Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
The present Pacific regional crisis is building steam and chiefly between China and Japan. America is forced to travel to Pacific allies like Japan and warn restraint; as was the case with Vice President Josef Biden’s visit this month and cooling Sino-Japanese tensions with and now South Korea over the air defense identification zone stunt.
A peaceful long-term Sino-Japanese relation is looking worse and worse over the Senkaku/Diaoyu territorial dispute, the islands claimed by both Japan and China. It will be necessary for them to form either a bilateral understanding or a multilateral regional understanding with relevant states also involved in territorial disputes with China. This “understanding” must quickly become larger than what is presently being pursued in terms of an open line of military-to-military communication.
Further recommendations particularly for the top global powers in the world, China and Japan, must include: an immediate joint regional or maritime force that operates together in regions of dispute and the number of ships and activity is clearly transparent, communication is constant and military-to-military- and civilian-to-civilian protocols are firmly set in place within this new bilateral or multilateral institution.
An alternative to the extreme all out regional institution building of economic and security could be a revolutionary economic and security agreement with US and international sponsorship. The potential for economic and security integration has been tried but unrealistic as it does not reflect enough of China or Japan’s national ambitions in consensus institutions like ASEAN or Western controlled initiatives like the Trans Pacific Partnership. Both are good but both are not working or scheduled to genuinely work with China, where China is representative of its real value as a state power. While this may be undeserved, it must be part of the process of any realistic diplomatic fix. The problem has been the late call for Chinese economic, security and military reforms that are pressured by outsiders when such a process should have been worked into the MFN status in the 1990s and proceeding their after in gradual steps of political reforms.
Cooperation with China all around is not easy with states that have no willingness to cooperate or natural inclination to do so. So long as there exists a growing counterweight and US-Japan relations effectively become a senpai-kohai partnership, US-China guanxi is absent. Japan more assertively plays the role of senpai to smaller powers in the land of the rising sun.
As in Michael Chriton’s Rising Sun, to Japan, [protecting the success of their] business is war. To America, war is business. To China, war is an art. Obviously the three will not easily see eye-to-eye.
If there is a threat of war and all sides can see a clear doomsday scenario, then out of necessity, states can become more creative, instead of reactive and this could be a maturing US and Japanese policy directive for East Asia and the Pacific. Yet, Japan only seeks to cooperate as long as it is on top. China will not work on the bottom. America is placating Japan more than China. Choosing sides is already not in the US national interest.
The prospect of a bilateral leadership role in some advent of a Sino-Japanese Treaty Organization might seem impossible now, for example, but through years of small steps or even decades could become a reality. Gradual stages of arms limits would be less of a problem, since a joint integration of forces would be present.
A new and improved 21st century SEATO might someday emerge at the end of the wishful tunnel, but only if China is given a realistic role, relevant of the world’s second most important player. The US might act as a member to some future Pacific treaty organization as it does with NATO.
In the background, the concept of this “diplomacy sharing” must enter the minds of conflict prone disputes before they turn to unnecessary and costly military arms build-ups, provocations, small-scale battles or total war. It is not difficult to being a paradigm shift in strategic relations among these states over time.
Diplomacy sharing of disputed territory and diplomatic institution building are both alternatives to land grabbing in the present zero-sum and demarcation that is devolving into geopolitical instabilities. Institutions, sharing, rules, cooperation, and partnerships- all of which produces the needed long-term stability and near perpetual gains.
Yet such extreme solutions are a must in order for the two most powerful regional states [America aside] to actually grow past their differences in the one instance and potentially many others, while at the same time achieving trade harmony and sustained and normalized relations.
Getting from the national policies of ‘taking’ to ‘sharing’ is exceedingly difficult but critical for peace. The following is a list of possible solutions to end contention between China and Japan in the short-term:
1) America seizes the islands and places them under international administration. A third party decides the fate of the islands removed from Japan or China. [Most extreme. Unlikely].
2) America purchases the islands from Japan and the three states share all economic production equally. America thus reacquires administration control and immediately sells a third or half to China and Japan. Or the US plays mediator as a third wheel until such time as a third party economic exploration and security administration is no longer required to maintain stability between the two. Alternatively, America can offer a treaty to China and Japan which allows joint administration initially, which goes beyond purchasing and playing administrator. [Likely and practical only if Japan is willing to sell. Problem with American approach thus far has been the initial lack of strong condemnation for the now year old purchase. Such feeble US outcry was with little doubt perceived by Japan as a tacit support].
3) Japan sells the islands to private Chinese and Japanese investors. [Unlikely but possible now with great diplomatic momentum. In this diplomacy option, strong US and international pressure between China and Japan successful return the Senkaku/Diaoyu to private investment of each country and both benefit. Even if there are one or more cheaters, the dispute becomes one of public to private ownership and peaceful resolution between two conflict prone states. As before, the tension between them will immediately be lessened regarding the island at a more tactical level but their strategy to dominate the region as a whole will remain opposed one another].
4) Japan sells half of the islands to China. [Least likely even if strong international diplomacy was a factor. China is more likely to take half by force than for Japan to sell them half, despite this being the most seemingly logical diplomatic reply. At further scrutiny, this is a bilateral concession without third-party support or pressure and one that gives the Chinese a false sense of Japanese placation or fear].
5) Japan agrees to sell all Senkaku/Diaoyu islands to China in return for a joint exclusive economic zone in a bilateral treaty with no outside arbitration. Japan would also ask for a monumental, bilateral, and economic trade deal perhaps [Unlikely now and any window for this is long past. Japan could extend those rights to China at any time, however, with a bilateral agreement].
6) Japan places the islands under the care of an established international body for equal access between China and Japan. [Unlikely now, but may be possible in the future when the hold of such islands becomes increasingly more difficult for Japan but they seek a buffer between themselves and what may be the world’s most powerful state. Japan is less likely to willingly give up the islands to an international body as that was worse than their prior position of indirect ownership via a Japanese national. Unfortunately, this might result at the end of a war and turn into a maritime demarcation line].
*Originally Published in Eurasia Review