Instead of working more closely together to jointly deal with the nuclear crisis started by North Korea’s missile tests, differences on how to approach the latter have further strained relations between China, Japan and South Korea.
The nuclear-turned-diplomatic crisis has “strengthened Japanese nationalism, which in the long term is not beneficial to Sino-Japanese ties” according to an international relations expert. Observers also say that the crisis has increased the likelihood of hawkish Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe succeeding Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi next month.
The Japan Defense Agency’s 2006 white paper released recently pinpointed not only North Korea as a threat to Japan, but also highlighted trends in Chinese military developments as worrying and called on China for greater transparency in defence and military capabilities. For the first time, the defence white paper included a graphic showing the range of China’s ballistic missiles. The white paper also said that Japan needs to focus on trends of the Chinese naval vessels as well as aircraft of the Chinese navy and air force flying near Japan airspace. It criticizes China for its failure to provide information on its rapidly expanding military spending, and pointing out that Beijing’s defense budget has grown 13-fold in the past 18 years.
In its Defence white paper, Japan reiterated the importance of its military ties with the US, and highlighted the joint development of the missile defence system with the US.
Besides the earlier disagreement with Japan on the handling of North Korea, these further developments certainly are not helpful for improving bilateral relations between China and Japan that been strained for quite some time now. A long-awaited Chinese invitation to the Japanese Foreign Minister to visit China has yet to materialize.
China is concerned that Mr. Koizumi will make his annual pilgrimage to the controversial Yasukuni shrine on Aug 15 (a date marking the 61st anniversary of the end of the war) and is not prepared to receive Foreign Minister Mr. Aso until the sensitive date has passed without a shrine visit from Mr. Koizumi, according to analysts.
The rift in relations between the two countries is witnessed not just diplomatically but also between the youths in both countries, according to a recent Reuters report. The report, through interviews with young Japanese and Chinese, noted how they looked at each other, and their differing perceptions of history. The concern is whether such differences can be bridged or they may worsen as the youths grow up.
On the South Korean front, the nuclear crisis has also dashed the warming relations between the two Koreas for the last couple of years as the two reached a number of agreements on economic cooperation and military confidence building.
North and South Korean troops had exchanged gunfire (a violation of the armistice) along the heavily fortified Demilitarize Zone on Monday night with no injury reported. This came after North Korea halted several projects with the South, including the reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
In response to the missile launches, South Korea had earlier suspended rice shipments to North Korea in protest. In a report yesterday, North Korea is now facing a food crisis as its key farming regions were hit by heavy flooding in recent weeks. Most of the other aid groups were kicked out of North Korea last after the government cited better harvest and ‘intrusive monitoring’ by aid workers.
The endless problems and crisis on Northeast Asia had served notice at the Asean Regional Forum last week in Kuala Lumpur prompting foreign ministers to stress that East Asia remains a dangerous place, and that their governments must work together to combat a variety of threats.
China keeps Aso waiting for invitation (Straits Times, 1 Aug 2006)
Defense report rips N. Korean missiles (The Asahi Shimbun, 2 Aug 2006)
Paper hits North’s missiles, China buildup (Japan Times, 2 Aug 2006)
Japan stresses importance of military ties with US in White Paper (Channel News Asia, 1 Aug 2006)
Rift in relations between youths in China and Japan (Straits Times/Reuters, 31 July 2006)