Last week, China was in the spotlight after it vowed to boost cooperation between its military and that of India. On the other side of the coin, however, Chinese President Xi Jinping chastised Japan for its supposed World War II crimes during his state visit to South Korea, which also loves to remind Japan of its atrocities.
The Chinese and Indian vow of military cooperation is a welcome development. Perhaps, it will guarantee lasting peace at least in the Indian Ocean and the borders between the two nuclear-armed countries.
General Bikram Singh, the first Indian army chief to visit China since 2005, held talks on Thursday with Fan Changlong, the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission.
Relations between these Asian powers are generally positive but have suffered from lingering distrust over an unresolved border dispute and a brief war a half century ago.
The frontier issue flared up again in April last year with New Delhi accusing Chinese troops of intruding nearly 20 kilometers (12 miles) into Indian-claimed territory, triggering a three-week standoff that was resolved only when forces of both sides pulled back.
However, China’s willingness now to stress cooperation with India over their dispute contrasts with the harder line Beijing has taken in maritime disputes in the South China Sea with the Philippines and Vietnam and the East China Sea with Japan. China and India are both members of the BRICS grouping, along with Brazil, Russia and South Africa.
But in South Korea on Friday, China’s President Xi took advantage of the occasion to widen the rift between Tokyo and Seoul over the latter’s growing willingness to side with Beijing against Japan.
In a speech at Seoul National University on Friday, Xi recalled the “barbarous wars of aggression” Japan had waged against China and Korea, and the suffering inflicted by Japanese occupation and colonial rule.
Such rhetoric is well received in South Korea where relations with Japan are at a low ebb because South Korea is eagerly pushing for closer commercial ties with China and seducing China into abandoning its North Korean protectorate by making China feel that it has turned its back on the US-Japan-Korea defense alliance.
The rift between Japan and South Korea is increasing American worries about the success of its “pivot” to Asia.
Pyongyang definitely got the message that China would be happier if it did not brandish its missile delivery capabilities. But it is obvious that it does not want to obey China in everything. So before Xi’s arrival in Seoul, it fired several test missiles.
Meanwhile, Japan has also taken advantage of the anxiety the growing ties between Seoul and Beijing is causing the North by relaxing some of its restrictions on North Koreans living in Japan, allowing them to have freer contacts with their relatives back home and letting them to send them more money.
Mao Zedong once declared China and North Korea to be as close as “lips and teeth”—a bond forged in the 1950-53 Korean War against the South and US-led United Nations forces.
But Beijing’s patience with the North’s relentless nuclear brinkmanship has worn thin and Xi’s visit was a clear reflection of the common ground it now shares with South Korea—economically and, to a growing extent, diplomatically.
Obviously, China wanted to demonstrate last week its influence over Asia, and its latest moves with India and South Korea show that it is ready to forego past animosities, but it continues to fan the flames of the painful past with Japan. These moves can hardly be interpreted as truly trustworthy, but as the popular saying goes, in politics: “There are no permanent friends, only permanent interests…”
And China has lots of interests to protect in Asia.