Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2013.10.03

Two Different Dreams on One Bed

JBPress on September 27, 2013

Coincidentally, over the past several days both Japanese and Chinese political leaders, in New York City and Washington D.C. respectively, hailed their bilateral relations with the United States in amazingly contrasting manners.

Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, in his September 20 speech at the Brookings Institution commended the "consensus" reached by Xi Jinping and Barack Obama at their 2013 June summit in California on building "a new model of major-country relations" (NMMCR).

The gentle and soft-spoken Chinese career diplomat, who is also one of the best tennis players in the Foreign Ministry, called it "strategic, constructive and path-breaking" and that it has "charted the future course for [bilateral] relations."

Wang proposed that the two nations need to enhance strategic trust, promote practical cooperation, increase people-to-people and cultural exchanges, strengthen cooperation on international and regional hotspots and global issues, and prioritize cooperation on Asia-Pacific affairs.

Since last June, Chinese diplomats have continuously referred to the NMMCR as the most important outcome of the bilateral summit, although many in Japan found it too ambiguous and failed to fully comprehend the concrete nature and substance of the so-called "new model."

The reason for this is clear. China and the United States have different interpretations of NMMCR--as though they were dreaming two different dreams on the same bed. The following are the major differences between the two.

China believes in the consensus on NMMCR and claims that:

- China is not a small country anymore and the United States should treat China as a major power from now on.
- The United States should immediately stop building their network for containing China in the name of "rebalancing."
- U.S. power is clearly declining and it should cohabit with, not confront, China which is now a major power.
- The U.S. must accept the interests of China as a major power including Chinese political, economic, military and territorial interests.

The United States, on the contrary, does not see a consensus and believes that:

- In the history of mankind, the rise of a new power tends to lead to a challenge against the existing power.
- In such circumstances, there tends to be a confrontation or conflict between the existing and new powers.
- China, as a new power, should not make that type of traditional challenge against the United States.
- Instead, China should subscribe to a new model of major power and truly respect the existing international and regional orders.

Five days later, Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, in his September 25 speech at the Hudson Institute stated that it is his belief that "Japan and the U.S. together should lead in the Pacific century to make it one that cherishes freedom, democracy, human rights and rules-based order."

The Prime Minister, elaborating on his country's proactive contribution to the existing peace and stability in East Asia and the Western Pacific, also said "Japan should not be a weak link in the regional and global security framework where the U.S. plays a leading role."

His message is clear. Japan is no longer a rising power, it is a status-quo power. Japan is no longer an immature nationalist power but rather, as Mr. Abe stated, it is "one of the world's most mature democracies," that wishes to contribute to the existing international and regional order.

He also stated that, "we must be a net contributor to the provision of the world's welfare and security. And we will. Japan will contribute to the peace and stability of the region and the world even more proactively than before."

Why did Abe say that in New York City? It is because Japan used to pursue, in the 1920-30's, a nationalistic objective similar to the Chinese version of NMMCR with the United States. We were, like present-day China, a nationalistically assertive rising major power at that time.

And what happened then? History shows the result, which is known to both the silent majority of Japanese and sensible Chinese intellectuals, too. The Chinese should not repeat the same mistakes we made 70 years ago. History should not be repeated again.