An expert on Asian security affairs has urged Japan and China to deepen dialogue in a concerted effort to heal fraught relations.
The Senkaku territorial row is “a clear indicator of the structural transformation between the two countries” but also a result of China’s “broader rise in the international system,” said Tai Ming Cheung, associate professor and director of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California, San Diego.
The isle dispute “is definitely not accidental. It’s very difficult right now to see how the countries can resolve this issue without it becoming a much more serious crisis and the potential for a military conflict,” Cheung said. “Right now, it’s a theater. We refuse to find ways to compromise because of the domestic audiences.”
Cheung, 47, noted Europe has “managed to work out how not to resolve disputes with force” after centuries of war, thanks to the EU. “In East Asia, they still have a long way to deal with this.”
Pointing to Washington and Beijing’s existing framework for strategic dialogue, he said, “If you don’t talk about it in a structured, high-level and comprehensive manner, you’re always driven by the problems of that day.”
The U.S. and China “always used to move from one crisis to another over human rights and arms sales to Taiwan. Today, they are able to move to a higher structural level,” he said. “They can talk to each other much more easily, so the level of misunderstanding is more limited. It’s bipartisan, so it will continue whoever takes over the government.”
On China’s leadership shift, Cheung said, “Whenever you get new leadership, they lack the experience, they lack the political foundations to be able to closely manage, so they tend to listen and react (to the bureaucracy).
“China has some (internal) issues,” he said, noting China “doesn’t have strong leadership as it used to, so there’s a lot of balancing, a lot of negotiations. Within the Chinese political system, (senior officials) tend to be very compartmentalized, they do things not well coordinated and control is a lot weaker than it used to be. Especially when you have a major crisis, when you have poor coordination or you don’t know what all your different organizations are doing, then it makes this potential for accidental escalation much more likely.”