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China, Japan Bicker About Past; Fight Over Future Leadership Roles


In recent years, China has voiced strong complaints about Japan’s exploration for oil and gas, its history textbooks and its prime minister’s homage to a controversial war shrine. Many analysts say some of the complaints have merit. But Derek Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says the Japanese also feel aggrieved.

“They feel they’ve been trying their best to account for the problems of World War II and the problems of the past 50 years. They’ve been kept down. They’ve apologized profusely," said Mr. Mitchell, "and I get a sense from Japanese friends, both official and otherwise, that [they feel] ‘What more can we do? We are a new Japan now. There’s a new generation taking over.’”

Mr. Mitchell says many in Japan are convinced that recent anti-Japanese demonstrations in China and South Korea were calculated to undermine Tokyo’s quest for a membership in the United Nations Security Council. Other analysts say the resurgence of nationalism in the region is a temporary phenomenon, resulting from unresolved issues of World War II.

Lyric Hughes, publisher of China Online, notes that Japan is China’s second largest trading partner and that the two nations are becoming increasingly interdependent. “The reason these things are coming to the surface now," says Ms. Hughes, " is not because Japan and China are going to nuke each other, but because Japan and China are really working together more and plan to do more of that.”

Many analysts say China’s growing financial clout, its status as one of the world’s manufacturing hubs, a nuclear power and the only Asian U.N. Security Council member worries Japan. And China is suspicious of a renewed U.S.-Japanese alliance in the war against terror, which could undermine its growing influence in Asia. But most observers note that the two countries are working to resolve their differences. Many analysts say North Korea’s nuclear program is more likely to cause turmoil in the region.

Critics argue that Washington, preoccupied with Iraq, has done too little to ease tensions in Northeast Asia. “'I deploy, therefore I am.' That’s really what the United States is all about in Asia. That’s the whole focus of American strategic purpose,” says Kurt Campbell, Director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He adds that China has done more to contain North Korea than any other country, including the United States.

“What China has been is engaging two difficult countries when it comes to North Korea; North Korea itself and then dealing with the United States, trying to convince the United States to get involved, to sit down at the table, and to appreciate that putting a serious proposal on the table is absolutely essential,” said Mr. Campbell.

He says China has also approached other countries to help contain North Korea, and in doing so, it has gained respect. Political scientist and author Joseph Nye notes that Beijing has been sensitive to the fears that its growing economic and military power could cause.

“China is not perceived by the rest of the world and particularly by its neighbors in East Asia the way the Soviet Union was perceived by its neighbors during the Cold War. China is more integrated in the world economy and China is more attractive to its neighbors. And so you could argue that in economic, military and soft power, there has been an increase of balance in Chinese favor,” said Mr. Nye.

But for all its growth, China is still a developing country and has a long way to go to compete with the United States, both in economic and military terms. Most analysts agree the U.S. maritime presence is crucial to Asia’s stability.

“We know that China is not going to attack Japan. We know that South Korea is not going to attack Japan and vice versa. So that’s an enormous contribution that the United states and its allies make, says Robert Dujarric,is a visiting scholar at Tokyo’s Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry.

But in the long run, analysts say, Asia’s global integration is the best protection against instability and the strongest deterrent to a looming North Korean nuclear threat.

This report was broadcast on the VOA Focus Program. To see more Focus stories click here.

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