. I am very worried that this situation may lead to the risks budding into real crisis.
My observation is that the US and China seem to be maintaining more intensive political dialogue than Japan and China. I believe that a mechanism should be established so that foreign ministers of Japan and China could meet every two or three months. Even meeting online would be good. When the atmosphere improves, the two countries can restart the military dialogue.
As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China, it is important that the leaders of the two countries meet with each other. The two sides should be flexible in creating opportunities for this at international conferences and other multilateral occasions. On this basis, a state visit to Japan by President Xi Jinping should be pushed forward.
Russia’s military operation in Ukraine is now mired in a quagmire and turning into a protracted conflict. The tragedy has not only hurt Russia and Ukraine, the ensuing price hikes and other fallouts have also sent shockwaves around the globe. An immediate ceasefire is imperative. The later the ceasefire, the more sacrifices will be made by Russia and Ukraine, and the greater the impact on international politics and economy. Together, Japan and China should urge Russia, Ukraine, the US and other stakeholders to reach a consensus as soon as possible on issues such as Ukraine’s application for NATO membership and autonomy in eastern Ukraine, so as to ensure a ceasefire.
Furthermore, to prevent a nuclear war in Asia, Japan and China could cooperate on materializing the concept of a “Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone”. The idea includes a ban on the development of nuclear weapons by Japan, Republic of Korea (ROK) and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and a commitment by China, the US and Russia to refrain from nuclear attack and deterrence against the above three countries.
Many people in Japan and the US see China as a challenger to the existing international order. This could not be more wrong. Clearly, China will lose more than it gains if it attempts to undermine the international order. China, quite the opposite, is an indispensable and important member in maintaining and advancing the current international order.
At the same time, as a major country, China needs to assume greater responsibility for maintaining and advancing the established international system. I earnestly hope that China will take concrete action to demonstrate that it is ready to do so. For example, China could begin to explore the possibility of giving up the “special and differential treatment” it received when it joined the World Trade Organization.
III.Building an East Asian community
Here, I propose to realize the vision of an East Asian community as a way for countries with different values in the region to better engage with each other. The key to this is to make East Asia a no-war community, which, I believe, shares a certain degree of commonality with the idea of a “community with a shared future for mankind” advocated by President Xi Jinping. In the years leading up to World War II, Western Europe was once conflict-ridden. After the war, Germany and France, along with other countries in the region, pushed for the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, which paved the way for the European Union we know today—a no-war community—as these countries braved difficulties and strived for a common cause. It all boils down to the spirit of fraternity, which means to respect the dignity of others while respecting oneself, and to support each other as we understand and respect our differences. Peace has always been a supreme value in the East. When I was received by President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People more than three years ago, I noted that the spirit of fraternity that I advocated had long existed in Chinese philosophy: “benevolence” and “being considerate” in the Analects of Confucius are very close in their connotations to “fraternity.” President Xi responded, “Indeed, I would like to promote the Belt and Road Initiative, as Mr. Hatoyama said, in the spirit of ‘being considerate’—‘Do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you”. I am convinced that if Japan and China take the lead together in the spirit of fraternity and “being considerate,” the vision of an East Asian community can and will come true.
We need to turn up the cooling temperatures in Japan-China ties, better manage the situation, and seek to thaw the chilly relations between the two nations. The same is true for Japan’s relationship with the ROK. On this basis, with Japan, China and the ROK at the center, we will work together to build an East Asian community and take the lead in building a no-war community in East Asia.
Yukio Hatoyama is Former Prime Minister of Japan and President of the East Asian Community Institute of Japan.