While China continues to showcase her growing strength and the US aspires to maintain a dominant presence in Asia; India, Japan and Asian economies struggle to resolve personal disputes with their powerful neighbour. The following three recent issues, when assessed together, highlight the changing Asian landscape that would significantly affect the regional and world trade as the events unfold:
- Chinese announcement of an air defense zone in East China Sea and the Nine-Dash Lines in South China Sea
- Japanese PM’s (Abe) visit to India and emphasis on nuclear energy and military equipment trade
- Fractures in Indo-US relations due to increased FDA scanning of Indian Pharmaceutical sector and last month’s bureaucratic handling of the Devyani Khobragade incident http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devyani_Khobragade_incident
Announcement of Air Defense Identification Zone by China (Nov ’13) would not have been classified as an issue of growing Chinese assertiveness if the zone had no overlap on the disputed islands with the Japanese air zone. On top of this the Japanese reports claim that China seeks to extend similar airspace zone in the South China Sea which China says is baseless. At the same time the ‘Nine-dash lines’, through which China lays claims in the South China Sea, is of concern to Asian neighbours and the US. The disputed region covers major shipping routes, marine resources and unexplored oil reserves. Chinese power display is not merely the sign of a powerful nation eager to flex its muscles but is a strategic move to achieve future economic stability through control on energy, marine trade in China Sea and the neighbours.
Biden on his visit to Asia (Dec ’13) expressed discontent with China on the airspace issue. “We, the United States, are deeply concerned by the attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea,” Biden said at a news conference alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Dec 3rd in Japan. “I will be raising these concerns with great specificity directly when I meet with the Chinese leadership,” Biden said. On Dec 4th Biden was in China. How much emphasis was laid on this issue was clear from a CNN report “The meeting covered every single topic in the U.S.-China relationship, including economic issues and North Korea, said one of the U.S. officials who were briefing reporters. They talked at some length about what the Iran example means for North Korea, referring to the recently reached deal between Iran and a coalition of international powers to curb the Middle Eastern nation’s nuclear program”. The airspace zone issue was discussed privately, the details of which are unknown. Dependence of the US economy on China and growth of China as a super power only second to the US, does not offer much leeway in negotiations to the US at present hence the US continues to carefully handle the delicate episodes to maintain the stability in the Sino-US relations.
Recent visit by Abe to Yasukuni shrine prompted angry reactions from China and South Korea and the US clearly expressed disappointment. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party deputy secretary-general and previously the defence minister of Japan said “If you think about what would happen if the United States withdrew, we must consider (acquiring) the capability to respond, because we cannot just sit idly and await death.” In Japan, the perception is increasing that US power is on decline and the Sino-US relation building is the highest priority under the USA’s Asian region agenda. Anticipating Obama’s visit to Japan in April is critical since more clarity in the strategic priority of the US would emerge. Meanwhile, Abe visited India and the deals in nuclear energy, telecommunication and military equipment were seen as key agenda of the visit along with commitment to joint military exercises. Almost 7% of foreign investment in India comes from Japan.
Indo-Sino relations already face challenges because of unsettled border disputes. The issue of the Indian diplomat imprisoned at behest of Preet Bharara’s (US Attorney for Southern District of NY) office and FDA’s regulatory reconnaissance of Indian Pharmaceutical sector are debilitating the US-Indo relations. Now that Japan wants to forge stronger ties with Asian partners (possibly Russia) and not fully rely on the US; the US-Japan relations are downward spiralling bringing the matter of political stability and the regional security in Asia at the critical juncture. Where would the US fit in Asia given the fact that the US wants to avoid displeasing China while attempting to improve alliances with Japan and India? India, US and Japan partnership is at stake when these partners imply that the US places China at a grade above them in its Asian partnership agenda.
The complicated web of relations and diplomacy has raised concerns globally. The stability in the region is challenged by the ongoing events and now, only the steps taken ahead by the countries involved would validate or reject Japan’s conclusion in saying that “Relationship between China and Japan is comparable to that of Germany and Britain before World War 1”.