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.
Taiwan issue underscores limits of power for the US and China – and the calcification of international policymaking
Since the 1940s, after Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the defeated Kuomintang retreated to Taipei, the Taiwan Strait has remained among the most intractable issues in international relations and a potential site for conflict in Asia. A brief phone call between the US President- elect Donald Trump and Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen was a startling intervention in what’s become a warily balanced array of power relations sustained by arcane diplomatic formalisms.
The response from China, which maintains territorial claim to the island as sovereign territory, was relatively muted with more annoyance directed toward Taiwan. Immediate reaction elsewhere to the phone call included concerns about an escalation of the conflict for the entire region and the United States.
A decade has passed since North Korea first tested a nuclear weapon, on October 9, 2006. It conducted its fifth nuclear test last September, and there are rumors that a sixth will come within weeks or months. The United States has tried to both negotiate with and sanction North Korea while strengthening deterrence with South Korea and conducting shows of force to underscore the U.S. commitment to South Korean defense, but these measures have not halted, much less reversed, North Korea’s nuclear program.
Instead, following the leadership transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un, North Korea has elevated its nuclear program to a primary strategic commitment, reigniting debates among U.S. experts over whether the U.S. goal of “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” is feasible. North Korea has conducted four tests during the Obama administration, and the president reiterated after the latest one that the United States “does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state.” Yet the longer that North Korea is able to expand its nuclear delivery capability, the more empty U.S. condemnations may become and the closer North Korea will edge toward winning de facto acceptance of its nuclear status.
Dimitrios Triantaphyllou | Professor, Director of the Centre for International and European Studies (CIES), Kadir Has University, Istanbul
As if out of the blue, but not really a surprise at all, Turkey has in the last week announced both a rapprochement process with Israel and an attempt to mend relations with Russia. It has also made overtures to Egypt to improve bilateral commercial and economic ties, though its relations with the Sisi regime remain politically complicated. The flurry of diplomatic activity on the part of Turkey’s government indicates that the situation before diplomatic overtures was becoming increasingly unfeasible, and that Turkey’s isolation was growing. This isolation found Ankara increasingly at odds with its neighbours and partners, threatening Turkey’s self-cultivated image as a soft power. This image has been eroding with the escalation of the Syrian crisis, the surge of violence in the country’s southeast in the state’s fight against the PKK, and the series of bombings both by Kurdish militants and the Islamic State across the country. In other words, Turkey was becoming an unreliable and ineffectual contributor to the region’s security.
Reaching out to Israel and Egypt implies that the AKP government is turning away from its proclivity for ideology-laden foreign policy. It also suggests a realisation by Ankara that, based on a power politics assessment, its continued ambivalence toward the Islamic State was further marginalising Turkey and weakening its ability to shape and influence the future of the region, especially the eastern Mediterranean (including the resolution of the Cyprus problem), together with the other relevant stakeholders. The latest terror attack at Istanbul’s main airport, although planned and orchestrated before diplomacy took centre stage, suggests that the policy reversal in now complete. Although further attacks are a very real possibility, Turkey is bound to expect more empathy and support from its allies. The reopening of the airport the day after the attacks indicates a degree of state and regime resilience that it will not easily be broken. The turn toward Tel Aviv and Cairo also suggests an understanding that Turkey has potentially much to gain from a developing Western regional security complex in the eastern Mediterranean, which should also include Greece and Turkey together with Israel and Egypt. The opening of a new chapter in Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU during the same week is also indicative of its enhanced status.
Banafsheh Keynoush is an international geopolitical consultant, foreign affairs scholar, and author of Saudi Arabia and Iran: Friends or Foes? (Palgrave Macmillan, February 2016). The book is based on dozens of interviews with Saudi and Iranian leaders, politicians and decision makers, and rich archival material collected and made available for the first time in English. Drawing on unique insight into the relationship over a span of a century, the author challenges the mainstream fallacy of the inevitability of sectarian conflict or that it is the main cause of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and instead argues that the relationship can be fixed through increased diplomacy.
Do you think that Iran is seeking to revise the Western dominated regional order in the Middle East?
Iran promotes the view that the security of the Persian Gulf and by extension the Middle East should be guaranteed and upheld by the regional states, rather than by foreign powers. Its view of regional security is somewhat revisionist, aiming to correct the regional order which is influenced by foreign powers including the United States. Tehran believes that foreign power influence does not serve it, because the Arab Gulf states rely on Washington to advance their security while Iran generally views U.S. presence as a threat.