The Japan Forum on International Relations invited Chinese ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua to give a lecture on Sino-Japanese relations on October 13. Ambassador Cheng delivered the White Paper on “The Peaceful Development of China” to all attendants at the symposium, which was released by the State Council of China on September 6 this year. Cheng told that the development of China contributes to public interest of the world, and China and Japan should strengthen the bilateral relationship starting from the economy regardless of differences in political regime and ideology. As the Sino-Japanese relationship is an issue of high public attention these days, numerous questions were asked at the symposium. I was deeply impressed with Ambassador Cheng’s attitude to answer every question, including some minor points. However, is Chinese policy so “peaceful”, “win-win”, and “without being hegemonic” as the White Paper says? Also, most of the questions at the Q & A session were too “friendly”, considering current bilateral relations between Japan and China. But for real Sino-Japanese mutual understandings, some severe questions could have been helpful. Therefore, I would like to ask the following four questions.
First, I would like to ask a question about China’s “”understanding of history” and “vision of East Asia”. An increasing number of people in China, raging from intellectuals to grassroots citizens, argue that China restore the position before the Opium War, in view of its growing national power. Prior to the Opium War, China treated its neighbors as tributary states to the emperor of the Middle Kingdom in the Ce Feng system. The war broke out between Britain and China, because the Qing dynasty did not accept equal free trade. Considering this point, I suspect that China claims aggressively hegemonic status in the world much more than Britain and America which respect the Westphalia system.
Such suspicion has grown, because Ambassador Cheng focused on “China, Japan, South Korea + ASEAN” when he talked about regional cooperation, bit did not mention Australia and New Zealand. Also, as in the case of Europe, American support is indispensible for regional cooperation in Asia. Any argument that is obsessed with regional integration by “China, Japan, South Korea + ASEAN” reminds me of creation of “the union of Mongoloid nations” and “exclusion of Caucasian nations”. If this is the case, no one can blame that people regard China’s initiative for regional cooperation as the return of old Ce feng regime. None of east Asian nations want such regional cooperation.
Second, I would like to ask which is more important for China, global public interest or great power rivalries. A specific test for this question is nuclear nonproliferation, and it is necessary to examine China’s policy to Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan in particular .With regard to Iran and North Korea, China participates in international negotiations to denuclearize both countries, but it is reluctant to impose sanctions on them. As to North Korea, it is broadly believed among Japanese people that China is much keener on maintaining the Kim regime rather than finding solutions to the nuclear problem. In addition, China helped Iran’s project to build a nuclear power plant, and along with Russia, it continually oppose the initiative to strengthen sanctions proposed by the United States, Britain, France, and Germany. It appears to me that China is more interested in preserving oil resource and geopolitical rivalries with the West than nuclear nonproliferation.
More problematic issue is Pakistan. As if matching India that has reached nuclear deals with foreign contractors, starting from the United States, other industrialized countries, and even Russia, China signed a nuclear deal with Pakistan. This does not just intensify nuclear rivalries between India and Pakistan. Pakistan is in critical trouble in view of nuclear proliferation to terrorists. In the past, there was the Khan network, and recently, bin Laden hid there, and a suspicion has emerged that ISI assisted the Haqqani network to attack the US embassy. Unlike India, Pakistan is in no position of boasting that it has never proliferated nuclear weapons. Since China signed a nuclear deal with such problematic Pakistan, we cannot but watch Beijing with suspicion that its priority lies in geopolitical rivalries with the United States and India rather than global public interest.
Japan is the only country that experienced nuclear bomb attacks. Can we dismiss this, and strengthen the Sino-Japanese relationship simply in pursuit of shortsighted commercial interests? An issue like global warming is also a vital agenda of international public interest as many questions on this problem were asked at the symposium, but the threat of it proceeds slowly. On the other hand, the threat of nuclear weapons proceeds rapidly, once a new possessor emerges. This is the reason why I am asking about China’s policy on nuclear nonproliferation to test the real meaning of “peaceful development” mentioned in the White Paper concretely.
Third, relations with the United States were hardly mentioned when the ambassador told about China’s global and East Asian policy. However, whether regional level or global level, it is impossible to tell Sino-Japanese relations without referring to America. The question I wanted to ask was how China sees the presidential election in the United States next year. Currently, the territorial dispute over Senkaku Islands is calmed down, and China refrains from provoking its neighbors in the sea around the homeland. Is this because China takes US presidential election into account? Actually, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton contributes an article to Foreign Policy November issue to insist on closer relations with Asia. US-Chinese relations will be increasingly influential in Japanese-Chinese relations.
Fourth, though Ambassador Cheng mentioned that Chinese media are diversified these days, can people assert that there are no governmental regulations to the freedom of speeches and expressions? The Nobel Prize Liu Xiaobo has drawn worldwide attentions. In Japan, an Uyghur liberation activist Tur Muhhammet lives in exile. In the China Town of Ikebukuro in Tokyo, there are some Falun Gong activists. At most, if Ambassador Cheng had said that governmental regulations to speeches and expressions were not so severe as reported by foreign media, then, we would be able to be able to believe what he said.
These are questions I wanted to ask at the symposium, but I am afraid that they are not “severe“ enough as I mentioned at the beginning, and “so sweet as a soft cream”. Above all, the focal point of my questions is which is more important for China, global public interest or great power rivalries. The second question on nuclear issues, particularly relations with Pakistan, is the critical test in my view. It is absolutely wrong to assume that Sino-Japanese relations can advance only through depending on superficial friendship and mere pursuit of economic interests. Business cycle is a universal and basic theory of economics. Therefore, high economic growth does not necessarily guarantee further development of regional cooperation in East Asia.
Finally, I would like to express my heartfelt respect to Ambassador Cheng Yonghua as he replied to every question deeply and politely. No wonder the time had run out, and some attendants and I were not endowed opportunities to ask questions. Though there are many hurdles to improve bilateral relations, I am impressed with sincere attitudes of Ambassador Cheng Yonghua, which strongly suggest that China wants to develop relations with Japan. Therefore, the last symposium was very helpful to deepen understandings on the Sino-Japanese relationship.