China, Japan and USA: Peace Partners Through Commerce

10/21/2012 06:16 pm ET | Updated Dec 21, 2012

To be an American business person in China during the recent dramatic fallout of Sino-Japan relations over disputed island sovereignty in the East China Sea offered a thought provoking opportunity for the U.S. This falling-out between neighbors took place just as China and Japan were about to celebrate 40 years of rising commercial cooperation. The Taiwan factor also enters into the mix of this complicated issue which has broad economic and political implications. What have we learned from our history lessons in this region? Elementary solution: partnership. America can lead the conflict resolution as a humble peacemaker through trade and commerce dialogue. This can be done while advancing level playing field desires of American businesses to compete in these bourgeoning markets if we are keenly sensitive to the diverse cultural mentalities and deep-rooted historical sentiment amongst the nations involved in the conflict.

From my recent meetings with Chinese and Japanese government officials and business leaders, the clash over the islands China claims to be their Diaoyu Islands and Japan claims to be their Senkaku Islands, calls America to lead honorably and promote "peace partners through commerce." We can be a trusted advisor and fair partner to all concerned while also understanding China's painful history with its neighbor. Tensions remain in the media, government and business community about Japan's decision to buy from a private Japanese family the controversial islands historically considered China's territory. That action led to angry Chinese protests. On our fast speed train ride from Shanghai to Beijing the chatter was the same as in the boardrooms. Chinese reminisced about Nanjing, still deeply upset with Japan and vehemently demonstrating their erstwhile disdain. New generation Japanese with hurt feelings combined with distressed Chinese recalling the past, resulted in enormous tourism and trade coming to a grinding halt. People quickly returned to their respective countries and Japanese car orders by Chinese buyers were cancelled and factories closed in China, costing jobs and fueling emotions in both countries. According to reports in China Daily bi-lateral trade and therefore jobs are hugely impacted by the territorial dispute since China is Japan's largest trade partner and Japan is China's second largest source of foreign direct investment.

In Shenyang, on September 18 at 9:18 am, horns honked across the city as a reminder of the date in history in 1931 when China had another major conflict with Japan. Chinese passionately compared this "memorial day" to the September 11 attack on America. It will be an intense exercise in diplomacy to help resolve the island dispute amicably. Elementary solution: partnership. Share the work and resources of the island, make commerce, and preserve jobs and peace. Ironically, in 1870s and 1880s the largest island Uotsuri-jima/Diaoyu Dao was then called Hoa-pin-su 和平屿, "Peace Island". Perhaps this dispute offers a call to action of all parties to consider making a "peace talks" site one purpose of this place. "Peace partners through commerce" discussions could be led by the U.S.A.

The American government could invite private sector experts in "conflict resolution." The highest ranked methods in this field come from Pepperdine University in California. Call upon their expertise to assist in working out a partnership resolution that suits all parties involved. This diplomatic leadership is especially critical when doing business amongst all concerned nations is in the commercial interest of the governments, companies and millions of workers. Lao Tzu an ancient Chinese philosopher taught, "If there is to be peace amongst nations; there must be peace between neighbors and... peace begins in the heart." That means there must be sincere desire for a peaceful resolution. Heartfelt desire for harmonious action comes from people getting to know and trust each other which is why travel and tourism is so vital to the world. Tourism and trade is essential for the well-being of nations, economically and cooperatively. America has not yet recovered from the effects of September 11, 2001. America must invest like China has invested in tourism development with a focused plan. American leadership at the highest level of government must work with private sector leaders in partnership.

For many years I had the pleasure to serve as special advisor to Dr. Sen, head of the Urasenke Foundation in Kyoto which teaches chado the art of the tea ceremony. This ancient tradition advances hospitality and friendship. From a medieval practice to its modern form, the principles specified are wa (peace), kei (respect), sei (purity), jaku (tranquility). Mother Teresa, role model champion of peace and hospitality, simply taught: "Peace begins with a smile." Interesting to note, international airports in China have "smile-meters" for travelers to score the friendliness of immigration officers. Adopting such welcoming practices in foreign policy is a good lesson for all to advance commerce and create jobs. Both of these ancient nations must safeguard the hospitable ways of the past and from them innovate new approaches of securing sincere collaboration for the future in a world of increasing competition for diminishing resources.

The hospitality industry, notably travel and tourism, is a job creation engine and a goodwill vehicle for resolving conflicts by people to people interaction. A relevant example, in 1972 the doors opened between China and America when President Nixon traveled to Beijing for the first time and made a point to reach out and shake the hands of China's Premier Zhou En Lai who in turn touched President Nixon's heart when he arranged for the PRC Military Band to play "America the Beautiful." The closing lyrics of this inspirational song sums up America's leadership role in the world, "God shed His grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea."