06.11.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

The 19th Beijing-Tokyo Forum was held in Beijing

The 19th Beijing-Tokyo Forum

Let us reiterate that the status of relations between the PRC and Japan will increasingly define the overall image of the political situation not only in East Asia but also in the Indo-Pacific area. Generally speaking, the role that the “local” main actors play in it will only grow with time. India should definitely be included in addition to the duo mentioned.

On the other hand, the dominant global power of today, which has to claim its involvement in nearly every geopolitical issue, mainly because of historical inertia, will eventually have to scale back its aspirations internationally. They say, this is for its own good. Since the existing hegemon has too many internal issues, any attempts to “bring them across the borders” (instead of solving them on its own territory) are fraught with the risk of bringing about major repercussions, not least for the hegemon itself.

And once the burden of completely unnecessary and no longer valid foreign policy commitments is overthrown, there will surely be a full-throated exclamation of optimism from Washington: “I’m free…” Specifically, there will be the need neither to publicly embarrass oneself by ranking highly questionable nations among democracies situated on the “bright side of history” nor to put up with their leaders pleading for or outright requesting more “aid.” One might as well wipe their hands after welcoming them.

However, the author does not believe that the long-awaited stable and just “multipolar” world order will immediately emerge, as some segments of Russia’s anti-American community suppose. Not necessarily. “Multipolar” is correct, but “stable and just” is highly dubious. Even now, there are issues that could have equally grave repercussions for the abovementioned “stability” and “justice” during the formation stage between practically all possible “poles”.

Furthermore, these issues are typically of a “local” nature rather than being the result of infamous “American intrigues”. As the NEO has repeatedly reported in relation to the situation in Southeast Asia. Because of the inertia effect, the US military presence persists significantly in Southeast Asia and becomes periodically more momentous. That military presence should be gradually eliminated when the process of “radical reformatting the world order” takes shape, which is considered necessary by Washington itself.

This does not necessarily mean the removal of all problems in this extremely important sub-region. Japan’s involvement in it is already expanding—in fact, one can speak of its “renewal”—its military component included. Furthermore, this is one of the crucial indicators of the previously described “reformatting”. It appears inevitable, by the way, that Germany, Japan’s ally in World War II, will further assert its independence internationally. After its current (utterly incompetent) leadership is removed.

Conversely, different indications that Japan is making a comeback to the Great World Game as one of its major players can’t help but evoke unfavorable historical connotations in China. Despite the fact that the two nations continue to be each other’s principal commercial and economic partners. However, there have also been some detrimental tendencies in this field for a while.

There may very well be “purely commercial” motives in them, which add to the increasingly complex (to say the least) picture of the political domain of Japan-China ties. They stem, for instance, from the fact that China’s economy is slowing down and worries about the future of international businesses operating here emerge.

In any case, the general patterns in the interaction between the two major actors in the Indo-Pacific region appear to be less than optimistic. Consequently, certain encouraging signs indicating that the parties are intended to maintain the viability of the bilateral communication channels deserve special attention.

Such a glimpse is now the Beijing-Tokyo Forum, which opened in the capital of the PRC on October 19. It appears to be an ordinary occasion, the 19th one since the organization was founded in 2005. However, on account of the 45th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship Between China and Japan in August 1978 that went into effect on October 23 of the same year, both parties believed it was important to give it extra weight this time.

Wang Yi, who has resumed his position as China’s foreign minister and, apparently, has maintained his unofficial role as China’s second-in-command leader in terms of foreign policy, behind President Xi Jinping, gave the opening remarks. A welcome letter was given to the attendees by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The fact that the Japanese delegation was led by Yasuo Fukuda, former Japanese Prime Minister from 2007 to 2008 is also worth noting. The previously stated Treaty between China and Japan was signed while his father Takeo Fukuda was prime minister. A journalist from the Chinese news agency Xinhua interviewed Yasuo Fukuda in Tokyo one week before the beginning of the event in Beijing. Published at the Forum, the primary conversational snippets were accompanied by a noteworthy headline featuring the former prime minister’s statement that “peaceful, friendly relations between Japan and China must pass on.”

Wang Yi and PRC’s Vice President Han Zheng greeted Yasuo Fukuda after the event under discussion. The parties’ commitment to promote bilateral cultural exchanges is said to have been one of the outcomes of the second meeting.

As a remark on the entire Beijing event, let’s pay attention to a few points. First, Yasuo Fukuda was given a central position in the conference by the Japanese leadership. This move surely contained an intention to keep up the conversation with the PRC leadership over the entire spectrum of issues pertaining to bilateral relations. Again, despite their diversity, intricacy, and acuteness.

It is not the first time that Yasuo Fukuda has been involved in demonstrating the Japanese leadership’s goodwill toward Beijing. Following the 2017 mourning ceremonies held in the People’s Republic of China to mark the 80th anniversary of one of the darkest episodes of the Second Sino-Japanese War (now seen as an integral component of World War II as a whole), dubbed the Nanjing Massacre, he was tasked with reducing the degree of tension in bilateral relations that became an unavoidable result of the ceremonies themselves.

A year later, he stood silently (note this) at the ceremonial and memorial site. That is, condolences were sent on behalf of Japan, despite the fact that Yasuo Fukuda was no longer the country’s official representative at the time. Nonetheless, there was no public agreement of Japan with the PRC’s interpretation of what had happened in Nanjing. By the way, debates on many facets of those events are still going strong in the historic community.

But in evaluating them and other tragic instances in particular, as well as historical events in general, we should highlight the prevalence of sheer pragmatism in China. Their goal is not to bring the past to life for the sake of a certain political urgency. Let alone attempts to settle old scores with former “offenders” in the present. They ostensibly are aware of the obvious impossibility of both “replaying” the tragic events of the past and bringing their victims back to life.

Apparently, Beijing was completely satisfied with the form of expressing today’s Japan’s attitude to the events of 1937, which 81 years later was chosen by the country’s former prime minister.

Lastly, it should be mentioned that Tokyo might be testing the waters for a dramatic improvement in the overall complex of relations with Beijing, given the scope of this frequent, nearly routine event. Should Washington steer the national ship away from increasing its international commitments and toward enhancing its ties with Beijing, The first tendency still remains a hypothesis, while the second one is evident.

In these conditions, key allies of the United States ought to begin, as they say, “taking care of themselves.” In this context, Tokyo’s foreign policy has attracted attention with two more events in addition to the Forum that is the subject of this discussion. First, Japan did not join the statement of the six other G7 members on the situation in Gaza. About which some explanations were given on behalf of the government of the country.

The second curious incident concerns the highly unexpected journey to Russia early in October by Upper House lawmaker Muneo Suzuki who represents one of the nation’s opposition groups.  The author does not consider for a single second the “absolutely autonomous” nature of this journey, during which the guest was received at a pretty high official level in Moscow. Without a doubt, Muneo Suzuki, the political kamikaze who was publicly shunned afterwards in his native country, made his “final flight” to inform the Russian Federation of the present Japanese leadership’s desire to reestablish bilateral political relations.

In other words, it’s not all grim in global politics. In fact, the process of “radically reformatting the world order” is already under way. Let us hope, and contribute our part, that it will be mostly peaceful.


Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazineNew Eastern Outlook”.

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