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July 17, 2009

Are Japan, China and Koreas fatal foes? Why not form a community in 20 years?

An invitation to a “North-East Asian Community” in 20 years
(published in "Japanese Economic Journal", July 11)
By Akio Kawato

There is no avoiding preconceived ideas. Case in point; the assertion that Japan, China and South Korea cannot build mutual friendly relations because of historical animosity. Due to modern history, Japan has every reason to feel indebted to China and South Korea. We as Japanese shall never forget the need to atone for our past sins.

On the other hand, from now on these three world economic powerhouses should try to create a framework for coexistence and co-prosperity. Economic relations between the three countries have become very close. Japanese companies export machineries, tools, parts and other intermediary goods to China and South Korea and they export the final manufactured goods to the United States, Europe and Japan.

Though people have different mentalities in each three countries, to a great extent they share a sense of modesty, compassion and other Confucianism virtues.

May be more important is that the three countries’ young people more or less share modern lifestyles and cultures. Japanese bookstores sell many kinds of magazines specialized for “Kanryuu” South Korean style trends, while across Asia Japanese animation movies and J-Pop songs are highly popular. In the similarity of their easy-going and cheerful manners, it is now hard to tell apart the young people of Japan, China and South Korea.Moreover, the countries’ big cities now seem to have common faces, sometimes making it hard for travelers to figure out where they really are.

Also, many Chinese international political and economic experts try to develop their country through international cooperation and maintaining the status quo, refraining from self-assertive and unilateral approach.

With trends toward “global thinking” South Koreans try to consider not just problems concerning their country and Korean Peninsula reunification but also other world issues. Contributing to resolving these issues became conspicuous among international political and economic experts after BAN Ki-moon assumed the UN Secretary-General post.

At the same time, there is rivalry in Northeast Asia, especially in politico-military relations between the United States and China, and between Japan and China. Left unchecked, Northeast Asia is in danger of becoming the largest stage for a world arms race. Outer forces may stoke “historical perception issue” fires to drive a wedge between Japan and China and between Japan and South Korea with the target to sell arms and dominate the Chinese market.

Such a rivalry is utterly unwanted and unproductive. Instead, we should emphasize that maintaining the regional status quo and upholding the principle of global free trade would make it possible to upgrade Northeast Asian countries peoples’ welfare for many years to come.

We need to further consolidate forward-looking progress seen so far and create, for example, a “Northeast Asian Community” system assuring further development. Such a system would not come into being in a short time. But with such a goal, even with a 20 or 30-year timeline, a groundswell of sentiment should emerge in favor of solving every problem that breaks out in northeast Asia.What type of community should be created would need discussion. But the very discussion process would create forward-looking momentum. Basically, such a community would not be as elaborate as the present European Union (EU). But it should involve both economic relations and security problems.

For economic relations, an arrangement similar to a free trade agreement is needed among the three countries. Security problems require a concrete arrangement to prevent an arms expansion race. With participation of the United States participation we may ponder about achieving an arrangement for disarmament, taking a model in European CSF (Conventional Forces in Europe) that targets fixing the conventional forces balance between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Russia.

The world is changing fast. But we do not expect a United States downfall, as the country finds it increasingly difficult to act unilaterally. A conspicuous trend is that mainstream world powers tend to be mega-states, each with a large population and multi-racial. Eighteenth century type nation-states are slowly disappearing from history‘s mainstream.

Similar to small and medium-sized airline companies forming alliances one after another, Japan is entering an age when it should cluster with its neighboring countries and create a closely-knit network with mega-states and other clusters in order to survive.In 20 or 30 years, North Korea should develop into a state that could join a Northeast Asian community. The headquarters of such a community could be in a regional geographical center such as Seoul or Pyongyang, as the European Union headquarters is in Brussels. A South Korean with experience in running the United Nations could surely sort out problems arising from Sino-Japanese rivalry graciously.

Summit meetings of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference (APEC) will be held in Japan in 2010 and the United States in 2011. The world should move in a forward-looking manner if these two APEC meetings are to trigger clusters forming such as a Northeast Asia Community and similar arrangements in ASEAN and the Americas (ASEAN is already well advanced in this regard). All participants should also confirm mutually beneficial relations, which have been upheld in Asia mainly thanks to postwar efforts of the USA, that is free trade and maintenance of the status quo. This may sound like a daydream, but it is surely better than preconceived ideas.


Author: john bush | June 6, 2010 8:30 AM

This article raised a number of interesting points. Your observation of the increasing fusion of popular cultures among the three nations was reinforced by our recent experience in Akasaka and Taipei. The idea that Japan's primary economic relationship with the other two is in a way analogous to that between Germany and the rest of Europe is significant because it implies that Japan must invest heavily in workforce training, education and research as Germany has done to maintain that relationship. Why do you think that the United States' military presence is so imperative that the US is willing to risk bringing down the Japanese government to maintain its Okinawa base? Is it because of a real fear of Chinese military adventurism? Or a residue of the Cold War which inertia keeps in place? Or an attempt to maintain control of the region as part of a scheme of global hegemony? Or something else?

Author: Akio Kawato | June 6, 2010 11:22 PM

Dear John
Thank you for looking into such an old item.
First of all Hatoyama was not brought down because of the U.S., but because his party members strongly demanded it. They said that with him on the top they will not win in the coming election.

As regards the American forces, Japan and ASEAN countries today are even more eager to keep them in order to maintain the status quo in the region. Without these forces China will not refrain from using their armed forces as a political means. The cultural convergence would not help here.

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