I read with interest "Sino-Japanese relations slip into deep freeze" in the Financial Times today. China's Vice Premier Wu Yi was to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi yesterday, however he snubbed the Japanese leader at the last minute. This particular row was in response to Mr. Koizumi's annual visit to a Japanese shrine of war dead including war criminals.
Relations between China and Japan are at their lowest in recent memory. Japan's desire for a UN Security Council seat may be the catalyst for China's toughening stance with Japan, from the anti-Japanese protests and rallies in China against Japan last month to diplomatic snubs.
China is building up a nationalistic response internally to Japan within their country, stirring memories of the Second World War. All of this seems confusing, given that Japan on the whole is a rather pacifist society. Given that China has had double digit growth in defense spending for the past decade and, according to a recent RAND study, spends an estimated $65 billion plus on defense, one would think they would be concerned what their well-heeled neighbors think of their growth.
Japan is a pacifist country by any international standard, in stark contrast to its early 20th century role from 1905-1945. If the RAND study above puts Chinese defense spending at 2.8% of GDP (a conservative figure in my opinion), then Japan's recent 1.0% of GDP on defense is a significantly smaller burden. Stoking internal radical anti-Japanese expressions in China may only fuel a Japanese reciprocal response to become more nationalistic and thereby more defense spending driven. Given China's desire to reach some form of parity in the region and to expand its perceived power, encouraging Japan to spend more on high-end naval, missile and air force capability seems foolish.
Japan expanded upon its security agreement with the US to include the defense of Taiwan recently, as Willy Lam of the Jamestown Foundation writes:
"The U.S.-Japan statement referred to the looming threat of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and, most irksome for Beijing, it cited for the first time the maintenance of peace in the Taiwan Strait as a 'common strategic objective' of the allies.. '[The] meeting may mark the end of the extended Beijing-Washington honeymoon which came about because of 9/11,' the source said. 'Even now, of course, Washington requires Chinese help or acquiescence in its dealings with countries, including Iran and North Korea. But Bush seems to have picked up his pre-9/11 agenda of containing China, or at least slowing down its progress toward quasi-superpower status.' And the Chinese are well aware that Rice, who had advised President George H.W. Bush on ways to sink the Soviet Empire, was instrumental in shaping then-presidential candidate Bush's relatively hostile posture toward China."
Japan also is making major moves with India in concert with the US, including $4 billion in economic assistance. Even Singapore and Malaysia recently reversed their positions and are now allowing the US navy to patrol the Malacca Strait, where 25% of the world's oil passes through, and a good portion of China's fuel.
China's radicalism and its stoking the embers of nationalism can only scare neighboring countries. China's recent moves, including the threatening of "non-peaceful means" to reunify Taiwan, can only be seen with a sense of wariness in Tokyo, New Delhi, Canberra and Seoul. All of these democratic nations can afford and are expanding their military capabilities. China would be well advised to walk with a softer footprint.
The question then is "Why is China making poor long-term diplomatic choices?" The answer I believe is to keep domestic pressure away from the current government and focused elsewhere.
Dawn's Early Light Challenge: I invite readers to speculate on your thoughts as to China's diplomatic goals both short and long term in the comment section below.