Recently, more and more Japanese companies have taken actions that show their positive attitude about participating in the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative, and Japanese leaders have also made some positive gestures.
It seems that Japan’s participation in the B&R initiative will open up new space for China-Japan economic cooperation and create new growth points. Promoting mutual cooperation in third-party markets is conducive to both the economic development of third parties and the expansion of China-Japan economic and trade cooperation.
Positive statements by Japanese leaders seem to draw the country closer to the B&R initiative. But the real driving force is the inevitable historical trend. That is, from “Datsu-A Ron”, which means “Goodbye, Asia” to “returning to Asia.”
Japan implemented “Datsu-A Ron” almost 150 years ago. One major reason was that Asia was clearly behind at that time and it was necessary for Japan to catch up with the industrial and technological revolutions in Europe. Although Japan’s drive went the wrong way politically, the nation did seize the opportunity of developing science and technology.
As a dominant force in world economic development, Asia plays an increasingly important role in globalization. Interest in participating in the B&R initiative shows Japan’s growing realization of the importance of returning to Asia and jointly promoting the prosperity and development of Asia.
Under the B&R initiative, international container trains run by China Railway Express have linked China with Europe, Russia and Central Asia. Since 2015, more than 100 trains have traveled on China Railway Express routes each month.
This service has attracted more and more Japanese enterprises. For example, Nippon Express has begun to use the China-Europe freight trains, which offer multimodal transportation between Japan and Europe and greatly shorten delivery times. It means that the B&R initiative has helped set up closer ties between Japan and Europe.
Both China and Japan have benefited from free trade, and both also defend it. With anti-globalization and anti-free trade sentiment in the international community instigated by some countries, Japan’s participation in the B&R initiative will be a concrete step to protect the multilateral free trade system and a specific action to oppose protectionism and unilateralism.
What’s more, joining the B&R initiative is to the benefit of Japan as it seeks to further expand into the Asian and European markets. Some Japanese scholars believe that the crucial issue for the Japanese economy is that it lacks adequate markets despite its great success in some important technical fields.
But if Japan can share its advanced technologies and experience in energy conservation, environmental protection, disaster management, infrastructure construction and high technology, the country can naturally and successfully expand its markets.
Participating in the B&R initiative is an opportunity for Japan to achieve a dual success in terms of technology and markets.
Countries and regions along the B&R route are in need of extensive infrastructure. Some Japanese entrepreneurs have even said that after China lays the initial roads and railways, they will use those facilities to enter those markets.
Promoting infrastructure construction via the B&R initiative together with China can be expected to bring abundant business opportunities for Japanese companies.
At the same time, we shouldn’t only build the physical infrastructure in B&R economies – we should also build the intangible infrastructure, which means cultivating talented people with industrial and informational skills.
By creating one advanced realm joining advanced economies in Europe and Asia, the B&R initiative will change the longstanding situation in which advanced Europe and less-developed Asia were separated from each other for centuries.
As to some Japanese politicians who focus on short-term, narrow geopolitical considerations, and they need to take a longer-term view of the overall situation. Why not seize the B&R opportunities, which offer a historic chance to promote free trade and prosperity in the Eurasian continent?
The author is an honorary academician of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and consultant of China Society of Sino-Japanese Relations History.
This article was published by People’s Daily on the 2nd of August 2018.