August 2019

Can Tokyo be a good mediator in Washington-Tehran tensions?

Photo: VCG

It was reported by Japanese media recently that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would visit Iran in mid-June. Citing government sources, leading Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun said that during the recent visit to Japan, US President Donald Trump supported Abe’s decision to mediate US-Iran tensions. If Abe visits Iran, he will be the first prime minister to go to the Middle East nation since the visit of Japanese prime minister Takeo Fukuda in 1978. What’s behind Abe’s decision to visit Tehran? What will be the effects of such a visit?

Tokyo and Washington are traditional allies with aligned diplomatic, military and security interests. At the same time, Japan has good relations with Middle Eastern countries, Iran being one of them. Japan is a country with scarce natural resources. However, as the third largest economy, Japan needs a large amount of energy to develop. It relies on importing oil and gas, a huge amount of which is from Middle East nations.

Japan’s Middle East diplomacy is essentially energy diplomacy. Iran is one of Japan’s major exporters of energy. According to The Diplomat, Tehran was Tokyo’s sixth largest crude supplier in 2017.

Thus, Japan has its own interests in Iran, as it has a huge demand for energy from this Persian Gulf nation. Except for being in line with Washington over politics with these countries, Tokyo’s interest in Middle Eastern countries rests on the requirement of energy. Therefore, Japan has an economic dependency on Iran and cannot afford to enter into a standoff with countries rich in energy.

Furthermore, in recent years, Japan has been seeking to be a great power in politics, over and above exercising significant economic influence. Japan shows a proclivity to participate in not only East Asian, but also international affairs such as mediating US-Iran tensions. This shows that Tokyo intends to augment its international standing and make its voice heard globally.

It is a challenge for Japan to balance its political and economic interests as it needs to be politically consistent with the US while satisfying its energy demand.

The Trump administration has heightened tensions with Iran by imposing economic sanctions. Besides the nuclear issue, other reasons, for instance the Islamic Republic’s style of governance, also contributed to Washington-Tehran dispute. However, Trump said on May 27 that Washington is not looking for a “regime change” in Tehran.

With escalating US-Iran tensions, Abe’s visit can further cement Japan’s alliance with the US and deepen ties with Iran. By taking advantage of its relations with Tehran, Abe can play a role in mediating their tensions. He would convey Washington’s views to Tehran. However, it remains to be seen how good a mediator can Japan be.

The author is director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social

Xi’s North Korea visit set to cement traditional friendship

Photo: IC
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to North Korea on Thursday and Friday is undoubtedly of momentous significance. This is the first visit to North Korea by China’s top leader in 14 years.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has visited China four times in the past one and half years, and reached a series of important consensus with Xi on bilateral relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula. As 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of China and North Korea’s diplomatic ties, Xi’s visit is not only a proactive response to Pyongyang’s initiative to mend fences between the two countries, but also a great opportunity to improve relations and to shoulder responsibility on the peninsula issue.

The second Kim-Trump summit held in February ended without an agreement, and the issue of denuclearization on the peninsula was caught in a logjam. Washington’s uncooperative approach makes Pyongyang feel worried. President Xi’s visit to North Korea can be regarded as coming at the right time.

North Korean mainstream media including state newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday published a signed article by Xi. The article states the purpose of Xi’s visit – to endow China-North Korea “traditional friendship with new connotation,” to “inject new impetus into the development of bilateral relations” and to “make new progress in securing regional peace and stability.” If these goals can be achieved, China-North Korea relations will enter a new era.

China-North Korea relations will see traditional friendship going beyond the nuclear issue. China will keep following its principled stance of helping achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and opposing North Korea’s nuclear plan. China will also emphasize that relations go beyond the nuclear issue, which is a multilateral dispute involving regional security.

Given that North Korea has halted nuclear tests, unless premeditated provocations or malicious interventions by external forces take place, turmoil on the peninsula can be controlled.

In this context, China-North Korea relations confined to the nuclear issue will become history. And traditional friendship will still be the cornerstone of ties.

Moreover, economic and trade cooperation will comprehensively strengthen bilateral ties and communications.

Based on strong economic complementarities and geographical advantages, there is enormous potential for future economic and trade cooperation between the two countries. China is currently implementing UN sanctions against North Korea. President Xi’s visit may not immediately open up new prospects for economic and trade cooperation. But China will be better understanding Pyongyang’s shift of strategic focus and socialist development with North Korean characteristics.

At this stage, China can provide North Korea the historical experience of reform and opening-up as well as governing the party and country; China can also help train talent and officials who can help North Korea develop its economy and maintain social stability.

In addition, cooperation between China and North Korea in education, culture, sports, tourism, youth activities and people’s livelihood will usher in a new hope.

Good political relations and close economic ties will reduce the psychological distance between Chinese and North Korean people, and the historical memory of fraternal relations between the two nations will be revived. There will be an opportunity for China to demonstrate its achievements in socialist development to the North Korean people. China will be the most important window and stage for the North Korean people to understand the world and go global. In the near future, more North Korean students will study in China, and more Chinese people will go to North Korea to experience different customs and cultures.

Last but not the least, China and North Korea will be on the same page on security issues, which involve security of the two countries and the Korean Peninsula as well as of Northeast Asia and the world. Beijing and Pyongyang will maintain free exchange of views on the Korean Peninsula issue, regional security and major international issues via high-level visits.

China-North Korea relations in the new era are based on equality, mutual assistance and respect. China didn’t and won’t intervene in the choice of North Korea. For China, it is a priority to help North Korea get rid of isolation and poverty. Only in this way can Sino-North Korean traditional friendship get stronger and create conditions for resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.

The author is professor and director of the School of International Politics, Institute of Politics and Public Management, Yanbian University.

Xi calls for harmonious co-existence of various civilizations

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday asked countries to create conditions for other civilizations to develop while keeping their own vibrant.

“We should leave various civilizations in the world all in full blossom,” Xi said in a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations.

There would be no clash of civilizations as long as people are able to appreciate the beauty of them all, Xi said.

Alliances can prevent greater conflicts between China, US

Yan Xuetong

Editor’s Note:

The Sino-US relationship has been experiencing some fluctuations lately. Yan Xuetong, director of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University, has suggested that forming alliances abroad can help China smooth the bilateral ties. How will it work? How should the two sides further develop their relationship? Can China and the US escape Thucydides Trap? The following content is based on Yan’s recent lecture “Strategies for China’s rise and changing international environment.”
GT: Could you expand on your view that the more allies China makes, the more balanced and stable the relationship will be? You have also said that alliances have been labeled as a sign of Cold War, how can we keep a balance between the two?

Yan: Some say that forging an alliance is a Cold War mind-set. On the contrary, it is nonalignment that demonstrates the Cold War mentality. The proposal of nonalignment was raised in 1956 by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Egypt’s second president, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Yugoslavia’s then president, Josip Broz Tito. And the very first conference of non-aligned heads of states or government, at which 25 countries were represented, was convened in September 1961. The Non-Aligned Movement came into being during the Cold War, and so has a Cold War mentality, while forming alliances is simply human nature since ancient times.

The core of nonalignment is not to provide security assurances for other nations. All members from the Non-Aligned Movement are small and medium economies, and super powers have never engaged in such a thing. If China insists in nonalignment, how can we show our good will and justice? Are we going to tell the world that China is growing increasingly stronger, but China will never protect your safety?

For the moment, we should consider how to face the emerging pressure that comes along with the rise of China. Alignment is a solution.

For instance, Pakistan is in alliance not only with China, but also with the US. In terms of issues concerning Pakistan, there is no divergence between Beijing and Washington. If China can ally itself with every single ally of the US, there will be far less controversies between the two. But the problem is China is not willing to ally with US allies.

GT: You have once said that both China and the US are refusing to admit that they’re in competition. Is that still true?

Yan: That’s correct. Beijing and Washington are now trying to ease tensions with each other by pretending to be friends. But this strategy is obviously not working. The root cause is the fact that the core of this bilateral relationship is competition, rather than cooperation. Cooperation is only a method to prevent their competition from getting worse. And it is impossible to turn competition entirely into cooperation. Hence, my suggestion is to admit that we are competitors, and guide Sino-US ties toward healthy competition.

GT: You have previously mentioned that one of the significant agreements that China and the US cannot reach is the promise to respect each other’s core interests. Is there any solution to the issue?

Yan: The conflicts of core interests between China and the US are constantly growing. So far, there is no solution to the puzzle. All we can do is to prevent these controversies from escalating into war. But it is impossible to pursue a relationship without conflicts of core interests. It’s like you can prevent two students from fighting over scholarship. Yet you cannot stop them from competing for it. Instead of ideological conflicts, the major controversy that lies between Beijing and Washington is conflicts of core interests.

GT: How can China and the US avoid the Thucydides Trap?

Yan: The term “trap” has been used a lot lately. Yet personally, I think the word can be very misleading. Is the trap created by nature or dug by someone else? If there is a Thucydides Trap for real, why haven’t other developed nations fallen into it? If certain countries did fell, how can you repeat the same mistake of others?

To answer the question of whether China and the US can escape the Thucydides Trap, one must first define what exactly a Thucydides Trap is. Is it a nuclear war, a conventional war, military conflict, arms race, competition over trade liberalization, or the moves such if the US sends a warship to China’s Nansha Islands and China stops it? If you ask me, I would say the trap refers to direct war.

Nevertheless, there is not even a Thucydides Trap between Russia and the US. If there is any warfare between them, it’s proxy war. Therefore, why can anyone assume that China is highly likely to fall into the trap because of its emergence?

GT: How do you see Washington’s rebalance to Asia-Pacific strategy?

Yan: In order to maintain US hegemony, Washington adopted the rebalancing strategy in the Asia-Pacific. For the White House, the problem is not whether this strategy is good or bad, but whether it could find another way if it gives up this one. If there is nothing else, the rebalancing to Asia-Pacific is the only choice left, regardless of its effect. Therefore, I believe the strategy will not be changed. It’s a political legacy for US President Barack Obama. And whoever assumes the office after him will not easily withdraw it, because I don’t think anyone will possibly find a better policy to safeguard US hegemony.

It means that China needs to think over how to deal with the strategy. There are many ways. Personally, I think the best option is to form an alliance. We need to strengthen our relationships with our traditional allies, align ourselves with new partners, and expand cooperation with nations that are not our allies. The Communist Party of China used to call it a “united front.” What we should do today is the same – trying to forge an alliance with as many countries as possible. China has now raised a proposal to build an anti-terror regional alliance consisting of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. I believe this is a very good beginning.

Some say that when China decides to ally itself with other nations, a Cold War could be triggered. I don’t understand why they haven’t applied such concern to the US-led alliance. I was told the other day that Washington has done a very good job in this respect. I replied that if the US can do it so well, why can’t China learn from it?

AIIB loans will face political challenges

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
The Articles of Agreement of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) were signed in Beijing on Monday. They lay the foundation for the opening of the bank by the end of this year. The bank is the world’s first multilateral development bank led by a developing country.

The AIIB is the result of Asia’s economic development. It was generated by the evolution of a new type of international relations as well as by global multilateral financial cooperation. The basic principle of the AIIB is win-win cooperation, a unique characteristics of current times.

As a development bank, the main goal of the AIIB is to provide impetus for the sustainable development of Asian countries and offer capital assistance for infrastructure projects. The key to the future operation of the AIIB lies in how it will grant loans.

Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said that the AIIB is a complement, rather than a competitor, to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It means the AIIB will try to achieve what the other two haven’t. It will aim to be more pragmatic and more efficient.

However, this doesn’t mean the AIIB can overcome the setbacks the World Bank and the ADB have experienced. The AIIB may not easily solve the problems that the ADB failed to do.

In fact, the AIIB will definitely meet the same problems that the ADB has met before. Some of the problems may relate to the fact that the rules of the ADB cannot adapt to the reality of the country that is in need of loans, but more problems can be attributed to the political system and governance level of the country.

The AIIB needs to consider not only efficiency but also benefits. Both relate to the political situation of the countries in need of loans.

The completion of infrastructure projects is not only determined by funding, but also by the execution and capacity of the governments in charge. This relates to the country’s system, governance, productivity level and even its political stability.

Kenneth Rogoff, chief economist of the IMF, once said, what is lacking in many developing countries is not just cash but a capable government.

Greater risks lie in that many developing countries in Asia are going through a period of political transformation. They have limited governance capacity. Growing corruption and unstable politics will lead to unpredictable changes or even failure amid the operation of some projects.

It is not easy to downplay the political elements involved in the conditions of loans. From many projects operated by the ADB and the World Bank, we can see that the politics of the recipient countries should be taken into consideration before loans are granted. Once the loans are granted, the creditors will inevitably be dragged into these countries’ politics.

In 2010, a presidential election in C?te d’Ivoire which was intended to unify the long-divided nation plunged the country into further turmoil. The World Bank decided to stop offering loans and urged the country to solve the crisis through peaceful means.

The AIIB is led by China. China once accomplished a number of important projects with the financial support of international development banks. The AIIB can draw on the successful experience of China and promote it to more developing countries in Asia.

It is worth noting that China’s experience is related to its political system. The powerful governance capacity and efficiency of pushing forward pilot schemes cannot easily be imitated.

The final and the most important issue is that the projects financed by the AIIB should not only support a country’s development, but also enhance that country’s ability to sustain its development.

The experience of the World Bank shows that when a project can bring capital and technology to a developing country, its positive impact could be sustainable. If the AIIB is to achieve or even surpass what the World Bank and the ADB have done, it must attach high importance to how to raise the labor level of the debt countries at the every beginning.

The author is a senior editor with People’s Daily. He is now stationed in Brazil. Follow him on Twitter at @dinggangchina

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Iran ‘doesn’t need US permission’ in Iraq

Ali Akbar Velayati Photos: Cui Meng/GT

Editor’s Note:

Since Hassan Rouhani took office as Iranian president in 2013, there has been some major progress in dealing with the country’s nuclear issues. Recently, its proactive involvement into the ongoing Iraqi crisis has also drawn the attention of many international observers, who are speculating that it might serve as an opportunity for Iran and the US to thaw their strained relationship. Where are the nuclear talks heading? How much common ground will Iran and the US find in Iraq? Dr. Ali Akbar Velayati (Velayati), former foreign minister of Iran for 16 years and now top advisor for the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, touched upon these issues in an interview with Global Times (GT) reporter Liu Zhun.

GT: Iran has taken several positive steps in the nuclear problem since last year. Are they just temporary changes or signs of a reorientation of Iran’s foreign policy?

Velayati: I firmly believe that the main principles of Iran’s foreign policy have not been changed. But the tactics and procedures of dealing with specific diplomatic issues might have touched minor adjustment. The framework of the current nuclear talks is the same as before. But the countries that are involved in these negotiations have changed. Rouhani has paid keen attention to the resolution of nuclear issues since he took office, and that is why we have seen some progress on this front in recent months.

In fact no country will choose to undergo fundamental changes to its foreign policy so easily. The fact of the matter is that it is Iran’s legitimate right to develop its nuclear technology for civil and peaceful purposes according to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). This is also a principle that our foreign policy will always stick by.

GT: Many Western countries, especially the US, strongly claim that Iran is in the pursuit of producing nuclear weapons. How can Iran and the US reduce mistrust?

Velayati: I think the issue of mistrust is their problem, not ours. The US and its allies should realize that it is of no interest for Iran to develop nuclear weapons. There are a few nations that have stockpiles of nuclear bombs, but these bombs, potentially, could be a threat to themselves. Iran won’t take the risk.

Besides, Iran respects the red lines and has no intention to cross them as articulated by the international community in NPT.

Nuclear weaponization has been clearly forbidden in our religious jurisprudence and our Supreme Leader has announced a decree on this. What’s more, Iran’s nuclear installations are under direct and precise scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The West, especially the US, should be more realistic if they really want to solve the nuclear issues. In the name of denuclearization, what the US wants is forcing Iran to surrender to its wishes. Iran is a self-reliant and independent nation, and the US is not in the position to force Iran to accept its stance on some issues, such as recognizing Israel as a legitimate nation, which we will never ever do. The nuclear issues can only be addressed if the US stops using them as a pretext to coerce Iran.

GT: There have been four rounds of nuclear talks under the framework of P5+1. Do you think this framework will mark a turning point in Iran’s nuclear issues?

Velayati: Some positive steps have been taken in the P5+1 meetings. We have noticed that the policy of China, Russia and, more or less, Germany is to some extent different from the rest. We don’t think the five permanent members of the UN Security Council will adopt a resolution against Iran in terms of nuclear issues.

This framework is the decision of the international community, and we are making progress inside the system. But whether the framework can produce a turning point depends on the decision-makers of the US. As for Iran, we are working openly on this matter. Our president and myself are always committed to the negotiations with the 5+1.

GT: Rouhani has said that even if agreement cannot be reached by the deadline of July 20, the economic sanctions against Iran are unlikely to be resumed. What do you think?

Velayati: Since the very beginning of the Islamic Revolution, we have been under economic sanctions, more or less, for more than 30 years. During this period of time, Iran has been prepared to live under the sanctions without any important difficulties.

Iran is a big power in the Middle East, and its influence cannot be sanctioned. It has been proven that issues in this region cannot be properly addressed without the involvement of Iran.

Iran’s pivotal role in the Middle East has already made many countries believe that Iran’s leverage in the sphere of resources and energy is important. According to some business deals on crude oil with China, Russia, and some European countries, they are willing to respond positively and ensure their security of energy by dealing with Iran. Economic sanctions have become increasingly useless given the new circumstances.

GT: Iran’s proactive involvement into the current crisis in Iraq makes some people consider the possibility of Iran cooperating with the US on this issue. There have been signs that Iran’s relations with some Western countries are thawing. Will you take it as an opportunity?

Velayati: For the time being, I cannot say there are any positive signs. The US is still thinking that now is still the colonial era. Condescending to Iran, it keeps saying military option against Iran is always on the table. There will not be cooperation or real rapprochement if the US does not respect Iran as a member of the international community on an equal footing.

What we are going to do in Iraq doesn’t need to acquire the permission of the US. We only respond to the request of the legal government of Iraq. I can guarantee that these Al Qaeda-based militants will be removed from Iraq faster than one can expect.

Besides some bombardments, I don’t think the US will do anything else in Iraq. Washington has been playing an irresponsible role in Iraq in recent years. Basically Iran doesn’t need to cooperate with the US on this matter.

Mainland travel program to Taiwan suspended

Chinese demonstrators sing songs and chant slogans while waiting for the arrival of Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen in Los Angeles in August 2018. As Tsai arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel, she was greeted by peaceful Chinese demonstrators of all ages and from all walks of life. They were holding flags, banners and signs bearing the slogan “One China.” The crowd began chanting “One China!” and “Oppose Taiwan Independence!” as Tsai pulled into the hotel. Photo: Wang Rujun

A pilot program that allows residents of 47 Chinese mainland cities to travel to the island of Taiwan on individual trips will be suspended from August 1 due to the current cross-Straits ties, according to a notice issued by the Association for Tourism Exchange across the Taiwan Straits on Wednesday.

Travel agencies such as Ctrip and CYTS told the Global Times that they have already received the notice.

Zhang Hua, an associate research fellow of the Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the suspension is clearly the result of current cross-Straits tensions.

“The pro-independence forces in Taiwan have become more and more furious. The recent military exercises by the People’s Liberation Army, especially one around the Dongshan Island that faces Taiwan, sends a strong signal to the ‘Tsai Ing-wen administration’ that if they do not adhere to the 1992 Consensus, the status quo of cross-Straits ties cannot remain,” Zhang said.

This shows that the mainland has the ability, confidence and leverage to deal with provocations from Taiwan independence forces, Zhang added.

The move comes five months ahead of Taiwan elections slated for January 2020.

Xue Qingde, a Taiwan businessman who has been investing in Fujian’s Pingtan county for over a decade, told the Global Times that he wants more exchanges between people from Taiwan and the mainland, but he supports the latest move by mainland authorities as Tsai’s policies are causing the two sides to drift apart.

The program that allows individual mainland tourists to travel to Taiwan began in June 2011. At first it only applied to residents of three major cities – Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen. It was later expanded to include 47 cities in March 2015.