On the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a statement. On the surface, it consisted of topics such as invasion, colonial rule, reflection, and apology like in the Murayama Statement; in actuality, it was a way to deviate from a specific pattern of meaning by using words to fill space. It is as China’s Official Xinhua News Agency says: “distort history, fool the people.” China strongly criticized Abe for lacking sincerity; Korea had a similar reaction. The U.S. White House, though, welcomed Japan’s deep self-reflection. Abe’s statement evades apology and historical responsibility, but the U.S. believes that 70 years after the war, Japan sets an example for other countries. The discrepancy in China-U.S. acknowledgement of the Abe statement reflects two completely different strategic beliefs in the West Pacific. The future strife over the East China Sea will undoubtedly be more intense.
China and U.S. Stances toward Abe
The West Pacific Game
The Abe statement has prompted verbal attacks from China and Korea, the harshest being from Beijing. This is because to a certain degree, ever since the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit at the end of last year, Beijing presented a mild attitude toward Japan; in China’s words, China acknowledges the four principles upon which China and Japan agreed before the summit and hopes that the countries can improve their relations. The Abe government has shown no gratitude for Beijing’s good intentions. When the Abe statement was issued, its inner wording and overall content clearly fell short of Beijing’s expectations and requests. Moreover, Japan wanted to end its historical debate via the Abe statement, but to Beijing, which constantly talks about a diplomatic-military rise, the Abe statement is no way to set Beijing at ease, and after hearing the speech, Beijing has given up on the Abe regime.
China and America, two super powers in the West Pacific, are reacting counter intuitively to the Abe statement and, objectively speaking, putting the East Sea conflict and dispute on the table. China’s actions are quite comparable to actions in the past in that a so-called “soft” or “firm” attitude is being strategized. America supports Japan in historical issues that kindle China-Japan tensions, unwrapping the bandage that protects years of vague strategies in East Asia to reveal its real attitude. The feeling that people get from this development is that a statement from Abe immediately reveals the bottom card of China-U.S. relations in Japanese affairs, making it hard to turn back from this East China Sea game. If anyone lets their guard down for a moment, Beijing has no way of facing the recent upsurge of nationalism, and America’s support and determination for its allies will be called into question.
The Chinese government values the East China Sea struggle much higher than the South China Sea. This is because even though the South Sea has more surrounding countries, those countries are not all against Beijing. China has taken measures of varying extremity in the South Sea in recent years. At the end of 2013, after the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone was established, there was a plan for another ADIZ in the South Sea, but like the sounds of footsteps on empty stairs, it is not really mentioned nowadays. From this, we can see that China, with its naval force believed to be behind that of the U.S. and Japan, still focuses on the East Sea. Besides the fact that the East Sea is China’s ocean lifeline, it is more important that the countries it must confront are Japan and the U.S. across the Pacific Ocean. Mainland China’s eastern coast is the metropolitan district with the most concentrated population and the most prosperous economy. Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang make up its core. To the north of Shanghai and Zhejiang are Beijing and Tianjin, and to the south, Fujian and Guangdong. Along the Yangtze River straight through the center to the west, inside and out, are all of China’s areas of responsibility, and the South Sea fleet garrisoned on this land and the North Sea fleet around the Yellow River are China’s strongest naval forces.
“Three ‘New’ Kingdoms” in the West Pacific
A Difficult Attack Crisis
Now that the Abe statement has forced China and the United States to the front of the stage, China has changed from fighting a war with Japan to combating a U.S.-Japan alliance. The East Sea struggle will undoubtedly be turbulent and torrential. One can imagine that the small South Sea region, followed by three of the world’s top naval vessels and ships, and disputes over the Diaoyu Islands and issues with Taiwan on top of that, will require extreme political wisdom to spare us bigger problems. Judging from Asian countries involved in the East Sea at this moment, no one sees a reason to step back. China stands its ground for its own safety and nationalism, America wants to vie over the West Pacific and restrain China, and Japan wants to preserve its own best interests. These “Three Kingdoms” in the West Pacific will be an arena for strategists at least 20 years from now, and the China-Japan standoff must wait for Abe to leave the stage before there is any long-term deliberation, but the hostility that has grown among every country over the past few years is the leading factor of change, and it will be difficult to end the East Sea crisis.