When Xi assumed office, people once hoped he would usher in democracy, but what actually happened was much stronger suppression of speech and greater thought control. He seems, so to speak, like a captain of a ship in distress who is hardening his resolve to deny his passengers the liberty to act on their own. In the end it is only the Chinese people who can decide which way China will go. But it is certain that the conclusion of this battle of Xi's will have an enormous effect on those of us outside China.
Beijing's sparring with Abe has produced underwhelming results. An international public relations blitz following Abe's Yasukuni trip -- to remind the world of Japan's past aggression and warn of resurgent militarism -- resulted not in a chorus of condemnation of Tokyo but in wariness of excessive Chinese rhetoric. Nor did harsh criticism of Abe undermine his standing at home.
China's continuous rise and China's active strategic engagement with South Korea are increasingly challenging the basis of the U.S.-Japan-South Korea cooperative triangle in Northeast Asia. South Korea, on its part, is also upgrading its cooperation with China on economic partnership, a political dialogue (to persuade North Korea to renounce its nuclear ambition) and on the historical posture vis-a-vis Japan.
As reported early Wednesday, Shinzo Abe's LDP has succeeded in reaching an agreement with New Komeito to lift the ban on Japan's ability to engage in collective self-defense. China has been vocal in opposing any moves that give Tokyo more freedom to build up and make use of military force. Surprisingly, then, the response was fairly muted. It focused not on how Abe's collective self-defense policy will affect China, but how it will affect Japan itself.
Many worry that a self-reflective and retrenching America is leaving a void in the world's balance of power. But hold your breath, here is Shinzo Abe coming to the rescue. Before the Americans sign their outsourcing contract with Tokyo, they would be well advised to listen carefully to Mr. Abe's Shangri-La speech. In his concluding remarks, he said that the New Japanese are really no different from their parents and grandparents in seeking to contribute to the world. For every Chinese and every Korean, it begs the question: Just who were those grandfathers Mr. Abe was so proudly referring to?
The Asia-Pacific region has achieved tremendous growth in the span of a single generation. Regrettably, a large and relatively disproportionate share of the fruits of that growth is going toward military expansion. The sources of instability include not only the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but also -- and more immediately -- efforts to alter the territorial status quo through force or coercion. And those efforts are taking place largely at sea. We do not welcome dangerous encounters by fighter aircraft and vessels at sea. What Japan and China must exchange are words. Should we not meet at the negotiating table, exchange smiles and handshakes, and get down to talking?