Sunday, November 23, 2014
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Tipping Points to Asia’s Future

TOKYO – A week, it is said, is a long time in politics. But events in Asia over the past week may define the region for decades to come.

Thailand, one of Asia’s most prosperous countries, seems determined to render itself a basket case. A military coup, imposed following the Thai constitutional court’s ouster of an elected government on spurious legal grounds, can lead only to an artificial peace. Unless Thailand’s military is prepared to serve as a truly honest broker between deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (and her supporters) and the anti-democratic Bangkok elite, which has sought a right to permanent minority rule, today’s calm may give way to a new and more dangerous storm.

To Thailand’s east, Vietnam is the latest Asian country to feel pinched by China’s policy of creating facts on the ground, or in this case at sea, to enhance its sovereignty claims on disputed territory. Vietnam’s government reacted vigorously to China’s placement of a huge, exploratory oilrig near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Ordinary Vietnamese, taking matters into their own hands, reacted even more vigorously, by rioting and targeting Chinese industrial investments for attack.

China’s unilateral behavior has exposed a strain of virulent anti-Chinese sentiment bubbling beneath the surface in many Asian countries. Renewed protests over China’s mining investments in Myanmar this week confirmed this trend, one that China’s leaders seem either to dismiss as trivial, or to regard as somehow unrelated to their bullying. Indeed, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, who faces widespread public antipathy in Ukraine, China’s leaders appear to believe that popular protests against them can only be the product of an American plot.

Yet, despite their shared contempt for expressions of the popular will, China’s President Xi Jinping and Putin struggled, during Putin’s two-day visit to Shanghai, to agree on a new gas deal that the Kremlin desperately needs. Putin had viewed China as his backup option should the West seek to isolate Russia following its annexation of Crimea. Putin’s idea was that he could pivot Russia’s economy into a partnership with China.

But Xi balked, signing the gas agreement only after Putin offered a steep, long-term discount. Xi’s self-confidence reflected not only the Chinese leadership’s contempt for Putin’s mismanagement of the Russian economy, but also the fact that China’s energy worries have lessened considerably of late. Successful deployment of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) technology in Xinjiang suggests that China, like America, will soon be able to draw on its own reserves of shale energy. Moreover, plentiful gas supplies from Myanmar and Central Asia will provide China with sufficient supplies of energy for at least a decade.

China’s hard bargaining with Russia has exposed the limits of the two countries’ bilateral cooperation, which has important geo-strategic consequences for Asia and the world. China, it now seems, is happy to see Putin poke his finger in the West’s eye and challenge America’s global leadership. But it is not willing to underwrite with hard cash Russian pretensions to world power status. Instead, China appears interested in turning Russia into the sort of vassal state that Putin is seeking to create in Ukraine.

But the most epochal events of the last week took place in two of Asia’s great democracies: India and Japan. Narendra Modi’s landslide victory in India’s general election was not only a huge personal triumph for the son of a tea seller, but may well mark a decisive break with India’s traditional inward-looking policies. Modi is determined to reform India’s economy and lead the country into the front rank of world powers.

Here, Modi will find no stauncher ally than Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was among the first Asian leaders to embrace him in his bid to lead India. Given that both countries have almost perfectly aligned regional security interests, there should be plenty of scope for the two to act in tandem to improve regional security and mutual prosperity. Thailand’s crisis might well mark a good early test of their ability to work together, because both countries have strong interests in Thailand’s rapid return to democracy and the credibility needed to act as an honest broker in ending the country’s crisis.

In the past week, Abe created for himself considerably more political space to act as a strategic partner, not only to India, but also to Japan’s other allies, particularly the United States. Quietly, a panel appointed by Abe’s government this week offered a reinterpretation of a key element of Article 9 of Japan’s constitution. For the first time since the Pacific War’s end in 1945, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces would be able to participate in “collective self-defense” – meaning that Japan could come to the aid of its allies should they come under attack.

Of course, China and others in Asia have tried to muddy this change with the alarmist charge of a return to Japanese militarism. But the new interpretation of Article 9 augurs just the opposite: it embeds Japan’s military within an alliance system that has been, and will remain, the backbone of Asia’s prevailing structure of peace. Abe will make this clear when he delivers the keynote address in Singapore at this year’s Shangri La Dialogue, the annual meeting of Asian military and civilian military leaders.

Modi’s victory and Abe’s increased ability to stand by Japan’s allies can help to forge deeper bilateral ties and, if properly understood by China, foster a greater strategic equilibrium in the region. It is now possible for Asia’s greatest powers – China, India, Japan, and the US – to form something akin to the concert system that gave Europe a century of almost complete peace in the nineteenth century.

Of course, such a system would require China to set aside its goal of regional hegemony. Clear-sighted Chinese must already see that, short of a victorious war, such dominance is impossible. Now is the moment for China to anchor its rise within a stable and mutually acceptable Asian regional order. Indeed, for China, this may be the ultimate tipping point in its modernization.

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    1. CommentedGeorge T. Sipos

      As usual, Ms. Koike cannot even pretend to be objective in her analyses. Her partisan position to Mr. Abe's policies makes her an unreliable commentator. Moreover, her unhidden joy over the changes in the status of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution--which do nothing more than open the door for Mr. Abe's long sought-after complete abolition of this thorn in his military wet dreams--can only raise questions over the seemingly innocent conclusion of Ms. Koike's article: a harmonious, well-balanced system of power in Asia, with China, Japan, India (and the US) at the center. But, isn't this the best thing that could happen to Japan's ailing economy, shrinking and aging population, and social tensions? The only true winner of this system would be Japan, while China and India would have to give up their desire for regional hegemony, despite the fact that Japan has never passed the opportunity to dominate the region every chance it got in the past 150 years.

        CommentedYoshimichi Moriyama

        Thank you, Mr. Sipos.
        The old regime of bakufu fell and the new Meiji govenment was established in 1868. Japan set out on building a modern and indrustriazed nation. That Japan made a successful transition in this while China and Korea did not, should not mean that Japan was an imperialist country while China and Korea were pacifist nations. All these countries were thrown into a Darwinian international society and Japan had to do its modern trasformation in this enviornment. Mr. Henry Kissinger says in his On China, "Now with Chinese imperial influence waning, Japan sought to secure a dominant position on the Korean Penisula, and began asserting its own economic and political claims."
        Japan's concern was not an imperialistic desire on the penisula but to stave off the imminent danger of falling victim to and being carve up by Westenrn cannibalism. Japan wanted to set up a kind of international "peoples' front," China and not Japan taking the leadership in this venture. China's response to this was its usual "All is right with the Middle Kingdom" and disparegemen and disdain of Japan. If interesed in a little more of this, please read Michi Moriyama's comments dated Oct. 15, 2010 to www.nytimes.com/nikolas kristof/look out for the diaoyu islands.

        Konoe as prime minister enlisted Matsuoka as foreign minister in July, 1940. Mastuoka was a big-mouthed man of haughtiness. Konoe expected him to put the brakes on the army. Megalomaniac Matsuoka had studied in the United States as a young man. He thought that Japan needed to negotiate with the Unites States from a position of strength because Americans were believers in strength. He said the Great East Asian Co-Prosperity Zone. (The ideas of co-prosperity and Asia Is One date back to the Meiji period.) Konoe found Matsuka not any help but a big barrier in the US-Japanese negotioans under way in Washington, and kiched him out of his cabinet in July, 1941. Matsuoka wailed bitterly at the news of the Pearl Harbor attack in December, saying through tears that he had done an aweful thing.

        Japan was aggressive and China was not in the Sino-Japanese relations from 1868 to 1945. From this a wrong conclusion was drawn in my view. Throughout history the Japanes thought, quite naturally from their experiences, that bonnie things lie over the ocean, and the Chinse thought, quite naturally from their long experiences, that bonnie things lie in the Middle Kingdom and that they are the best in the whole world. Japanese foreign policy has followed international norms (By this I do not say that Japan did not have any imperialistic ambition nor that it did not commit any atrocities.) while Chinese policy has shown reluctance and has maifested its will to act according to the best norms namely Chinese standards.
        No one can tell the future. I do not think that India will go so far as to enter any military alliance but it will go on beefing up relations with Japan, Australia. and so on. I think It knows from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru what sort of a country China is.
        I give support to Abe's security policy. It is not at all Japan's renewed endevour for the Co-Prosperity Zone. Abe's policy is not supported by the editorials of some major American newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. As I said in the name of Morry in my comment to www. thediplomat.com/Yo-Jung Chen/US-Japan Relations and Obama's Vistit to Japan, growing doubt over American commitment, shared anger at revisionist Japan...are opinions hardly shared by policy-makers of the Japanese and the American administration. China and South Korea may well not lke Abe's policy but it is widely welcomed by countries which live in the growing shadow of Chinese dyanatical intention. I think that the United States, Australia and Japan should give more assitance of various kinds so that Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippinse and the like will be better equipped and prepared in maritime and air patrolling and watchfulness and confrontation if neccesary.

        CommentedGeorge T. Sipos

        Mr. Moriyama,
        I appreciate your reply, as well as your passion when it comes to defending Japan. I find it admirable to the extent that it does not obliterate historical facts and precedents that cannot be ignored.
        Now, the popularity of the US and UK culture in post-Meiji Japan (which you mention as a counter-argument to my lines, although its relevance escapes me) does not absolve Japan's appetite for territory which was born out of the desire to emulate precisely the imperialistic giants of the time, the... US and the UK.
        But, I do agree with you, this is not a short conversation, and it can certainly not fit in the small comment boxes we have here. Not to talk about the fact that more informed and more respectable scholars than me have already pointed out the dangers of contemporary Japanese nationalism and militarism. Japan has not lost its appetite for regional domination and, since it has never truly admitted to its war crimes, Mr. Abe's policies are all the more concerning. If we add to that the desperation of a global economy losing its competitive edge against India and China, and all the social problems (poverty, unemployment, rise of nationalism and racism and others that I briefly mentioned in my previous comment), I believe that we have the ingredients for national frustration ready to lead straight into rash decisions. And Mr. Abe is not a stranger to those.
        In the end, I would like to suggest a historical exercise to you, Mr. Moriyama: please refer back to some of the descriptions of the mission and goals of the Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and let me know if you find any similarities with the ideas expressed in Ms. Koike's last two paragraphs of her article (minus the leading role for Japan, of course).

        CommentedYoshimichi Moriyama

        Mr. Sipos,
        This is on the last part of your comment that Japah has never passed the opportunity to dominate the region in the past 150 years.

        Such a small country as Japan engaging in war with such a giant as the United States almost all over East Asia while caught in the quagmire of the continetal war with China would frighten any sane man one.
        I do not intend to say that Japan was a pacifist country nor that it did not have any imperialistic or aggressive policy. I do not think, however, that Japan should be chastised for what it did not do or did not intend to do.
        Japanese foreign policy from 1868 to 1941 was mainly concerned with taking into considerarion the views and interests of the two Anglo-Saxon countries, Great Britain and the United States; Great Britain in the 19th century and the United States in the 20th century. The most popular people or peoples for the pre-war Japanese were perhaps English and Americans. Hard to believe? This is rather not a short story. If interested, please read my reply to Mr. Hettlingen below.

    2. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Ms Yoriko Koike writes: "It is now possible for Asia’s greatest powers – China, India, Japan, and the US – to form something akin to the concert system that gave Europe a century of almost complete peace in the nineteenth century".
      It is merely wishful thinking! First of all, the US is not an Asian country. Its pivot to Asia should play a supporting role, aiding its allies in the region. The kind of "concert system" that Europe had had in the 19th century, may not be adaptable in Asia.
      In the aftermath of social upheavals and the Napoleonic wars, a peace settlement called the Congress of Vienna was drafted, based on traditionalism, legitimism and restoration of monarchy. This gave rise to the "concert system", which secured a chain of antirevolutionary alliances across Europe, led by reactionary leaders, like the Austrian Prince Clemens von Metternich, a dominating player at the Congress. It lasted from November 1814 to June 1815 and divided Europe up, creating a new balance of power, centred on the five great powers - Britain, France, Prussia, Habsburg Austria and Russia. These conservative principles were shared by the British Viscount Castlereagh, the French Prince de Telleyrand and the Russian tsar Alexander I. They were meant to uphold hereditary monarchy as the only lawful rule and to restore monarchs ousted after 1789.
      It's true that the "concert system" had brought relative peace to Europe and enabled cooperation between monarchs, based on a vague consensus that favoured preservation of status quo, with strings attached: the responsibility and right to intervene and impose collective will on states, that were threantened by domestic unrest.
      The system survived for most of the 19th century, thanks to consultations among the great powers. Yet it had been disrupted by many uprisings and the Revolutions of 1848, which had been put down by reactionary forces, with little reforms made.
      In 1867 the Austro-Hungarian empire was formed. The year 1871 saw the unifications of both Italy and Germany as nation-states from smaller principalities. The Congress of Berlin in 1878 had tried to sort out the Balkans, with Montenegro, Serbia and Romania seeking independence.
      Modern Europe with its Union is unthinkable without the Roman Empire. Over the past 2.000 years, Europe had shared same civilisation, sources of religions, ideals of humanism and social achievements. Europeans had been collective victims of murderous, political ideologies and wars. They cooperate and export their scientific inventions, styles of architecture, fashions, art, music, literature, sports and much more. All from a continent that makes up about 7 per cent of the world’s land surface.
      While the EU is seen by many as a monolith, Asia lacks an equivalent. The very different countries that make up the ASEAN group - Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam - share little in common and they can't always agree on all the policies necessary to forge closer ties. Their ambitious goal of economic integration is a single market of sorts, which could eventually rival the European Union's single market. The three great powers - China, India, Japan - are rivals. They all try to woo or dominate other countries in the region,
      The "concert sytem" that Europe had had, "would require China to set aside its goal of regional hegemony" and Japan to rethink its "reinterpretation of a key element of Article 9 of Japan’s constitution. Indeed mutual trust is a rare commodity among nations in Asia. It's an irony, given the alleged amount of oil and gas in the region.

        CommentedYoshimichi Moriyama

        You know a lot. I agree to most of what you said here, or not to all you said. From "Japan is required to rethink its reinterpetation...," I feel you may have a commonly held prejudice about Japan's past. No country is so much misinterpreted as Japan as far ar the World War II is concerned.

        Nazi Germany wanted to occupy all of Eastern Europe and Russia and subjugate and exploit the Slav people as slaves. Japan wanted to avoid war with the United States and the United Kingdon. It also wanted to withdraw from mainland China, though with some special interests assured.

        I would like you to read, if interested, my four comments to www.yaleglobal.yale.edu/Alistair Burnett/War Drums in Asia: Back to the European Future?.

        If also interested in Hirohito, read my comments to project-syndicate/Nouriel Roubini/Global Ground Zero in Aisa.

    3. CommentedJeff GE

      Good analysis.

      I disagree a bit with the conclusion, though. The building of an Asian version of the convert system requires the confidence building from all four countries, China, India, Japan and US. By placing the burden on China alone is NOT the starting point. Japan must stop its revisionism of the WWII history and US should not treat the pacific as one of its own lakes.

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