– Abraham Lincoln
There are a myriad of factors to be taken into consideration when examining the relationships between China, Japan, and for the sake of convenience, we’ll label ‘The West’.
Japan has never forgiven China for its attempted invasions in 1274 and 1281.
If the reader feels that this is a long time to bear a grudge, they should turn their attention to the historic roots of the blood-feuds in the former Yugoslavian Republic.
China, on the other hand has never forgiven the Japanese for the invasion of Manchuria and the atrocities that followed.
Nor has China ever forgiven the West for the ‘carve-up’ of the country following the Boxer Rebellion, or the efforts at ‘containment’ during the Cold War.
Both nations regard each other and the West with a certain amount of unease.
Japan is deeply concerned about China’s increasing military might and its claims to territorial sovereignty over the Diayo or Senkaku islands (China also has similar claims to the Spratly islands in the South-China Sea).
China for its part, regards the rise of Japanese nationalist sentiment under Shinzo Abe and his declaration that he will make Japan a force for peace and stability through proactive contribution, as uncomfortable echoes of ‘The Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere’ of the 1920s.
Therefore, all diplomatic efforts on the part of the West in defusing the current tension between Japan and the PRC, need to be undertaken with a great deal of delicacy.
Delicacy and diplomatic subtlety however, does not appear to be in the Abbott government’s lexicon as proved with with the current row between Australia and Indonesia.
Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop’s summoning of the Chinese Ambassador to express Australia’s displeasure at the PRC’s actions are similar to that of an ant rebuking an elephant.
In the eyes of the Chinese government and indeed the rest of Asia, Bishop’s remarks only serve to confirm that Australia is a small nation with the characteristics of a colonialist lout whose ideas of importance are far above its station, and who hides behind its big brother, the United States.
This is not to say that Australia should not express its concern at the situation, nor is it to say that China should be allowed to do as it pleases, but a simple note through the normal diplomatic channels would have served Australia’s interests far better than calling in the Chinese ambassador and demanding a ‘please explain’.
The Abbott government has already put itself at a disadvantage with the PRC by declaring its eagerness to complete a free trade deal between Australia and China before the end of 2014.
This give the Chinese government the upper hand in negotiations and there can be little doubt that Beijing will drive a very hard bargain, as they have already expressed in reply to Bishop’s outburst.
The fact that in the new century, Australia needs Asia a lot more than Asia needs Australia seems to escaped the current government’s notice.
Similarly to Indonesia, if China decides that doing business and maintaining cordial relations with Australia is not worth the effort, then Beijing will simply say ‘beam me up Wang, there’s no intelligent life here’ and take their business elsewhere.