China, Japan, and the row that shook Davos

JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the terrifying prospect of conflict in east Asia yesterday, comparing Japan and China’s cold relationship to relations between the UK and Germany in the years before World War One.

At the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos yesterday, Abe told journalists that while China and Japan had a strong trading relationship – a “similar situation” to Germany and the UK in 1914 – the region is being destabilised by spending on the Chinese military.

The Prime Minister also made barbed comments in a public speech later on, hinting at objections to Chinese foreign policy: “We must, ladies and gentlemen, restrain military expansion in Asia, which could otherwise go unchecked. Military budgets should be made completely transparent, and there should be public disclosure.”

Abe has previously criticised the Chinese government for its lack of transparency on military expenditure.

The two countries have long been at odds over the sovereignty of a string of islands in the Pacific Ocean, with tensions rising since 2012.

Earlier this month Japan scrambled fighter jets over the island after Chinese government planes were spotted in the area.

The night before Abe’s speech, an unnamed Chinese professional had spoken at Davos about the inevitability of a conflict, and the possibility of a Chinese strike to retake the islands from Japan. Business Insider reported that the remarks – at a private dinner – “freaked out everyone in the room”.

Abe was yesterday labelled a “troublemaker” by Chinese academic Wu Xinbo, an expert on Chinese foreign and defence policies. He added that trust between the Chinese and Japanese government was very low.

Abe’s formal speech later in the day was less confrontational in parts, reiterating China’s position as an economic powerhouse: “I want you to know, you can count on us. Asia has become a growth centre for the world, and Japan is surrounded by neighbours with unlimited potential, such as China, South Korea”

He added: “Japan has sworn an oath never again to wage a war. We will continue to be wishing for the world to be at peace.”

“There is a major misunderstanding concerning the Yasukuni shrine,” added Abe, referring to his controversial visit to a memorial commemorating Japan’s war dead, criticised for enshrining war criminals. China’s foreign minister summoned Japan’s ambassador during the Christmas period after Abe made his trip.

Abe also made upbeat projections about the strength of the Japanese economy, saying that real wages would begin to rise in the spring: “Japan’s economy is just about to break free from chronic deflation.”

The long-term reforms that make up the last of Abe’s “three arrows” policy were further outlined by the Prime Minister.