Letter to National Security Advisor to the US Vice-President on Diaoyu Island
17 October, 1996.
Dear Mr Leon Fuerth,
National Security Adviser to the Vice President,
Office of the Vice-President,
Thank you for your letter of 3rd September, 1996; we are pleased that our China policy paper may be of use to you.
In our paper we noted that Japan would be a key component of any lasting regional security arrangements. We are writing again to you so soon because we feel the current conflict over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, coming as it does at a time when elections are being held in the US and also in Japan, offers a unique opportunity for the US to act to strengthen security in this region.
You will no doubt be aware of recent events concerning these disputed islands. The establishment and repair of a lighthouse on the islands by a right-wing Japanese group has inflamed anti-Japanese sentiment among Chinese communities world-wide, particularly in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong's case the strength of such sentiment may be due in part to pent-up communal feelings that, denied their natural expression by Hong Kong's unique constraints - a colony of one power about to be consigned to another - found a "safe" outlet against a third country. Such sentiment may also have been heightened by the knowledge that vigorous protests in Hong Kong appeared to embarrass the Chinese government for its inaction. Nonetheless, anti-Japanese feeling is genuinely deep and widespread in the region, and this may be a long-term cause of instability. We would like to offer some suggestions to alleviate this situation.
- One component of a lasting regional security solution must be in apology by Japan for its wartime aggression and atrocities. Unlike Germany, Japan has never apologised or made explicit restitution for its behaviour. The US Administration must bear a part of the responsibility for this as it to some extent side-stepped the issue during the occupation period. Although Japan has in fact lived peacefully with its neighbours for more than half a century, and Article 9 and other constitutional safeguards offer comfort, it is logically possible that the Japanese people could return to the militaristic path that they have never formally renounced. Hence, small actions by right wing elements, such as the present islands issue, provoke disproportionate concern among regional peoples. We would therefore urge the US Administration to encourage Japan to make a full apology for and renunciation of its aggressive past. We understand that this is not an easy task, but there have been recently been more conciliatory statements by senior Japanese leaders which, if the trend were to continue, could lead in time to an actual apology. It would be helpful if US support for such a trend could be made clear. Consideration should also be given to indirect actions that signal a conciliatory stance. Examples of such action could include an enhanced aid programme, but one that was not so tied to Japanese suppliers and Japanese currency as the present one; forgiveness of concessions on existing loans for those debtors such as China who have suffered from the rise of the yen; and the opening of Japanese markets to regional suppliers - which would also benefit the Japanese consumer. Educational and cultural exchanges, such as scholarships to Japanese universities, might also be appreciated. Such indirect measures might be easier for Japan to take but would carry a message of conciliation.
- A second element of the solution must be the recognition that the share of the regional security burden borne by the US must diminish over time. The recent outbreak of feeling against US forces on Okinawa is indicative of a trend which, although perhaps temporarily dampened by Japanese concern over China's own aggression against Taiwan, will lead naturally to greater pressure for the US military presence in Japan to be reduced. US domestic political pressures may also militate against continuing commitments to the defence of a region increasingly seen as developed enough to stand on its own feet. It may be wise for the US Administration to anticipate rather than react to this trend.
- The US Administration can anticipate by setting out clearly its vision of future regional security. This would be our third element of the solution. Such vision should be centred around institutions, which, in contrast with Europe, Asia lacks. The Asian Regional Forum is currently not very effective in discussing security affairs, but with US support could perhaps become more so. The non-military groupings APEC and ASEAN may play an indirect part, and have a stabilising influence of their own; as such they are worthy of US support. And institutions that do not include the US, such as the East Asian Economic Caucus, should not be neglected. The US should also encourage the use of institutional forums, such as the International Court of Justice, for the settlement of disputes. The recent example of Malaysia and Indonesia's recourse to the Court over the Sipadan and Ligitan islands appears encouraging. We would prefer institutional mechanisms to the US simply offering itself as mediator, as such a role may be difficult for the US to play well in Asia.
- The forth element must be an acceptance by its regional neighbours of Japan's regaining "normal" national standing, including security capabilities. Chinese objections to this, while based mainly on its grim historical experience, are partly motivated by the feeling that while Japan's war record remains unresolved, it is easier to obtain aid and soft loans from its neighbour. However, this game cannot continue indefinitely; Japan must apologise, and China must then accept Japan on an equal moral footing. And, notwithstanding the concerns over Japanese militarism discussed above, a surprising amount of support might be forthcoming in the region for proactive steps on Japan's part, especially in the context of an apology or conciliatory actions, and within a proper institutional framework. Malaysia's Prime Minister Mathahir has even proposed that Japan take its "natural place" as a member of the UN Security Council and drop its inhibitions about sending troops overseas.
We hope that the opportunity can be found to take some action on the above issue during what is an election time in both countries. We wish your Vice-President and Mr Clinton the very best of luck in the contest and hope that they will turn their attention to the issue of security in the region, where we believe that the circumstances are favourable for effective US action.
Dr Patrick Shiu
Reproduction of this paper is permitted with proper attribution to the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation