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Shinzo Abe

Japan welcome to join belt and road

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s move towards joining China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” will open his country to the benefits and potential gains on the trade scheme. The United States and India would do well to follow his lead

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 December, 2017, 1:40am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 December, 2017, 1:40am

Japan’s reluctance to join China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” was always puzzling. Geopolitical concerns are one matter, but the economic gains and benefits from the planned infrastructure projects between Asia, Africa and Europe could not be ignored. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s expressed intention to cooperate is welcome. The United States and India would also do well to follow his lead.

Japanese business leaders and corporations have always been eager to join the scheme, but were disadvantaged by their government’s refusal to get on board. More than 100 nations and international organisations have backed the belt and road idea since it was first raised by President Xi Jinping in 2013 and dozens have signed cooperation agreements with Beijing under the framework. There is a widespread recognition of the opportunities offered by the initiative and the growth and prosperity that it can bring to the world’s most economically promising regions. Abe’s putting politics ahead of all else was cutting his country off from the benefits and potential gains.

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Worse, Abe seemed intent on forming a rival scheme with the US, India and Australia, a grouping informally known as the quad. Reflecting outdated thinking harking back to the cold war, the stated aim was to counter China’s growing influence in the region through isolation. The strategy was raised and promoted during US President Donald Trump’s visit to East Asia last month. But Abe’s positive remarks about cooperation with China at a business forum in Tokyo earlier this month attended by Chinese and Japanese executives shows realisation that when it comes to trade and investment, such an approach is not in the interests of his country.

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Territorial and historical disputes have long affected relations between China and Japan, exacerbated in recent years by Abe’s nationalism and revisionist policies. But ties have been gradually improving, a fresh start being given by a meeting between Xi and the Japanese leader on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam on November 11. Abe and Premier Li Keqiang held more talks in Manila two days later, agreeing to make further efforts to repair the fractured relationship. Japan hopes to host long-delayed trilateral talks with Li and South Korean President Moon Jae-in before the end of the year. High-level dialogue will warm ties between China and Japan. Abe’s offer to support the trade initiative should be formalised and furthered through also joining the China-hosted Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Such projects are grounded in globalisation and aimed at interconnected growth and shared prosperity, which will also build trust and understanding. The benefits of such cooperation cannot be underestimated.