Japan and China Rivalry in Building an Asian Community

N-AziaSince the economic crisis hit East Asia in 1997, East Asian states have begun to make efforts to build an East Asian community. In 1997 the Northeast Asian states of Korea, Japan, and China joined the ASEAN meeting and created ASEAN+3 framework. These thirteen countries decided to establish an East Asian Vision Group(EAVG) in 1998 and an East Asian Study Group(EASG) in 2001. With the two reports of these groups, the region has shown a steady development of regional integration.

As states began to accept FTA as a useful approach for Asian regionalism, many scholars take an optimistic view regarding the future of East Asian regionalism. Such prospect is based on the assumption that bilateral FTAs would be connected directly with multilateral FTAs and then eventually form an East Asian Community like European Union(EU). However, we need to raise the following questions; Indeed FTA approaches in East Asia play a consequential role in constructing a community and therefore result in a complete integration? Why Korea has decided to conclude FTAs with Chile and U.S.?

This study begins with these questions and aims to investigate Japan’s FTA policies in light of neorealism. In particular it tries to explain what stimulate Japan to design a proposal of extended EAFTA in terms of national interests and power relations in relation to the China factor. Japan has not assumed a clear-cut attitude in course of regionalism.

Once in a while Japanese government was active in ASEAN+3 process, at the same time reluctant to take part in institutionalization of regional cooperation. In particular Japan has shown an ambivalent attitude toward China, that is a mixture of cooperative relationships and highly fierce competitions. This article argues that such conflicting aspects are derived from the speed of the Chinese economic growth. It seems to offer Japan two incentives such as to take advantage of Chinese growth and check its political impacts.

Above all it is believed that Japan has a strong tendency to give more weight to the latter, for the Chinese unexpected economic development might eventually threaten Japan’s existing influences in East Asia. So Japan has made a contribution toward building a regional community on one hand and tried to assume a leading role in constructing it and designing in favor of its own interests on the other hand.

This study suggests that Japan’s ambiguous attitudes and politically elaborated considerations are easily found on FTA policies between Japan and China. In case China has decided to conclude FTA with ASEAN states, then Japan has made every effort to offset it by FTA policies(ASEAN+China FTA, ASEAN+Japan FTA and Singapore+Japan FTA, etc.). Recently such competitive and reactive actions had been taken at East Asian Summit in 2005, Japan’s proposal of extension EAFTA including Australia, New Zealand and India or so called ASEAN+6. As mentioned, since FTA in East Asia has substantial importance more than the existing studies think, it is of necessity to evaluate Japan’s new proposal in other way.

Firstly, FTA is regarded as one of the most crucial strategies to maximize one’s interests. Secondly, whether which countries would be included or excluded in great powers’ FTA is subtly linked with the scope of membership in East Asia regionalism. So the more a country has succeeded in winning states over the one’s side, the easier in shaping a community in favor of itself.

Moreover, FTA is considered as a short cut to realize one’s goals without a considerable subjugation to a regional bloc in East Asia. Accordingly this paper argues that Japan seeks to gain a leverage against China and eventually tries to establish a strong power position in East Asia by adding three extra-regional countries to ASEAN+3 process.

Created by PARK Seungbin

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