Talks and tensions – relations among key Northeast Asian states

Updated On: Mar 24, 2007

The rosiness of Sino-Japanese relations seems to have taken a setback as historians from China and Japan have given up the idea of co-writing a single history of Sino-Japanese relations due to the apparent huge gaps in their views and time constraints.

This is an ambitious project to start off with in the first place. Thus there are no illusions about its complexities to start off with. Nevertheless, the 10 scholars fromChina and 10 from Japan will try to keep to the schedule and finish their joint study by June 2008 and later compile and publish a series of essays on bilateral relations. They have also navigated clear of the sensitive issue of Japanese wartime brothels.

With regards to the wartime brothels, Tokyo University Professor Shinichi Kitaoka, head of the Japanese delegation declared: 'That is not the responsibility of historians'. However, the 1937 Nanjing Massacre and a 21-point demand Japan made on China in 1915 are retained in the text. 

While China’s relation with Japan is ambiguous at best, her relations with Taiwan is set to worsen as Chen Shui Bian and his party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) continue the moves towards “de-sinicisation” of Taiwan.  His latest move is to abandon the policy of recognising Mandarin as the island's only official language. Premier Su Tseng-chang is examining a National Language Development Act draft for pushing local dialects usage.

'Taiwan is a plural society, and all languages should have equal standing and be respected and supported,' he said. The local Minnan dialect - often dubbed 'Taiwanese' and the Hakka dialect may be targeted for promotion. 'We want to give weaker languages a chance to develop,' official government spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang reiterated.

One reason for this power play is because of the makeup of the power base of the pro-independent activists like Premier Su. The Minnan dialect is spoken by descendants of Chinese immigrants from Fujian China who arrived on the island in the 17th and 18th centuries and these people form the support base of Mr Su's ruling DPP.

The same party is moving to strip the name 'China' from several state-run companies and negatively attacking the legacy of KMT strongman Chiang Kai-shek. President Chen Shui-bian himself often uses the Minnan dialect in public speeches, particularly when appealing directly to his core electorate support base.

To complement the island’s internal changes, Taiwan is also conducting provocative war games targeted specifically at mainland China. The war games codenamed "Han Kuang 23" (Han Glory) will be held between April and May 2007. Exercises in Kinmen, Matsu, Penghu and southern Pingtung county would simulate the prevention of enemy landings while exercises in Hualien would focus on air defence.

China for its part is stepping up big power diplomacy to shore up support amongst neighboring states for its security self-interests, if not to find partners and alliances, then at least to make friendly overtures and that is President Hu’s purpose in visiting Russia, the newly-emerging energy world player and a critic of US hegemony. Chinese President Hu Jintao will pay a state visit to Russia from 26-28 March 2007 at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Soft power diplomacy seems to be the main serving on the table. China hosted the "Year of Russia" in 2006 which encompassed a total of 300 festivities with more than 500,000 Chinese involved in the festivities. The year of 2007 will be Russia’s reciprocal overture to this cultural exchange with nearly 200 "Year of China" events in Russia, including a Chinese national exhibition, a cultural festival, a business forum and an investment conference.

For a special public relations exercise, the Chinese President met with Russian journalists in advance to brief the Russian media flurry of exchanges and business opportunities. Some of the invitees include Interfax News Agency, Itar-Tass News Agency, Russian Information Agency, Russian Newspaper, Voice of Russia Radio Station and Russian State TV and Radio Company.

As China courts Russia, Japan is seeking to boost ties with India by pledging to start talks on FTA with India, and also offering cooperation in nuclear energy for civilian use.  Mr Abe also told visiting Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee that “Japan and India shared similar basic values and hence should build strategic global partnership”. 

Mr Mukherjee in return highlight the importance “to enhance cooperation between navies of Japan and India” on maritime security to ensure energy supply.

Finally, the latest round of six-party talks in Beijing aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme seemed to have reached a deadlock again over technical problems in transferring the money in a Macau bank to the North Koreans.  The US$25 million had been frozen by the US because of suspicion of money laundering and counterfeiting, but the United States said at the start of the week that it would allow the money to be returned.

Another segment of the talks that is not doing so well is the bilateral between Japan and North Korea which ended in March 2007 month in Hanoi without making progress on the abduction issue.

North Korea's chief envoy Kim Kye-Gwan abruptly abandoned the talks and flew home forcing China to announce that the latest round of negotiations had been suspended with no date set for their resumption. However, US chief negotiator, Christopher Hill remained optimistic and said that “the six-party process continues to be on track.'


N. Korean nuclear nuclear talks breaks up in disarray (Straits Times Interactive, 22 March 2007)

Japan, India pledged cooperation on maritime security (Straits Times Interactive, 22 March 2007)

Taiwan may drop Mandarin as sole official language (Straits Times, 21 March 2007)

Taiwan to test defences against China in live-fire drills (Channelnewsasia, 21 March 2007)

No common history view with China (Japan Times, 21 March 2007)

Historians steer clear of comfort women issue (Straits Times, 21 March 2007)

North Korea Nuclear Talks Stall Over Release of Frozen Funds (Bloomberg, 21 March 2007)

Chinese President Hu to pay state visit to Russia (People’s Daily, 20 March 2007)

Japan says to do utmost for Chinese premier's visit (People’s Daily, 19 March 2007)