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Yasushi Tomiyama

【#197】Has Japan Any Means to Overcome U.S.-China Bipolarity?

Yasushi Tomiyama / 2013.06.13 (Thu)


June 10, 2013

      The June 7-8 summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Sunnylands retreat in California reminded us that a U.S.-China bipolarity could dominate the international community in the 21st century, ant the possibility of Japan being forced to serve as a backseat player could not be ruled out.

Agreement on a "new model of relationship"
     At a press conference after their first meeting on June 7, President Xi reiterated that the United States and China should build "a new model of major country relationship" where the existing and emerging major countries would avoid conflicts and cooperate. In response, Obama said that the "new model of relations between the United States and China" could be advanced. "We're more likely to achieve our objectives of prosperity and security of our people if we are working together cooperatively, rather than engaged in conflict," he said, indicating his harmonious relationship with the Chinese leader. Obama also said he and President Xi have "a unique opportunity to take the U.S.-China relationship to a new level." "I am absolutely committed to making sure that we don't miss that opportunity."
     In fact, there may be global and regional problems that cannot be solved without U.S.-China cooperation. Among them is the climate change problem. China as the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter and the United States with the greatest per capita emissions in the world agreed at the latest bilateral summit to cooperate in reducing emissions of hydrofluorocarbon which features great greenhouse effects.
      According to the U.S. side, Obama and Xi also agreed to oppose North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons and cooperate in denuclearizing the North. China has held the lifeline of the North Korean economy through its energy resources supply and can exert great pressures on the North. If the United States and China take leadership in dealing with North Korea, however, North Korea's past abduction of Japanese citizens, to which Japan gives the same priority as to the nuclear problem, may be left unresolved.

Difference of value revealed over cybertheft
     Obama and Xi seemed to have had traded barbs about China-based cyberattacks on U.S. companies. While Obama cited specific cybertheft cases and criticized China-based attacks, Xi denied the Chinese government's involvement and claimed that China as well was a cyberattack victim. The alleged Chinese cyberattacks to thieve business secrets indicate that China refuses to abide by fair business competition rules. The U.S.-China dispute over cybertheft signals a limit existing on cooperation between the United States and China that have different values.
     The U.S.-China difference represents a chance for Japan to demonstrate its role without being left out of U.S.-China cooperation. The reason for Obama to go to California for eight hours of casual discussions with the Chinese leader over two days to build their personal relationship was not only that China grew into a major economic and military power but also that President Xi is expected to remain at the top of the country over the next decade. If Japan's government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe grows more stable through July's House of Councilors election, successfully restores a powerful economy under its “Abenomics” policy and steadily builds up defense capabilities to make up for some of U.S. defense spending cuts, President Obama may no longer neglect the leader of ally Japan that shares values with the United States.

Yasushi Tomiyama is Senior Fellow and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.