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Leadership changes offer opportunities to rebuild ties

Updated On: Mar 21, 2013

Last week, United States President Barack Obama gave a congratulatory phone call to newly confirmed Chinese President Xi Jinping. This week, the new US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew also visited Beijing, and met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. The fact that the leadership transition in China coincides with a second term for President Obama represents an opportunity for both sides to renew a positive relationship. The fact Japan and South Korea have also elected new governments represents a similar chance to move beyond recent differences.

Analysis: Leadership transitions in China, U.S. offer new hopes for building new-type power relationship [Xinhua, 19 Mar 2013]

In the phone call on 14 March, Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi promised to continue dialogues and exchanges, boost mutual trust, and enhance cooperation - instead of rivalry and confrontation. The sentiment was echoed by Treasury Secretary Lew and Premier Li when they met this week (pictured).

The change in leadership offers the US and China a chance to reset their relationship and cool recent tensions. Coincidentally, the same opportunity is taking place with the other major Northeast Asian powers.

Since taking office, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made efforts to mend relations with China and strengthen ties with the US through his own visit to Washington in February. Mr. Abe has also played up his connection to South Korean President Park Geun-hye – Mr. Abe’s grandfather, former Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, is said to have been a close friend of Ms. Park’s father, General Park Chung-hee.

On her part, Ms. Park has stated she seeks to build closer ties with Japan, in the wake of a diplomatic row that erupted last year over the disputed Takeshima/Dokdo islands and the Japanese military’s taking of “comfort women” in World War II.

The fact the major countries in the Asia-Pacific are working to reconcile their differences is promising, especially now that greater international cooperation is needed to address the issue of North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Following the tightening of UN Sanctions on North Korea at the Security Council, Pyongyang threatened the US last week with a nuclear strike. Most military analysts believe the threat is hollow, as North Korea likely does not have such capability to attack the United States – but South Korea and Japan are naturally at risk.