The so-called history problem has long been seen by academics and pundits as a key obstacle to the improvement of bilateral relations between China and Japan. In the academic literature, the problem is typically described as consisting of a number of sub-issues related primarily to Japan’s attitude towards its invasion of China in the 1930s and 1940s, an attitude that many regard as insufficiently repentant. In this literature the meaning of the history problem tends to be understood as fixed rather than as something that changes over time. Even though numerous discussions of the problem exist and many observers agree on its importance for Sino-Japanese relations, the question of how the history problem itself is understood within Japan and China has received surprisingly scant attention. This article, by contrast, argues that while the specific sub-issues viewed as being part of the problem are indeed important, currently the most fundamental and overlooked aspect of the history problem in Sino-Japanese relations is the lack of agreement on what exactly the problem is.
In today’s blog, Michael Chase and Jeffrey Engstrom face off against Roger Cliff on China’s ongoing military reforms. The two ‘optimists’ believe the reforms will help blunt corruption, strengthen civilian control over the PLA, and modernize the armed forces. Roger Cliff, in contrast, argues that the reforms won’t resolve two of the PLA’s most glaring weaknesses – its limited joint capabilities and the continued dominance of the army.
China’s Military Reforms: An Optimistic Take
China is implementing a sweeping reorganization of its military that has the potential to be the most important in the post-1949 history of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).1 Xi Jinping, who serves as China’s president, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), seeks to transform the PLA into a fully modernized and “informatized” fighting force capable of carrying out joint combat operations, conducting military operations other than war (MOOTW), and providing a powerful strategic deterrent to prevent challenges to China’s interests and constrain the decisions of potential adversaries. Scheduled for completion by 2020, the reforms aim to place the services on a more even footing in the traditionally army-dominated PLA and to enable the military to more effectively harness space, cyberspace, and electronic warfare capabilities. Simultaneously, Xi is looking to rein in PLA corruption and assert his control over the military.
This article was published by Political Violence @ a Glance in October 2016. The post draws on the author’s chapter in a recently released Peterson Institute for International Economics Briefing volume.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a plan to build a vast network of roads, rail lines, new ports, and other infrastructure improvements a in more than 60 countries, at a cost of $4 trillion – is an economic policy designed to radically expand trade and investment in Asia and around the Indian Ocean. Critically, however, it is also a security initiative with the aim of facilitating economic integration and promoting longer-run peace in the region.
The economic benefits are likely to be large, but there may be rough patches along the new Silk Road. While the proposed investments are precisely the types of trade-enhancing projects development economists have long called for, the geopolitical implications of BRI are complicated. From the restive western Chinese province of Xianjing to Jammu-Kashmir, the Myanmar-Chinese border, and the Indian Ocean, BRI-related initiatives target or traverse some of the world’s most contested territories. Major power development programs abroad – such as the US Marshall Plan and Alliance for Progress – have always been motivated by a mixture of economic and security concerns. Indeed, BRI is intended in part to address security fears emanating from these regions by improving economic prospects.
G20 agenda hints at China’s vision for global order with focus on long-term rather than immediate concerns
With the approach of the Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou, there is expectation that China might clarify its position on the contested South China Sea. Contrary to expectations, those Asian neighbors and Western leaders who want to seize the occasion to press China on immediate issues will be disappointed. There will be little space to question publicly China’s drive into the South China and East China Seas, to seek confirmed implementation by China of UN sanctions targeting North Korea, to ask for more direct involvement by China in resolving the most urgent issue of our time – the Middle East in tatters and resulting refugee flows – or even to challenge China’s record-breaking attack on human rights and legal activists at home.
Instead, the summit offers China’s leader Xi Jinping a unique occasion to shine and for China to extoll its complementary – or alternative – vision of the global order.
As host country, China has engineered impeccable rhetoric and goals that are hard to disagree with, if somewhat distant and abstract, for the G20 leaders to focus on. US President Barack Obama is now a lame-duck president with much uncertainty over what follows him. European leaders are weakened by the continent’s inward turn, so powerfully shown by the Brexit. Western leaders are on the defensive much more than their Chinese counterparts. There may be isolated supporters in favor of focusing on issues of the day – Australia, Japan and even Korea spring to mind. Others like Brazil or Indonesia may not fully support China’s professed goals for the G20. Few will take the risk of disowning them. Too much of their economy is now tied to China’s fortune.
The latest EU-China summit confirmed the increasing discrepancies between the two sides. China, in protecting its own market, treats European investors unevenly. Simultaneously, the PRC is seeking unlimited access to the EU market to export products resulting from its overcapacity. The EU is concerned about subsidised Chinese exports, which may increase unemployment in Europe. There are rifts in the normative domain as well: China has not accepted an arbitration tribunal’s decision about the South China Sea. The EU, in supporting peaceful means of resolving international disputes, has acknowledged the ruling. Now more than ever, the member states should take into account the European context of relations with the PRC and coordinate their policies towards China with the EU institutions.
The latest EU-China summit (12–13 July) was held after the release of a new EU strategy towards China and coincided with an announcement by an arbitration tribunal of its decision about the South China Sea. The new strategy is the EU’s response to China’s global ambitions and the increasing number of problems in bilateral relations. The noticeable differences in the topics raised by the two sides during the summit vindicates the assumption of deepening discrepancies, including asymmetry in relations at the expense of the EU.