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  • Jul 31, 2014
  • Updated: 2:29am
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PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 5:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2013, 5:21am

America must get to know the Asia where history never really fades

Alice Wu says the health of Sino-US ties rests onan understanding of the unresolved feelings and tensions about Asia's tangled history

BIO

Alice Wu fell down the rabbit hole of politics aged 12, when she ran her first election campaign. She has been writing about local politics and current affairs for the Post since 2008. Alice's daily needs include her journals, books, a multi-coloured pen and several lattes.
 

The US foreign policy "pivot" landed US Vice-President Joe Biden in Asia last week on some smouldering rocky terrain. Well, welcome to the Asian Century!

Having regained enough of its footing after being toyed with and carved up by the owners of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, Asia is going to demand attention. Think of the "Asian Century" not as being about world dominance, but rather - finally - a proper recognition for the world's most populous continent, with all its good, bad and ugly sides. The trickiest is its history, which makes the complexities of geopolitics today even more complicated.

Gone are the days when Asians sat submissively, listening to the West preach and condemn. The pivot of American foreign policy needs to be more than a physical shift; more important is a "pivot" in attitude.

In the US, Biden is widely seen as the right man for the job. China expert Orville Schell called him "the best flight out to sort of put a face on US-China relations".

So far, so good. Discussion centred on not just China's air defence identification zone. During Biden's 5½-hour talk with President Xi Jinping , North Korea was a big issue, too. Everything is intricately and intrinsically linked, with many emotional strings attached. Biden seemed to display a sophisticated understanding and appreciation of the complexities at play in the region.

Speaking a language that focused on building relationships and trust, through meaningful and high-level "people-to-people" dialogue - and highlighting words like "candour", "constructive approaches" and "understanding the other side's perspective" - is a far cry from the description of a "strategic competitor" that needs "containment" from the George W. Bush era.

By and large, Biden took the delicate diplomatic balancing act in his stride. One exception perhaps was his call on Chinese youths to challenge the status quo, when he told a line of mostly young people waiting for visas at the American consulate in Beijing that, "The only way you make something totally new is to break the mould of what was old".

The old moulds of handling Asia are pressure cookers. This approach, where everything is thrown in a pot to cook to "save energy", doesn't work any more. The pot is breaking and the steam escaping through the cracks is raising temperatures, not least over the East China Sea.

A lot has been bottled up from before. Seventy-six years ago today, Imperial Japanese troops under the command of General Asaka Yasuhiko launched the Battle of Nanjing, the prelude to the Rape of Nanking that began on December 13, 1937. That's in the pressure cooker, as are the previous denials by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that troops forced women into sexual slavery, thus trying to obliterate the existence of comfort women from history altogether. These are just some of the grievances crying to be let out.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA

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This article is now closed to comments

andreaswagner
Dwelling in the past instead of facing the present and the future, has never offered any solution. But it's easy of course, and a ready excuse to dodge responsibility. Nothing new.
jiawang@adb.org
China needs to learn the history of the West.
When a rising power confronts a status quo power, there will be war.
China should be aware.
Posturing, bluffing, and diplomatic tantrum throwing is no defense.
superdx
China should study history more, or maybe they have? The Nazis plays on nationalist notions of humiliation at the defeat of WW1 and the "unfairness" of the Treaty of Versailles, which China constantly knows as the Unequal Treaties at the defeat of the Europeans. Then the Nazis "expanded" their spheres of influence by annexing nearby territories. The expanded ADIZ is seemingly just the first step. China is the new aggressor, looking to settle old scores with their newfound wealth. But guess what, militaries aren't just bought with cash. China has fought no major engagements and has untested hardware and awful supply chains to defend even existing territories. While the US is broke, bankrupt and can ill-afford another conflict, the military is experienced and is well equipped.
Making friends is easier than making enemies. Guess they should study that part of history as well. Imagine if China was friendly with all the Asian powers instead of being at constant conflict. The US would be frothing at the mouth. The EU would be begging to be included. Just some food for thought.
shouken
The Nazis are of course very easy targets and reference points. But they strengthened and united Germany to a formidable level in just a handful of years. If their leader was not overzealous and rashly took on the Soviets, contemporary hisory would have been radically different. You need to point to a string of new territorial acquisitions before comparing China to the Germans. No! The ADIZ is not "expanded", it was declared by China for the first time in its history, a full 44 years behind Japan and decadeds behind Korea and Taiwan. The Americans and their Japanese stooges have been only too accustomed to doing whatever they want with airspace in the East Sea. Imagine Japanese or German military aircraft flying close to either coasts of continental US and invade its ADIZ. But I guess Americans are very used to applying double standards. This is the quitessence of US exceptionalism.
-
"[China] looking to settle old scores with their newfoun wealth"? What wealth? 3 trillion in foreign reserve accumulated over 35 years of minimum-wage labor and cheap exports? That 3 trillion is barely 1/5 of a single-year of US GDP.
VicSexton
"overzealous" - haha. one way of putting it i suppose.
amunro
"where history never fades" - or is it 'Where old resentments are never put to rest and are dredged up whenever it is politically expedient'?
caractacus
This article is facile, fatuous pro-China propaganda, forever dredging up WWII as if China was the only country to suffer under the Japanese yoke. Get over it and get real.
China is the new imperialist aggressor.
shouken
China a new imperialist aggressor? An imperialist aggressor with 0 overseas military base vs. United States' 100 and worldwide military presence? You need a ophthalmology check.
lamlm38
We Chinese would never expect shithead like you to understand slightest feelings of humanity.. Plz stop writing ur worthless comments on SCMP and get back to jerking off!!!
pslhk
Good insight
very well written
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For your harmonious relations with other free lancers
I’ve omitted 6o+ words of additional comment
 
 
 
 
 

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