The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research


The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research

Japan-China Next-Generation Dialogue: Project Leaders’ Joint Statement

June 12, 2012

The Aim of the Japan-China Next Generation Dialogue

The Japan-China Next Generation Dialogue aims to generate new intellectual exchange among young and mid-career “next generation” security experts in both countries. The “next generations” in Japan and China are shouldering an age when the power balance in the Asia-Pacific Region is undergoing a dynamic shift, and the regional security outlook is growing somewhat uncertain.

To maintain regional security cooperation and boost stability, peace, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific, young generations of Japanese and Chinese should take significant responsibility for security, peace, and cooperation between Tokyo and Beijing, and apply their expertise to better serve their counties.

Particularly, China’s ascendancy is dramatically changing the geopolitical landscape, bringing together opportunities and challenges in regional and global security affairs. Japan’s foreign and security policies are seeking new orientations to adapt to the new reality of this power shift. The timing of this dialogue could not have been better for both sides to explore, with full sincerity and enthusiasm, the ways Japan and China can increase mutual understanding and strive toward desirable policy cooperation.

The Japan-China relationship is also experiencing a historical turning point. In 2010, China surpassed Japan’s nominal GDP and became the world’s second-largest economy. Japan-China economic interdependence has deepened to an unprecedented level, as shown by vibrant private-sector trade and investment and dramatically increasing people-to-people exchange.

As the two largest powers in Asia, the countries have upgraded their bilateral relations to promote a “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests” in May 2008 with a recognition that the Japan-China relationship is “one of the most important bilateral relationships for each of the two counties.”

Despite the growing shared recognition of the need to promote cooperation, Japan and China still face serious strategic challenges. US security relations and the country’s military presence in Asia, with the Japan-US alliance as a cornerstone, could trigger a security dilemma between China and the US if their strategic goals are not shared. Japan-China relations often fall into tension and distrust over defense and security policies, historical recognition, disputing and contending claims over the East China Sea gas fields, and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Bilateral tensions over the fishing boat collision incident in September 2010 have proven that there are few mechanisms for crisis management and escalation control between Tokyo and Beijing.

Moreover, given China’s long-term military modernization, the gap in military spending between Toyo and Beijing will become increasingly wide. Japanese anxiety about China’s military building, strategic intentions, and the potential for military conflict on disputing issues will grow, and, in turn, fuel the bitter domestic debate in Japan about national security strategy. In addition, the lack of military transparency will be a big concern for Japan.

In these respects, as the two leading powers in Asia, it is highly important for security experts in Japan and China to exchange views and to discuss prospects for regional security in the coming age. We envisioned that our dialogue should go beyond ordinary exchanges between Japan specialists in China and China specialists in Japan.

The Next-Generation Security Dialogue has the following unique features. It engages young and mid-career security and strategy experts in both countries in an attempt to forge a new bilateral security policy community. In order to enhance candid discussion, the working language of this project was English. The agenda of this dialogue is primarily strategy-driven, identifying perspectives of the dynamic power shift in the Asia-Pacific, existing security risks, and the roles of various security arrangements and institutions. The agenda also aims to focus on Japan’s and China’s security strategy and doctrine, approaches to specific regional issues, and the management of Japan-China security relations. The goal of the dialogue is to forge our perspectives on mid- and long-term prospects for bilateral and regional strategic outlooks.

The Japan-China Next Generation Dialogue is jointly organized by the Asia Security Project, Tokyo Foundation and the Center for International and Strategic Studies, Peking University. The project consists of six experts from each country who are capable of addressing the above issues. The project members held the first workshop in Beijing on November 19-20, 2011, and a second workshop in Tokyo on January 29-30, 2012, followed by a public symposium.

The Summary of Discussions and Policy Recommendations

Power Shift and Power Transition: The Case for the Asia-Pacific Region

At two intensive workshops in Beijing and Tokyo, both the Japanese and Chinese project members engaged in serious discussions on strategic perspectives in the Asia-Pacific region. The discussion began with envisioning the long-term strategic outlook in Asia, by contrasting Japanese and Chinese views of the future balance of power. Members on both sides agreed that a historical power shift is underway with the rapid ascendance of China, although America’s primacy both at the regional and global levels will still be intact for at least the coming decade.

Against this background, some members stressed that unlike the realists’ premise that serious security competition between the US and China will be inevitable, Chinese economic relations with the US and other key regional players are highly interdependent and avoiding confrontation and enhancing mutual benefits are matters of “forced choice.”

At the same time, many pointed out that since strategic stability among the major powers has yet to be realized, unfounded perceptions of intentions and capabilities might rapidly lead to a classic security dilemma. Some pointed out that projections of future security transactions among regional powers might not be linear. The future of the US presence in this region, China’s ascendance, the situation in Korean Peninsula, maritime security in the Asia-Pacific, Japan’s roles in Asia are key factors that need careful policy management amidst the power shift in the Asia-Pacific.

Likewise, Japan-China security relations deserve special attention, as the effect of security dilemmas might be more negative considering that the political impasse that has endured for years will lock the mutual ties in a state of hollow trust.

US Strategic Pivot in Asia and US-China-Japan Relations

The Beijing and Tokyo workshops highlighted regional strategic trends, including China’s rising diplomatic assertiveness since 2010 and US reengagement in Asia as a strategic pivot in 2011. Many Chinese members expressed concern that the US trajectory for the pivot in Asia was a strategy to persuade or compel China through “strategic encirclement” in Asia. Despite US denials of any intention to contain China, there is growing distrust between Washington and Beijing, and perceptions of a security dilemma are emerging. Japanese members responded that Japan welcomes US moves to enhance its security commitment in Asia to augment the regional capacity for soft-balancing China.

Although momentum for a Chinese counter-offensive against the US remains, some Chinese members suggested with reflection that the US-China competition for winning the “hearts and minds” of the region should be prioritized. At the same time, some asserted that the inevitability of a bilateral confrontation must not be turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, the US announcement of a pivot to Asia is unlikely to trigger an escalation of tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The White House has attempted to persuade Chinese leaders that it has no plans at all to “contain China,” that it is instead a “rebalancing” move. Beijing seems relatively calm and does not intend to fall into the exchange of fire. But in the middle run, it’s unclear how far the US will go with this new pivot posture and to what extent Beijing will spontaneously react to new US moves.

Northeast Asia Regional Cooperation

The sudden death of Kim Jong-Il and the transition of power to young Kim Jong-Un have created a new uncertainty in Northeast Asia. Project members in both countries shared the view that the interim succession process in North Korea is proceeding without serious trouble. Although short-term internal control is likely to be sustained, whether North Korea consolidates its governance under the new leadership is still unclear.

There have been few signals from North Korea that it will propose major changes in its external policy. Chinese participants claimed that China’s priority remains that North Korea take steps for denuclearization. However, China also has little choice but to support the North Korean regime, since the stability of its neighbor is critical to avoiding an anticipated contingency.

Japanese members proposed that building a crisis management mechanism on the Korean Peninsula, maintaining the six-party talks, and enhancing Japan-China-Korea trilateral cooperation are the key. A Chinese member responded that despite China’s continued reluctance to presume instability, the opportunity among the US, South Korea, and Japan to discuss how to prevent a humanitarian crisis should be explored for every possible eventuality.

Both Chinese and Japanese experts strongly contended that Tokyo and Beijing should maintain closer contact to build a consensus on how to act and react over the DPRK issue. Denuclearization would not be achieved until the DPRK’s behavior decisively changes, and the most reclusive country in the world will ultimately need to redirect its policy to reform and open up. No one should underestimate the potential of Pyongyang’s implosion or its recourse to more provocative actions. Keeping China and Japan cooperating is a significant part of effectively managing any Korean crisis.

Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation and Maritime Security

Since the end of the Cold War, the Asia-Pacific region has witnessed the evolution of regional institutions, including APEC, ARF, ASEAN+3, EAS, and ADMM Plus. Despite a significant increase in the number of institutions, they have played a limited role in regional security due to the lack of progress in their functional development.

A Japanese participant recommended that Japan and China need to take collaborative actions to strengthen practical confidence-building measures, preventive diplomacy, and effective rules on maritime security, especially in the South China Sea. A Chinese participant responded that while there was a need for a rule-based security order in the Asia-Pacific, the immediate concession of sovereignty among the concerned members in the South China Sea was also unlikely. One argued that interpretations and applications of international rules, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), are inconsistent among states, which makes it difficult to introduce a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

A Japanese member commented that Japan has significant commercial and security interests in the South China Sea, as well as an interest in how rules for maritime security can be consolidated. Another also mentioned that the progress of diplomatic agreements between China and ASEAN are showcasing the region’s capacity to develop a peaceful maritime order.

Japan-China Bilateral Security Relations

Members eventually dealt with agendas for Japan-China bilateral security relations. Both at the Beijing and Tokyo workshops, we spent a whole session to mutually discuss the defense policies of Japan and China. Japanese members described the new direction of Japan’s defense policy with the introduction of the “dynamic defense” concept in the latest National Defense Program Guideline (NDPG). Chinese members explained China’s conception of regional security and the goals and tasks of China’s national defense policy.

Another session was spent identifying an agenda for Japan-China security relations. One Japanese member asserted that there was a need for a crisis management mechanism that includes safety standards shared among units of maritime authorities and stronger political connection between Beijing and Tokyo. In order to create such a mechanism, domestic and bilateral coordination to identify communication counterparts are urgent tasks for both governments. A Chinese member responded that in order to avoid the mismanagement of bilateral disputes, more frequent exchanges among political leaders and wider societies, including experts and the media, are essential.

Both sides recognized the need to explore opportunities to advance cooperation, especially in managing security on the Korean Peninsula, regional maritime safety, and nontraditional security issues. Members of both sides also agreed that there is a huge potential for Japan-China bilateral security cooperation, which has yet to be fully exploited.

Policy Suggestions for Governments of Japan and China

The primary purpose of the Japan-China Next Generation Dialogue was not to rashly formulate a joint statement and provide policy recommendations. Rather, we aimed to exchange views on regional security, identifying strategic issues for both countries, and to lay out what might be our next steps for the future.

Nevertheless, insights and lessons we have learned from the two workshops were enormous. In calibrating the future directions of Japan-China security relations, the co-leaders of the Dialogue would like to offer interim policy suggestion for both governments. We would recommend for Japan and China to:

Consolidate Mechanisms for “Sustainable Co-existence”

In our bilateral relations, the reality of deep economic interdependence is often overlooked by nationalistic sentiments over political disputes. It is highly important for Japan and China to overcome this strategic mismatch. At the top leaders’ political level, frequent exchanges and mutual visits are indispensable. The forming of new “Japan-China hands” consisting of key stakeholders in both governments that reflect the new realities of domestic politics is necessary. Exchanges among defense and maritime authorities, including the creation of mechanisms for crisis management in the East China Sea, should be enhanced. Calling for moderation in the media within both countries is also important to fill the gaps in the strategic mismatch. Finally, security experts in both countries should play key roles to lead concepts, agendas, and suggestions for desirable Japan-China security relations.

Mutually Embrace Expanding Regional and Global Roles

The regional and global roles played by Japan and China have an immense influence on peace and stability. Due to different geostrategic, economic, and historical backgrounds, Japan’s and China’s policy priorities, interests, and the methods employed to advance their diplomatic agendas in the Asia-Pacific often take different paths and directions. These are often viewed as examples of bilateral diplomatic rivalry over the issues of security, economy, development, and regional rule-makings.

While avoiding unnecessary diplomatic friction, we propose that Japan and China should mutually understand and embrace expanding regional and global roles. Japan’s increased efforts for defense modernization, maintaining of a sound US-Japan alliance, building of regional security ties, and global peacekeeping efforts should be understood to serve common security interests. Likewise, understanding China’s defense modernization based on its strategic concerns, China’s commitment for the security of the Korean Peninsula, China’s proactive, enhanced security cooperation with its neighbors, and strengthened regional ties would also provide a positive foundation for regional security. Mutual understanding and embracement are possible if both countries recognize these efforts are reasonable and not overt challenges to each other’s security interests. Based on mutual respect, embracing the enhanced security roles played by Japan and China in the Asia-Pacific is a key for the successful development of bilateral strategic relations.

Build and Materialize Strategic Relations for Peace and Stability in Asia

As the two largest players in Asia, the power and influence of Japan and China when the two countries collaborate in joint actions should not be underestimated. In this regard, we propose that our current relations based on a “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests” should be further upgraded.

Japan and China can intensify strategic dialogue to exchange views and advance cooperation regarding the Korean Peninsula, including on crisis management. The two countries can seek to create maritime safety platforms in Asia that can become regional strategic assets for freedom of navigation. Japan and China can also advance its cooperation on energy security. Bilateral collaboration on non-traditional security, including disaster relief, combating terrorism and transnational organized crime, and maritime safety, needs to be further exploited. Japan and China should jointly promote capacity building in other Asian states as a means of advancing their own security efforts. These efforts can contribute to building collective regional capacity to deal with intra-regional security in the future.

Both countries also need to cultivate ideas for a desirable regional security architecture in Asia. In this regard, US-China-Japan trilateral strategic dialogue should be realized and implemented as soon as possible. Nevertheless, strengthening military-to-military relations and enhancing frequent contacts between defense departments will be a key step for Tokyo and Beijing to establish their strategic relationship. Despite stumbling blocks along the way, both sides should commit themselves to advancing military exchange and defense cooperation. For this, it is necessary for China and Japan to advance both official and semi-official strategic dialogues.

February 28, 2012

Ken Jimbo                                                            Zhu Feng
Research Fellow, Tokyo Foundation                 Professor, Peking University
Associate Professor, Keio University

  • Areas of Expertise
    International and Asia-Pacific security, East Asian regionalism, Japan’s foreign and security policy
    • Professor, Peking University
    • Feng Zhu
    • Feng Zhu

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