BY WANG XIAOZHU
China and Japan are set to hammer out details on collaboration on infrastructure projects in third countries, in a bid to avoid excessive competition and benefit enterprises from both countries, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives in Beijing on Thursday for a historical visit.
But despite of encouraging Japanese business to cooperate with Chinese counterparts, it’s unlikely Abe will formally “endorse” the Belt and Road Initiative, mainly for domestic concerns.
Abe, the first Japanese prime minister to visit China formally since 2011, said he “hoped that Japanese and Chinese private companies will cooperate to meet the booming infrastructure demand of Asia”, in a written interview with Chinese media, according to Xinhua on Wednesday.
He also said that it’s of great significance to meet the strong infrastructure need of Asia, the center of world economic development.
Such cooperation will be mutually beneficial for enterprises from both China and Japan, both of whom are significant players to fill the huge infrastructure gap, especially in Asia.
They have engaged in some excessive competition in some countries before, for their capabilities do overlap.
Like in Indonesia, for example, both sides vied harshly for the construction of a high speed rail to link the capital city of Jakarta to Bandung in central Java.
More countries, especially less developed ones, have in recent years resorted to a “balancing act”, as China Daily has said long ago, to play Beijing and Tokyo off each other to extract better terms, such as lower interest rates.
Hammering out deals to encourage companies from both countries to join hands in infrastructure projects will help to reduce – if not eradicate – excessive competition, which could hurt both sides.
The two countries are moving ahead with a public-private committee being established for better coordination and collaboration.
A high speed rail project aimed at connecting Thailand’s three main airports is seen as the first candidate for Sino-Japanese infrastructure cooperation in a third countries, as Nikkei Asian Review has reported.
It is hoped that Abe’s visit, Xinhua said, will help promote healthy and stable development of bilateral relations and bring it into a new phase.
Despite both taking office around the same time in 2012, Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping have never visited each other’s countries for a formal bilateral summit, with all of their previous encounters taking place on the sidelines of international conferences.
During Abe’s visit, the two countries will hold a reception marking the 40th anniversary of the signing of the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship.
Over the past 40 years, the relationship between China and Japan has seen remarkable progress despite some twists and turns and severe tests, Xinhua said.
“Some Japanese enterprises like Nippon Express, Japan’s largest logistics firm, have already joined the comprehensive cooperation under the framework of the BRI,” it said.
Formal endorsement unlikely
But it’s unlikely that Abe will formally “endorse” the BRI, which will be a widely watched issue of his visit.
On the positive side, Japan’s participation in the BRI would allow Abe to live up to expectations from the nation’s business community.
In fact, in response to a request from the business community, Abe had already announced at a forum in Tokyo last year that Japan can cooperate with the Chinese initiative, according to the Japan Times.
Cooperation on projects under the “BRI”, Xi’s signature infrastructure drive, has been a key aspect. But Japan has preferred to refer to it as cooperation on third countries, avoiding directly adopting the Chinese term, the South China Morning Post said.
“Outright support for Xi’s pet project could ignite a backlash from Abe’s core conservative support base, ‘many of whom are anti-China’, while also irritating the US, and even contributing to China’s effort to drive a wedge in the Japan-US alliance,” Noriyuki Kawamura, a professor of Sino-Japanese relations at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies, said, according to the Japan Times.
The writer is a foreign affairs analyst