Roles of theUS, China and Japan

—A Plenary Speech on Reassessing International Order at the 9th World Peace Forum

By Fukuda Yasuo

Beijing,3 July 2021

Since the beginning of the 21st century, China has achieved a rapid development unprecedented in world history. Not only is China’s economy growing fast, but it is also a large country with a population 3.5 times that of theUS and 12 times that of Japan. In terms of gross domestic product (GDP), China is now 3.5 times larger than Japan and is expected to be on par with theUS,the“super power” after the Second World War, in another 6-7 years. This incredible fact has shocked the whole world, including Japan. It is not surprising that theUS has shown astonishment and anxiety in the face of China’s rapid changes.

Japan is currently at a turning point in its economic development. If conflict occurs in China-US strategic competition,it would undoubtedly have a decisive impact on Japan. This is why Japan needs to work hard to prevent this from happening.

There have been times when the unproductive arms race between some countries has led to saber rattling and even to the brink of war. Such an era must be ended as soon as possible. Historically, theUS and the former Soviet Union had been engaged in a nuclear arms race with each other, causing heavy financial burdens for both countries, and finally in the mid-1980s they reached the “Reykjavik Agreement” to stop the foolish competition. As we all know, the world today is facing more serious and urgent problems than that time, such as climate change and environmental pollution, which are common crises for all mankind.

To overcome these difficulties together, Japan, theUS and China need to join hands and show wisdom.

Positions of theUS and China Have Shifted

TheUS is wary of China’s rapid catch-up, which is being further reinforced by the economic stagnation caused by COVID-19.

Even so, theUS today can no longer stop the rapid growth of China’s national strength, for such a move would bring division, confrontation and chaos to the world, both politically and economically. It would also deprive theUS of authority and trust at a time whenworldpeace and stability are widely expected.

US President Joe Biden’s harsh remarks on China are, in the long run, more in response to congressional and domestic needs. The Chinese need to understand that, too.

It may not be necessary to wait until 2030 for theUS to have to cede its throne as the world’s top economic power to China, but even that, theUS will remain the leader of the democratic states, and that will not change. Over the years, theUS has played an active role as a major power in maintaining world economic and political stability, and I hope theUS will continue to maintain this posture.

China’s economy continues to grow steadily. It is not surprising that the people of China, who are now experiencing a real sense of prosperity and are with the dream that China will one day “realize the great rejuvenation”, have high expectations of President Xi Jinping, who is leading the country to achieve this dream.

Due to the spread of smartphones and social media,Chinese society is changing. The Chinese leadership is very attentive to public opinion, just as we are in democracies. The Chinese system is quite highly regarded within the country. “Democracies” who criticize China need to demonstrate themselves with actions.

China will continue to grow. Chinahas achieved itsdevelopmentwithin theUS-centered world economic system formed after the Second World War and maintained at expenses. Therefore, the concerns of theUS cannot be ignored.

Isn’t understanding each other’s position exactly what it means to “build a community with a shared future”?

The Environmental Crisis is Imminent

China, which has been developing steadily, also faces the challenges of environmental problems and climate change. These problems threaten the very existence of a world with a shared future.

Some studies have shown that if the permafrost in places like Siberia melts due to global warming, it will release large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), thus further accelerating global warming and bringing explosive temperature increases. The development of forests in South America and the melting of the Siberian permafrost could also release unknown viruses, a phenomenon that has been occurring frequently since the end of the last century.

We must realize that the era of one-sided pursuit of economic growth has unwittingly come to an end.

In the face of these problems, the international community must respond with solidarity and take effective measures as soon as possible. Under the current circumstances, major countries that should set examples for the world have no time struggling for hegemony and power.

Mutual Trust is Important

Under the current situation, where should Japan go?

First, Japan should work with theUS to strengthen the Japan-US alliance, to address climate change and other global challenges together, building a world in which all mankind feels at ease and stable,andshowing the way to a new era.

As Japan’sneighbor, China is also amajor country. In the past, present and future, China and Japan have always had and will continue to have close ties that are difficult to sever. The two sides should continue to deepen mutual understanding and strengthen cooperation rather thanregarding each other asrivals.

In order to overcome the global crisis, it is necessary for Japan to improve mutual understanding with both theUS and China, establish aUS-China-Japan cooperation mechanism so as to form a strong lineup that is like “adding wings to a tiger”.

Of course, South Korea should join thismechanism, too. In the current situation, all parties need the vision and leadership to turn confrontation into cooperation.

For this reason, it is important to build mutual trust between state leaders. Open and honest communication between leaders is necessary to resolve major issues. We hope that leaders will adopt responsible policies with afar-sightedperspective.

Fukuda Yasuo isformer Prime Minister of Japan.