Are there any short-term prospects for constraining the emerging conflicts between Japan, China, and North/ South Korea? Is Japan the new spoiler?” – This week, I was invited by the Center for Global Politics at Free University Berlin to comment on the above question in the framework of its new Global Matters project. Here is what I replied:


He did it again. On 26 December 2013, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine and thereby honoured not only regular Japanese soldiers who died for their country but also top war criminals of the Second World War. China’s reaction was easy to predict: outrage, officially by the Foreign Ministry, in the media, by regular Chinese citizens – and a subsequent cooling of relations with Japan.

Not only because of the atrocities committed by the Japanese Empire last century but also on the backdrop of the ongoing Diaoyu Islands dispute, Abe’s move can be regarded as outright undiplomatic. As the High Representative of the European Union Lady Ashton put it: “This action is not conducive to lowering tensions in the region or to improving relations with Japan’s neighbours, especially China and Republic of Korea”.

Now, should we be worried? Yes and no. Tensions are obviously increasing these days and we should be vigilant. However, Japan and China are already highly interdependent, most notably their economies. Although trade ties are dependent on friendly or at least normal diplomatic relations, Japan and China seem to be aware of their economic interdependence.

So what can be done? Japan and China might be able to learn from Franco-German reconciliation after the Second World War. Maybe an East Asian Union modelled on the European Union seems Utopian under the current political climate in North-East Asia but it may be a viable long-term path to constrain conflicts in this important region in the world.

All best/ 祝好,



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