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East Asia's New Year Resolutions

In Project Syndicate (Worldwide Distribution), 30 December 2014    

SEOUL.  If World War III is ever to break out, its origins won’t lie in the Middle East, South Asia or Eastern Europe. It’s in East Asia – the intersection zone between China and the United States and their respective partners – that the stakes, the tensions, and the potential for a global explosion, are highest.

It is so obviously in every player’s interest to avoid a boil-over that outright fisticuffs will remain less likely than stony handshakes like that between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Beijing last month. But if there is to be genuinely durable peace, every regional leader needs to work for it harder and more courageously.

There are seriously game-changing initiatives each of them could take if only they could summon the necessary statesmanship. Here – in a spirit of supreme, but hopefully not totally naïve, optimism – are the 2015 New Year resolutions I would most like each of them to make.

China’s Xi Jinping.  I will make clear that any territorial claims we have in the South China Sea are based only on reasonable claims to sovereignty over particular land features and the rights that go with them under the Law of the Sea Convention. I will stop talking about our ‘historical waters’, and order the removal of the ‘nine-dashed’ line from the map in Chinese passports.

“Having made our authority in Hong Kong clear, I will find a way of letting the people there have the local leader they want. A little flexibility here should also be a helpful message to those getting restless in Taiwan that we really can accommodate difference within the PRC.

“Also in that spirit, I will welcome the Dalai Lama to Beijing and negotiate with his leadership team a cultural autonomy and limited self-government package which satisfies once and for all the reasonable aspirations of the Tibetan people”

Japan’s Shinzo Abe. “I’ll invite to Hiroshima or Nagasaki on the August A-bomb anniversary all  Six Party Talks leaders to kick-start serious negotiations on a North East Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, embracing Japan and both Koreas and guaranteed by the United States, China and Russia.”

 “And I’ll make 2015 the year for burying once and for all the history issue between ourselves and our neighbours. Remembering the impact of Willy Brand’s ‘kniefall’ visit to the Jewish ghetto site in Warsaw in 1970, I will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the ending of World War II by visiting Nanjing and accepting Japanese responsibility for the terrible massacre of 1937-38.

I will also do everything I can to remove from the Yushukan Museum, in the grounds of the Yasukuni Shrine, all those exhibits which deny, question or are totally insensitive to Japan’s responsibility for waging aggressive war and committing atrocity crimes in the 1930s and 1940s. Starting by taking down from its pedestal the steam locomotive that ran on Thai-Burma Death Railway, where more than 100, 000 prisoners-of-war and forced-labourers died of disease, malnutrition or maltreatment  in its construction.”

South Korea’s Park Gyeun-hye.  “I willremove the ‘May 24’ sanctions we placed on North Korea after their military provocations in 2010, because they are making impossible nearly all the trust and confidence-building measures measures I keep saying are necessary.

“Of course the North should go on being named and shamed in the UN for its human rights abuses and nuclear misbehavior. But pariah states never behave responsibly, and no state has a bigger role than us in coaxing Pyongyang back to normality. Serious re-engagement is going to be hard for me to politically deliver. But if I don't I’m going to be on the wrong side of history”

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.  “I’m going to surprise everyone by freezing our nuclear weapon and missile development program, and prove I’m serious by opening our uranium enrichment plants to inspection. That will leave no one with any credible reason to delay resumption of the Six Party Talks.

“We’ve known since the 1990s that a denuclearization settlement was our best guarantee of regime security. I know I have my image problems, but I’m not crazy. China has fallen out of love with us and getting ever closer to Seoul; my people know too much about the wider world; and everyone knows that we know that to use our handful of nuclear weapons would be suicidal. I know it’s time to get serious and get the process started.”

And the United States’s Barack Obama?  “I’m going to make a speech saying publicly what Bill Clinton was saying privately a decade ago. It may be painful for a lot of Americans to hear. And it won’t impress the Republicans in Congress, or others who think that rhetoric is all I’m now good for, But if I can make it believable, it will do more to win the United States friendship, respect and ultimate security in East Asia and around the world than the trillion-dollar nuclear weapons modernization program on which we’re now embarking, and all the unworkable and counter-productive strategic missile defence systems at which we keep hurling massive dollars.

“It’s just this: the US should not be using its immense military and economic power to try to stay top dog on the global block in perpetuity. Rather we should be using that power to create a world in which we will be comfortable living when we are no longer top dog on the global block.”

Of course it’s fanciful to think that more than one or two of these resolutions will actually be made. And we all know that it’s in the nature of New Year resolutions that even when they are made, they are rarely kept. But each one my list would be momentous, and cumulatively they would be totally transformative. The rest of us should hope that they are made, and kept. And go on nagging until they are.


Gareth Evans was Australia’s Foreign Minister from 1988-96, and President of the International Crisis Group from 2000-09, and is now Chancellor of the Australian National University. He was in Seoul to address the 4th Kim Dae-jung Peace Forum.


Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2014. www.project-syndicate.org

This article is also available at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/asia-america-pledges-2015-by-gareth-evans-2014-12