The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Japan and China Stare into Abyss, Pull Back from Ledge

Suddenly there’s hope that China-Japan relations are on the mend.

China’s new leader Xi Jinping met yesterday with Natsuo Yamaguchi, a Japanese envoy tasked with the mission of easing tension over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea. The meeting was entirely cordial, a far cry from the nationalist and antagonistic rhetoric from both sides over the past few months.

It seems Beijing and Tokyo took a good look into the abyss, and both came to the conclusion that escalating this conflict is dangerous. From the NYT:

In some of his first remarks on China’s foreign policy since becoming secretary general of the Communist Party, Mr. Xi told the Japanese lawmaker, Natsuo Yamaguchi, “The Chinese government remains committed to China-Japan relations,” according to an account provided by China’s Foreign Ministry.

Mr. Xi urged both sides to “look at the larger picture” and “push relations forward,” the Foreign Ministry said, language markedly more restrained than the combative exhortations from military officials and state-run media since the dispute over the islands erupted four months ago.

Meanwhile, however, both China and Japan have put claims to the islands before a UN committee that arbitrates on the limits of countries’ ocean economic zones. The islands are near rich fishing grounds and possible oil reserves, and form part of a barrier between the Chinese mainland and the wider Pacific Ocean. Tokyo argues that involving the UN is unnecessary—in effect telling China that Japan already owns the islands and thus there is no dispute for the UN to mediate.

Moderates in Beijing and Tokyo understand that good relations are vital to regional security, but there are hotheads on both sides of the East China Sea that could push the two countries into a confrontation neither really wants.

Published on January 25, 2013 12:44 pm