U.S. allies Japan and South Korea continue to invest in closer relations with China and recognize its importance, despite their deep-rooted geopolitical concerns about certain positions taken by an assertive Beijing in an era of heightened great power competition in the Asia-Pacific region.
The emerging strategies of Tokyo and Seoul come as Washington calls on the international community to stand up to the People’s Republic, a policy that will become apparent on Tuesday election day, when President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden contest the national election.
While the White House urges nations to rethink their relations with China, the people of the region do not see confrontation as an option.
“China is the second largest economy in the world, and the relationship between Japan and China is one of the most important bilateral relationships for Japan,” the Japanese State Department told Washington Newsday.
“Although there are various problems between Japan and China that give cause for concern, we will continue to demand what Japan should demand and solve each problem, urging China’s positive response by taking the opportunity for high-level meetings and visits,” the ministry said.
For South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, relations with China have changed even more in the years since the two established modern diplomatic relations 28 years ago.
“The Republic of Korea (ROK) and the People’s Republic of China (China) established diplomatic relations in August 1992, thus ending the history of separation for half a century, resuming the historic exchange that had lasted thousands of years, and paving the way for friendly and cooperative relations in the future,” the South Korean Foreign Ministry told Washington Newsday.
But both also recognize serious challenges in dealing with China.
China and Japan have been trapped in a territorial dispute over the Pinnacle Islands in the East China Sea for decades. Known as the Senkaku Islands for Japan and the Diaoyu Islands for China, the uninhabited land formations fell into disuse at the end of the 19th century.
China says that according to records, the islands historically belonged to China and were to be returned along with other confiscated lands awarded after Japan’s defeat in World War II. Instead, the victorious U.S. occupied the islands immediately after the conflict and transferred control back to Japan in the 1970s.
Defying Japan’s claims, a record number of Chinese ships sailed in and around the islands, prompting the Japanese coast guard to react.
“It is most regrettable that Chinese government ships continue to sail in Japan’s adjacent zone and enter Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands,” the Japanese State Department told Washington Newsday. “We have repeatedly raised strong protests through diplomatic channels against such Chinese activities,” the Japanese State Department told Washington Newsday.
The ministry vowed to exercise restraint while protecting its claimed territory, which is the subject of a treaty requiring a military response from the United States in the event of an attack.
“Japan continues to deal with the situation calmly and decisively, with a firm determination to defend Japan’s land, sea and air space,” the ministry said.
But Beijing continues to claim the right to patrol the disputed area.
Geopolitical battle between the USA and China over Asia creates new power dynamics for the region
“Diaoyu Dao and its associated islands are China’s inherent territory,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters earlier this month. “Patrolling and conducting law enforcement operations in the relevant waters is also China’s inherent right. The Japanese side should respect this”.
Trump administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and David R. Stilwell, Assistant Secretary Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, portray Chinese behavior here as part of a broader pattern of aggressive action in the region.
Under Trump, the US has given further priority to challenging Chinese claims in the region, a trend first adopted by former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as Vice President.
The Obama administration initiated another dispute with China by installing an advanced missile defense system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea, another ally