Published : 2013-01-03 19:58
Updated : 2013-01-03 19:58
At this juncture, with the kind of leaders we see in place in China, Japan and South Korea, the outlook for Asia in 2013 does not look so good. For the first time, leadership changes in those three countries came almost simultaneously. Each of the new heads of state wants to establish a trademark leadership role in Asia. To do so, they cannot display any weakness or be considered soft. To promote themselves in their own countries and on the world stage, they might have to do things that normally they would not.
It is hoped that Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Guean-hye will be able to hold a tripartite dialogue as soon as possible. Otherwise the situation in Northeast Asia could get worse, especially the ongoing dispute between China and Japan over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands.
There is no doubt that China-Japan ties are the foundation of peace and prosperity in the region. Any drastic rupture in the relationship will affect the ongoing community-building and economic integration taking place in the region and in ASEAN.
In the past, ASEAN has taken it for granted when these two Asian economic giants collided, in the knowledge that disputes or hostilities would stop if it hurt their economic cooperation. In the few months since the dispute over uninhibited islands in the East China Sea was reignited, both countries have fired up their rhetoric.
What is worse is the negative impact on economic transactions for the two countries. Japan’s exports to China have suffered greatly; factories and shops in China have been forced to shut down due to rising anti-Japanese sentiment among local people. As tensions heightened, several Japanese companies stopped operations in China and subsequently caused unemployment among Chinese people. In this kind of situation, no country can benefit from the current squabbling.
Therefore, the leaders of China and Japan must come to their senses as soon as possible. They must realize that the territorial quarrel, if it continues unabated, will be disastrous for both countries and the whole region. Their economic link has been the key factor in boosting the region’s overall economic growth. Without it, the so-called “Asian economic miracle” would mean nothing. A worsening of the dispute would also be a destabilizing factor for the global economic situation. At the moment, the European economic downturn has not caused a crisis among global markets due to the strength of the combined economies of China and Japan.
South Korea also needs to reconcile with Japan. The dispute over the Takeshima or Dokdo Islands has gone too far. Both sides have inevitably backed themselves into a corner. With a new leader just elected, Seoul must immediately find ways to improve ties with Japan. Both are traditional allies of the U.S. From Washington’s perspective, to have both friends at each other’s throats is not good for strategic cooperation. In fact, granted its bitter history with Japan, South Korea can be mischievous. In this case, both Beijing and Seoul are joining hands to counter Japan’s maritime territorial claims. Such a coalition, even temporarily, is not to be encouraged.
The future of Asia will be jeopardized if China, Japan and South Korea continue to feel uncomfortable with each other. Their leaders must find ways to break the impasse and rebuild bridges. That is the only way to go. Otherwise it may be premature to dub this “the Asian century”.