BRI offers opportunities for China-Japan cooperation
Five years have elapsed since the Chinese government officially announced the Belt and Road Initiative. It no doubt aims to create the most extensive and exhaustive infrastructure network literally connecting the world, from rural provinces in China to cities and ports of Eurasia, Africa and even Latin America. Often dubbed a 21st century version of the Silk Road, the initiative is definitely one of the largest investment projects in human history. The planned trade routes from east to west bode well in the advent of a new era, where wealth flows west to east.
Although the entire picture is a bit murky, it appears that my country of Japan, geographically speaking, is not included in the BRI. However, just because the BRI excludes Japan does not mean it has no impact on the country. Rather, Japan is one of the countries most impacted by the BRI.
The Japanese reaction to the BRI seems ambivalent. In the last few years, Japan tried to build its own initiative. The country talked with the United States, Australia and India about the establishment of a joint regional infrastructure project. In July 2018, Japan, the US and Australia agreed to invest in infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific. (Interestingly, India was not included.) The initiative is clearly intended as an alternative to the BRI.
On the other hand, in May and July last year Japan reversed its initial position and voiced its willingness to join the BRI, which the Chinese government welcomes. A lot of Japanese companies have found opportunities in the BRI and are eager to list their names as possible business partners.
Of course there are issues to be dealt with. The two nations have a complicated history -- they have experienced both friendship and feuds. In addition, Japan has concerns about whether BRI projects are in line with international standards. It is true that both sides could easily find tension in both what happened and what is happening. It is also true, however, that both sides have the willingness to overcome the problems and jointly go forward. One should not sacrifice the other to flourish.
The BRI has had a profound impact on Japan, in allowing Japan to reconsider the approach to its most important neighbor. After all, Japan views China as a valuable partner as well as a tough rival on both economic and strategic issues. It is neither good nor bad -- it is as it is. But it is good that Japan is showing a pragmatic approach rather than closing itself off from the BRI without looking at the virtue of the project. While seemingly contradictory, Japan’s openness toward the BRI while seeking alternatives is the fruit of realistic deliberations weighing the pros and cons.
The most important takeaway the BRI holds for my country is Japan should be open to international, particularly Asian, stakeholders to the extent that Japan could benefit from contributing to such stakeholders. After losing World War II, Japanese foreign policy has not always been assertive. The BRI gives Japan, not only on a country level but also on an individual level, the great opportunity to ponder its position in Asia and what it will create together with its neighbors.
Overcoming political and diplomatic discourse and working hand in hand, China and Japan could improve the project as well as their bilateral relationship. In doing so, Japan could help realize the very spirit of the BRI: to connect everything, develop open and free trade routes, and make this world a better place.
The author has worked as an insurance specialist for 15 years, developing his career in customer relations and international business planning.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.