Cut off ODA to China immediately; But that's not enough

Wednesday, October 27 2004 @ 12:01 PM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

It's yet another territorial dispute, with some implication of oil exploitation rights, if you want to call it that when one side is acting like unruly pirates and the other side like timid suckers.

The dispute stems from the fact that the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates that waters up to 200 nautical miles from the coastline of a country should be considered its EEZ (exclusive economic zone) whereas the distance between Japan and China is less than 400 NM, and that it is believed there lie largely untapped veins of natural resources just around the disputed demarcation. For one thing the Chunxiao gas field, where China has kicked an offshore exploration project into high gear, is located so close to the alternative EEZ demarcation proposed by Japan (based on the equidistance rule) that China will most probably hit veins which extend to the Japan's side of the median line.

On October 25 a "senior working-level" talks took place in Beijing between Japan and China over the Chunxiao projects. When Mitoji Yabunaka who headed the Japanese delegate there emerged from a ten-hour-long meeting that had produced practically nothing, the director general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau told reporters to the effect that he was disappointed at insincerity on the part of China and yet he was still hopeful that the other side will be more sincere next time around. (This time he suggested that Prime Minister Koizumi will take up with Hu Jintao the issue with the continental shelf at the next month's APEC conference). These words are now signature lines of Yabunaka who had repeatedly given the same comments every time he failed to produce a meaningful outcome from the talks he had with his North Korean counterparts over the abduction issue.

Some Japan-based websites, usually critical of Japan's weak-kneed diplomacy toward North Korea and China, praised Yabunaka and his people for the patience and perseverance they showed in Beijing, saying sitting at the negotiating table for ten hours is quite something. But make no mistake, the Japanese have an unparalleled ability to endure a meeting that lasts eternally and gets absolutely nowhere.

In fact Yabunaka's team of negotiators should have told the Chinese delegate only one thing, instead of begging for the exploration data for more than ten hours. According to the Oct. 27 editorial of the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Japanese government has shelved applications from the private sector for its permission for initial tapping in the disputed area for more than 40 years. It's obviously the Japan's fault that now it's dying for the topological data on the undersea veins. So it's useless to blame China for not being sincere enough to hand over their data.

They should have said, instead, that in retaliation for the Chinese government's decision to go ahead with the exploration and wildcat drilling in the Chunxiao gas field before the EEZ dispute is settled, Japan will cut off its ODA directed to China with immediate effect, and for good. That's it. Period. And no buts, no ifs.

Back in 1979 then-Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira promised in Beijing that Japan would reciprocate the China's favor to drop its due demand for the reparation for the wartime atrocities by providing a bilateral aid funded in the framework of the Official Development Assistance. Actually Ohira offered his reciprocal deal to the wrong person because it's not Mao Zedong but Chiang Kai-shek that did Japan a favor by forgiving the Japan's obligation to redress the wartime atrocities. But by 2000, Japan's bilateral ODA directed to China had totaled almost US$ 30 billion. Although the amount directed to China has been declining since 1999, China is still the second-largest recipient of Japanese aid, only next to Indonesia.

Japan has once suspended its aid to China in protest against the nuclear test it conducted in 1995 but the freeze did not last until after China reluctantly signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In January this year the Asahi Shimbun, known to be a pro-Beijing and -Pyongyang newspaper, ran a small article headlined "China dangles US$ 50 million to North Korea". It matter-of-factly reported Wu Bangguo had offered US$ 50 million in grant aid just to secure Pyongyang's presence at the second round of the six-way talks. It's no secret that Beijing is always behind Pyongyang when North Korea does whatever it does. That's why the Bush Administration has, wrongly, appointed China to broker the stability in the East Asia. Ever since China has found itself ideally positioned to cause a problem, aggravate it, and calm it down as it likes. As to the Asahi's article, the Japanese government didn't express the slightest displeasure at the China's diversion of an ODA fund to someone else. Maybe Koizumi thought China's outgoing aid was not funded by its incoming aid. But if he were a savvy businessman, or a qualified politician, for that matter, he must have known that a buck is a buck no matter where you get it.

Now Koizumi faces a once-in-a-lifetime chance where he could demonstrate he has a little more guts than to say he has no intention to refrain from his absurd shrine visit no matter how it outrages his boss, Hu Jintao. All he has to say is: "We will cut it off, immediately and for good". It's unlikely that Hu Jintao would rebut, saying something like, "Now you are breaking Ohira's word". Moreover, the natural gas reserves out there are estimated to top 100 billion barrels according to a survey conducted by Japan in 1970. And 100 billion barrels of fossil fuels are, conservatively translated, worth JPY 640 trillion, or US$ 6 trillion. This US$ 6 trillion at stake now really dwarfs Japan's disguised reparation paid in instalments over the last 25 years.

So that's what the Japanese government should do, at minimum, and right away. However, cutting off the ODA is just a small step forward to normalize the bilateral relations between Japan and China. Japan should be prepared even for a military showdown at the disputed area in the East China Sea. Now is the time for the likes of Mitoji Yabunaka to step aside because these people who are totally incapable of bringing up well-defined and well-grounded demands at the negotiating table and imposing on the other side a very specific deadline for the answer. When dealing with Far-Eastern rogue nations such as China and North Korea, their open-ended way of negotiation will never work out. By doing so they are just playing the role of a sitting duck who gets paralyzed at the sight of the pirates.

I am aware that now I sound like a Don Quixote because to this nation it's out of the question to stop kowtowing to the neighboring Big Brother. I must admit that if I were to bet 1,000 bucks on the future of the Japan-China relations or any other bilateral relations, I would bet on a scenario in which Japan keeps swallowing someone else's status quo or vested right until it explodes, or collapses, out of overdose of it.

Chances are, however, we don't have to fret too much about the fuss over the demarcations and natural resources. The only thing Japan may have to do is to reconfirm its position in favor of the "One China" policy. If and when Taiwan is unified into the "Greater China", the claim by the People's Republic of China to the whole area, including the Senkaku Shoto, or Diaoyu Islands, will be indisputably legitimate, as some local websites point out.

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