The key to “solving” enduring enmities in Northeast Asia is an acceptable modus vivendi between the U.S. and China. That would open the way to less adversarial Sino-Japanese political relations, and to a process of establishing an appropriate inter-Korean dialogue.
At the moment, these are very long odds. The peaceful resolution of the Korean stand-off, and of the contested territorial claims in the South and East China Seas, sounds like easily acceptable objectives. But the problem is how to reach these settlements in a situation where core interests of the parties involved, some of them nuclear-armed, are diametrically opposed.
China, supported by Russia, is urging patience. Both countries believe time is working for them, because there are no acceptable military solutions to any of these problems. In the end, they think, China’s economic might will bring a denouement on its own terms.
Washington now understands that decades of hubris (in the classical Greek sense), errors and unforgivable neglect have led to this position. That feeling was summed up by President Donald Trump last Saturday when he said that, on the Korean issue, “there will be success in the end one way or the other,” sounding more like a sage than a high-charging “Make America Great Again” action man.
China now has the upper hand on a strategic issue that will define East Asia’s economic and political outlook for the foreseeable future. From a purely technical economic viewpoint that is fine. The region’s prodigious economic potential will continue to produce high growth.
But the rest of the world should make sure that the growth is not generated at its expense by traditional export-driven development strategies. East Asia’s $600 billion to $700 billion in annual trade surpluses should not be tolerated. The area’s huge excess savings should be used to stimulate domestic demand and increase purchases from overseas trade partners.
That’s where Washington can — and emphatically should — play a key role.
Commentary by Michael Ivanovitch.
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