East Asia’s New Year Resolutions

SEOUL – If World War III ever breaks out, its origins will not lie in the Middle East, South Asia, or Eastern Europe. It is in East Asia – where the strategic interests of China, the United States, and their respective partners intersect – that the geopolitical stakes, diplomatic tensions, and potential for a global explosion are highest.

Because it is so obviously in every player’s interest to avoid outright conflict, we have stony handshakes like that between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Beijing last month. But if there is to be a genuinely durable peace, the region’s leaders need to work harder and more courageously to achieve it. Each of them could pursue game-changing initiatives if only they could summon the necessary statesmanship.

So, here – in a spirit of supreme, but perhaps not totally naive, optimism – are the 2015 New Year’s resolutions that I would most like each of East Asia’s leaders to make.

Xi Jinping: “I will make it clear that any territorial claims we have in the South China Sea are based only on reasonable assertions of sovereignty over particular land features and the rights that accompany them under the Convention on the Law of the Sea. I will stop talking about our ‘historical waters,’ and order the removal of the ‘nine-dashed’ line from the map in Chinese passports.