Japan is China’s partner and no longer its aid donor, says Abe

29-Oct-2018 Intellasia | New York Times | 6:00 AM Print This Post

It has been eight years since China overtook Japan as the world’s second-largest economy. Yet the Japanese government has continued to provide China with development assistance usually reserved for poorer countries. Until now.

In Beijing for the first official visit by a Japanese leader since 2011, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged China’s economic dominance by announcing an end to the aid. Instead, he pledged to forge deeper economic and political co-operation, in what is widely seen as a hedge against the volatile, America-first policies of President Donald Trump.

The announcement — coupled with new co-operation agreements Abe signed on Friday with his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang — signalled a significant shift in a relationship that has been haunted by war and occupation and is still strained by territorial disputes and other issues, which, publicly at least, have receded into the background.

The subtext to the budding detente was Trump, whose go-it-alone approach to foreign relations has pushed the two historic rivals closer together.

As the US President has walked away from global trade pacts and tangled with traditional allies over tariffs, Japan and China have decided to set aside some of the tensions that have governed relations between them for years. Now they are co-operating more closely on trade issues and developing business partnerships that could help buffer against the instability that Trump has introduced to the region.

“From competition to co-operation, the Japan-China relationship is shifting to a new phase now,” Abe said at an appearance with Li after a ceremonial welcome on Tiananmen Square that included a cannon salute and a review of troops under crisp blue skies.

“We are neighbors; we’re partners who will co-operate with each other, rather than be a threat to each other,” Abe said.

The Japanese leader was accompanied by foreign and trade ministers and more than 1000 businesspeople, who he said had come to discuss joint infrastructure and other projects in countries throughout the region.

That signaled a greater focus on trade and investment, and a departure from the 40-year program of aiding Chinese development. Many saw that aid program, which began in 1978 in what both countries described as a new start to their relationship, as a form of atonement for Japan’s brutal invasion of China in 1937, which set the stage for World War II.

Japan has “ended its historical mission” to assist China financially, Abe said at a reception after his arrival in Beijing. “Now, Japan and China are playing indispensable roles for economic growth not only in Asia but also in the whole world,” he said.

Li said on Friday relations were “back to their normal trajectory”.

“I hope for even more progress,” he said, specifying President Xi Jinping’s signature One Belt, One Road program for investing in infrastructure and other projects across Eurasia. Japan has pointedly refused to sign on to the initiative, which faces growing scepticism in some countries.

But Abe signaled a willingness to support new joint projects as long as China conducts them within international standards of transparency, environmental protection and economic viability, a spokesman later said.

In a significant sign of closer economic cooperation, the two countries’ central banks also agreed to swap the equivalent of $US29 billion for use in times of financial emergencies. Other agreements covered protection of intellectual property and the environment.

Few expect the two countries to overcome their divisions easily or swiftly. During his meetings on Friday, Abe raised the issues of human rights as well as security, particularly surrounding the islands in the East China Sea that both countries claim, a spokesman, Takeshi Osuga, told reporters later.

“Without stability in the East China Sea, there can be no true improvement in the relationship,” he said, paraphrasing Abe.

Abe has visited China four times, meeting Xi on the sidelines of various international gatherings, but this was the first invitation extended for an official bilateral meeting. Osuga deflected a question about the role Trump’s policies played in nudging the two countries into closer co-operation.



Category: China

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