POINT OF VIEW/ Kumiko Haba: Japan-China reconciliation is key to unified Asia
The Asahi Shimbun – 16/01/2010
In October, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama stated his vision to create an East Asian community while addressing a summit meeting of East Asian nations in Thailand.
The concept of an East Asian community has been proposed a number of times in the past, by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, among other leaders. However, this is the first attempt by Japan, which has traditionally based its foreign policy on its alliance with the United States, to shift its axis of diplomacy on its Asian neighbors while trying to maintain an equal partnership with the United States.
The initiative is significant because the region is home to more than half of the world’s population. The community has the potential to attain growth and development that could enable it to surpass the European Union.
As a specialist on an enlarged EU comprising 27 nations, I have been studying with interest the concept of an East Asian community for the past 10 years. I wish to take this opportunity to address the following three points.
First, I wish to call attention to the argument that the starting point of an East Asian community is prosperity based on Japan-China reconciliation, in other words historic reconciliation of two formerly opposing major powers within the region. During the postwar period, the two nations have failed to settle their war-related problems, with the result that rifts in their relations have flared from time to time. We should note that the former European Community was built on reconciliation between Germany and France, which were bitter enemies during World War II.
“Why don’t Japanese and Chinese leaders embrace each other in Nanjing?” I was asked by Robert Frank, director of the Institute of International Relations at the University of Paris, who specializes in European integration.
Reconciliation between Japanese and Chinese leaders in Nanjing would symbolize the end to the history of rivalry and prove indispensable to advancing the initiative for an East Asian community. First, the leaders would have to shake hands at the site of the historic conflict. From there, both sides would need to seek concrete solutions.
Second, Japan, China and South Korea should cooperate and aim at building a multilayered, loose community with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the core. East Asia is a region with diverse political and social systems. It has many religions and comprises diversified ethnic groups. Economic conditions vary from country to country. Given the circumstances, it should fall to ASEAN to bring the region together. Japan and China should do away with their struggle for hegemony and aim to realize an expansive common market that includes India as well. The goal can be attained without being at loggerheads with the United States.
The third point is how to create a common currency. In Japan, the Finance Ministry and the Institute for International Monetary Affairs have been studying the introduction of a currency basket system under which currencies of nations in the region will be linked to a basket of major currencies, such as the dollar, the euro, the yen and the yuan. The idea should be pushed forward.
The introduction of such a system would enhance the stability of regional currencies to better cope with financial crises and bolster international competitiveness. When I explained the concept to an international conference of the EU, it attracted wide attention.
The Cold War ended 21 years ago. During this time, global frameworks underwent drastic changes while Japan kept clinging to the Japan-U.S. alliance with the rallying cry that the Cold War had “not ended in Asia.”
The United States and China have become much closer. Western policy-makers are trying to forge ties with China in response to the expected shift to the Group of Two (G-2) framework by the United States and China or the G-3 framework involving those two countries plus Europe.
Emerging economic powers Brazil, Russia, India and China, which are collectively referred to as BRICs, are also significantly increasing their presence on the world stage. With the incorporation of East European nations, the EU is expanding its energy cooperation with Russia and the Middle East, transcending differences in political, social and economic systems.
Also, in order to avoid isolation, Japan should actively work with its Asian neighbors to give shape to the concept of an East Asian community.
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