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Is a Pax Sinae-Nipponica era on the rise?

Image credit: 内閣官房内閣広報室 (Creative Commons: Wikicommons)

From the 19th to early 20th century, the world was under Pax Brittanica: A Latin phrase denoting peace with Britain as hegemon. Conversely, post-World War Two has been a period of Pax Americana, with the US taking the mantle as hegemon. However, it seems we may be entering a new era of hegemony, potentially an era of Pax Sinae-Nipponica (China and Japan).

According to The Economist, the US president is no longer the world’s most powerful leader. That title belongs to China’s Xi Jinping. In terms of purchasing power parity, China has the world’s largest economy, with Japan’s the third largest. Economies aside, there are other noteworthy factors contributing to the idea of Pax Sinae-Nipponica, and the decline, or downfall of Pax Americana.

Donald Trump’s presidency brings a high level of uncertainty to the international community. Trump withdrew from the world’s largest trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is infuriating China by imposing $250bn worth of tariffs on Chinese products to the US. International economies rely on the stability provided from American and Chinese markets, and Donald Trump is instead providing instability.

Trump’s protectionist policies reflect an ideology that is America-centric, as opposed to focusing on policies that will strengthen their role under Pax Americana. That’s where Japan comes in.

Japan and China are countries with extensive relations and cultural similarities dating back centuries. Both countries are each other’s largest tourist market, they have widespread sharing of technologies and products; with even the Japanese language being derived from Chinese characters.

In recent years, both countries haven’t seen eye-to-eye due to politically-charged policies such as their views on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands; but now the situation has changed.

Last October, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe went to China for high-level bilateral talks: something which hasn’t happened since 2011. Both leaders have met on the sidelines of various multilateral events, but each meeting lasted less than an hour.

At this historical meeting, both leaders laid the foundations for Pax Sinae-Nipponica.

Since their last meeting, Abe has taken the Japanese economy into a period of sustained growth, and is spending considerable amounts on Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, boosting Japan’s military and economic prowess in the Asia-Pacific.

At last month’s historic meeting, Abe explicitly stated ‘I would like (our countries) to cooperate with each other to contribute to the peace and security of the region and the world… I want to start a new era for Japan and China with Mr. Xi’.

Abe also believes that Japan and China will not become a threat to each other, and that they will have deeper cooperation regarding infrastructure building, economy and security concerns.

The key to a potential Pax Sinae-Nipponica is promoting the notion of ‘us’ and not ‘them’. Abe’s early policies were very anti-China, and these policies made him popular amongst the Japanese public. However, with China’s increasing annoyance towards the US and Trump’s inability to effectively communicate with world leaders, Abe used this opportunity to strengthen their ties with China.

Pax Sinae-Nipponica is dependent on Japan and China’s cooperation on building infrastructure and joint-development of nation building in Asia, which Abe is clearly interested. China is already heavily contributing to these through its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). With these investments, China is leveraging infrastructure loans in a “debt-trap diplomacy” with countries to ensure political dominance in areas of dissent.

By sharing their railway and energy technologies with countries like Thailand, Japan has proven they’re willing to join the infrastructure and nation building movement. Further participation will create greater stability in Asia and promote Japan as an economic leader, whilst helping to buffer and overcome China’s debt-trap diplomacy.

At the recent GZero Summit, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said that Japan is willing to step up to the responsibility of being a leader in trade and international politics. He believes that working with China in the AIIB will be key to this.

Another key area contributing to a Pax Sinae-Nipponica would be Japan’s participation in China’s One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR). The (OBOR) is the world’s most substantial infrastructure development plan, which seeks to connect Europe and Asia with around $900bn invested each year for ten years.

If Japan gains even 10% of the OBOR’s annual project budget, this would be equivalent to 2% of Japan’s annual GDP. By doing so, Japan would promote their role as a leader in infrastructure building in Asia, creating significant economic opportunities for future projects in the Asia-Pacific region.

Bilateral relations have improved due to this year marking the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China.

With the foundations in place and both leaders willing, the tangible thread that always connected the countries may create a new political order in the form of Pax Sinae-Nipponica.

George Sagris is a journalist and Honours graduate in Japanese-Chinese politics, based in Adelaide.

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