Author Archives: Graham Webster

Is Yasukuni Really out of the Picture?

The Yasukuni Shrine may be making an exit from the rhetoric of Sino-Japanese tensions. The Chinese ambassador to Japan said in a report published yesterday that China and Japan have “finally overcome this political impediment damaging bilateral relations.”

“The political stalemate has been broken,” the ambassador, Wang Yi, said in an interview with Xinhua. But don’t think this means China will be letting Japan out of the grips of history-infused public diplomacy. If Abe Shinzo decides to visit the shrine—he hasn’t said whether he will—then the Yasukuni rhetoric may make a solid comeback.

Meanwhile, Wang turned to great power competition as a rhetorical frame for China–Japan tensions.

“Many of the conflicts and friction in China–Japan relations in recent years have surfaced over the Yasukuni Shrine issue, but the broader background is that the national strength of both countries has risen to differing degrees,” he said.

Wang also suggested that Tokyo was having trouble accepting China’s emergence as a regional power with trade and political clout.

“A senior Japanese official told me that China’s development and rise is a fact we must face up to, but just as the United States in the 1980s could not adjust to Japan’s rise, now many in Japan are not mentally prepared to accept China’s development,” Wang said.

That’s no joke when you look at recent numbers from the Pew Global Attitudes Project that show populations of Asian states aren’t exactly warm toward their neighbors. Foreign Policy‘s Passport blog interprets the numbers to mean Asians aren’t buying China’s “peaceful rise” narrative (as enunciated primarily by Zheng Bijian). I think that might be a leap of logic, but either way, 70 percent of Japanese and 71 percent of Chinese have unfavorable views of each other. There is no shortage of minds to be changed.

Obvious Headline of the Month

It’s actually been two months since the last time I posted an obvious headline, but this one warrants reviving the tradition. From the ever-insightful Agence France Presse:

China, India, Japan to power Asian economy in 2007

Sure, I mean, there may be something to the story that Asian economies and not the United States are projected to fuel Asia’s largest economies. But is anyone really surprised that two countries with 1 billion-plus populations and one with the second largest economy in the world will power a continent?

Did a U.S.–China Deal Put Chinese Muslims in Guantanamo?

Lawyers for a group of Chinese Muslims detained for nearly five years in the U.S. camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said in court filings the detainees had been imprisoned due to Chinese demands when the Bush administration was looking for support for “regime change” in Iraq.

According to the Washington Post, the lawyers allege that the United States and China struck a deal in 2002 wherein the U.S. government would declare the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM)to be a terrorist group, apparently in exchange for muted Chinese criticism of U.S. Iraq policy.

Calling their clients “long-discarded pawns in a diplomatic match between superpowers,” the attorneys said the detainees had fallen through the cracks. The Post reports, on the other hand, that an unnamed former State Department official said some Uighurs were found to be cooperating with al-Qaida in Tora Bora, Afghanistan. A good summary of the issue on the Council on Foreign Relations website outlines the two arguments:

Why did the United States decide to target the ETIM?

Experts disagree. State Department officials say they took a tougher line because of persuasive new evidence that the ETIM has financial links to al-Qaeda and has targeted American interests abroad. But some experts call the sharp shift in U.S. policy on Xinjiang an obvious bid for warmer relations with China . The United States had repeatedly rebuked China for human rights violations in Xinjiang and resisted linking the post-September 11 war on terrorism with Chinese attempts to quash Uighur separatism. Skeptics note the timing: The Bush administration’s clampdown on the ETIM came as the United States sought to prevent a possible Chinese veto in any U.N. Security Council debate over Iraq, shortly after Chinese officials said they would tighten regulations on the export of missile-related technology (which China has reportedly handed over to countries such as Pakistan and Iran), and before Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s scheduled October 2002 visit to President Bush’s Texas ranch.

But wait a minute, who are these people, and what is East Turkestan anyway? Three times before 1949, between periods of Chinese rule in the area now known as Xinjiang (“New Frontier”) Province, the Uighur ethnic group formed an independent state, and many want it back. The Uighurs speak a language commonly referred to in U.S. academic literature as “Turkic,” and are culturally closer to Central Asian countries than to Beijing. Xinjiang is now the target of a concerted “Hanization” process, where the Chinese government encourages Han Chinese to move out there, out-sizing the Uighur population, which was a majority until a few decades ago, and ETIM has employed violent resistance at times. Just as the U.S. State Department justifies naming ETIM as a terrorist organization, it reports extensive human rights problems in Xinjiang.

The case of these detainees may illuminate some of the politics involved in the Bush administration’s “with us or with the terrorists” stance in the world. The lawyers, working for their clients, paint these Uighurs’ plight as the United States doing China’s bidding, and the U.S. government claims these particular Uighurs are enemy combatants. This may be a case where the appearance of impropriety is as damaging as an actual misdeed.

Japan's 'Arc of Freedom and Prosperity'

Japanese Foreign Minister Aso Taro on Thursday unveiled the new foreign policy rhetoric for Prime Minister Abe’s leadership: the “arc of freedom and prosperity” (自由と繁栄の弧). From Yomiuri Shimbun:

“Another new core policy will be added to the basis of Japan’s diplomacy, strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance and enhancing relations with neighboring countries, including China, South Korea and Russia,” Aso said at a lecture organized by the Japan Institute of International Affairs at a Tokyo hotel.

Aso said the government would:

  • Employ “value diplomacy” that emphasizes “universal values” such as democracy, freedom, human rights, rule of law and a market economy.
  • Be actively involved in establishing the arc of freedom and prosperity, which will connect a band of emerging democracies around the Eurasian continent.

None of this is ground-breaking, but in English, the new “arc” sounds awkwardly similar to the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere (大東亜共栄圏), which isn’t exactly a memory Japan needs to conjure in its neighbors.

China Says Relations With Japan at 'New Starting Point'

Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan, who in September said Abe Shinzo would have to behave himself on the Yasukuni Shrine issue as a precondition for a meeting with the Chinese president after becoming prime minister, told a Japanese minister that China and Japan are at a “new starting point.”

“The two countries have already broken the five-year-long political stalemate and brought bilateral ties to the normal track of development,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted Tang as telling visiting Japanese Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Fuyushiba Tetsuzo.

“Standing at a new starting point, the two sides should work closely to add momentum to the long-term and stable development of their relations,” Tang said. [Reuters]