Japan and China must find common ground in keeping their dispute over uninhabited islands from escalating as a settlement is unlikely, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said.
“A final resolution of the territorial dispute is not faintly within prospect,” Rudd said in a Bloomberg Television interview today in Seoul. “But the common interests of both countries surely lie in managing the external manifestation of this dispute down to manageable security levels.”
Asia’s two biggest economies are boosting defense spending as they assert claims to the resource-rich East China Sea islands, fueling U.S. concerns of a military confrontation. Planes and ships from both countries have shadowed each other for months around the islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.
Japan accused China of using weapons-targeting radar in January on a Japanese destroyer and helicopter in nearby waters. The Chinese government denied the accusation.
China this month put the law enforcement arm of its maritime agencies under one body as it presses its claims in both the East and South China Seas. The move could help the State Oceanic Administration streamline decision-making and “therefore avoid conflict through miscalculation,” said Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat in Beijing.
The dispute has harmed a $340 billion trade relationship, dragging down Japanese exports.
Xi Jinping, who this month became China’s president after taking the top post in the ruling Communist Party in November, isn’t beholden to the military because of his father’s legacy as a leading figure in Mao Zedong’s revolution, Rudd said. As a result, the new Chinese leader will be free to concentrate on expanding the world’s second-largest economy and its international influence, he said.
“Xi has no reason to appease the military constituency,” Rudd said. “He’s looking for a new model to manage relationships between great powers.”