By Zhao Minghao Source: Global Times Published: 2018-1-31
China and Japan expressed their common will to improve relations when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono in Beijing on Sunday. As the world`s second and third largest economies respectively, improving bilateral ties is in the interest of not only the two countries, but also the entire international community, Kono said.
In addition to resolving sensitive issues such as the Diaoyu Islands dispute and other historical rows in a sound manner, China and Japan need to formulate and implement an agenda for cooperation. In fact, the Belt and Road initiative could provide an important opportunity for the two countries to step up cooperation.
Initially, the Shinzo Abe government was rather indifferent and even negative toward the Belt and Road initiative. Japan has not yet joined the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). However, Abe in recent months has repeatedly said that Japan is willing to take part in the Belt and Road initiative.
As early as May 2017, Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of Japan`s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), headed a delegation to the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. In December, Nikai and Yoshihisa Inoue, secretary-general of Komeito, LDP`s ruling coalition partner, attended the seventh meeting of China-Japan ruling party exchanges mechanism in Xiamen, Southeast China`s Fujian Province. The Belt and Road and China-Japan cooperation was on the agenda. Abe met Nikai and Inoue to talk through Japan`s strategy on the initiative in January. According to Japanese newspaper The Nikkei, Nikai and Inoue suggested the use of Fujian Province as a testing ground for cooperation between Japan and China on the Belt and Road initiative.
An increasing number of Japanese enterprises are showing interest in participating in the Belt and Road initiative. Teruo Asada, chairman of trading house Marubeni, said there are many infrastructure projects in Asia that they can work on with Chinese companies. Marubeni is working with a Chinese manufacturer of solar power modules to bring down power generation costs at a massive solar project opening in 2019 in the United Arab Emirates. Nippon Yusen also expressed its will to with Chinese companies in the operation of Hambantota, a China-built port in southern Sri Lanka.
Although Japan has not joined the AIIB, it has shown its flexibility to work with the bank. Since the AIIB commenced operations in January 2016, it has made remarkable achievements. The number of members has increased from 57 to 84. The bank has invested in 24 infrastructure projects in 12 countries, with loans exceeding $4.2 billion. In view of huge infrastructure needs in developing Asia, amounting to $26 trillion over the next 15 years, president of the Japan-led Asian Development Bank, Takehiko Nakao, said the China-based AIIB could be an ally, not rival, in the financing of infrastructure projects.
In fact, the two banks have undertaken co-financing of four projects, with a total amount of about $805 million in recent years to support four infrastructure projects in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Georgia and India.
Japan`s participation in the Belt and Road initiative is also beneficial for China. According to estimates of the Development Research Center of the State Council, from 2016 to 2020 the total funding needed for infrastructure development in Belt and Road countries will amount to at least $10.6 trillion. The participation of countries such as Japan will help enhance the financing sustainability of Belt and Road projects. China shouldn`t be overburdened by Belt and Road financing.
Besides, many Japanese enterprises are experienced in operating in Southeast Asia, Central Asia and South Asia. Chinese companies can learn how to fulfill corporate social responsibility from their Japanese counterparts. Local protests broke out in Bangkok and Jakarta against Japanese economic aggression in the 1970s. In 1977, then Japanese prime minister Takeo Fukuda proposed to cooperate with Southeast Asian countries as equal partners and urged Japanese enterprises to make more contributions to the local economy. In the past 40 years Japanese enterprises have built a positive image in many countries along the Belt and Road route.
Some countries are still worried about participating in the Belt and Road initiative, thinking it will make them economically too dependent on China. If Chinese and Japanese companies can cooperate on related projects, it will help alleviate such concern.
Cooperation on the Belt and Road initiative can be a driving force for improving China-Japan relations. More importantly, both countries are experiencing the impact of Trumpism in free trade. They should work together to promote inclusive, open and sustainable regional economic integration.
The author is a visiting fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.