May 29, 2014 12:00 am JST

Concerns over new world order sought by China, Russia

What sort of international order do Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin want to build? This is an important question to ask, especially following summit talks between the two, which wrapped up in Shanghai earlier this month.

     A joint statement issued after the summit said that both countries would seek to establish "a more just and equitable international order." The two sides also declared their opposition to "interference in the internal affairs" of other countries and "unilateral sanctions."

     Those remarks are thought to be aimed at Japan, the U.S. and European nations in response to the sanctions slapped against Russia over its annexation of Crimea and America's indictment of five Chinese military officials on charges of cyber espionage.

     The problem is that both China and Russia are showing these stances to keep other countries in check, but not themselves. For example, the joint statement made no mention of Russia's annexation of Crimea, which was achieved with a flexing of military might, nor did it mention the pressure that Russia is continuing to apply on Ukraine's internal politics.

     The joint statement also expressed their opposition to attempts to "undermine the postwar international order." The passage seems to have been included because Moscow had lined up behind Beijing's desire to discourage Tokyo's moves. But it is Russia itself that, by annexing the Crimean peninsula, is rocking the world order built after World War II.

     There are no signs that Xi had anything critical to say at the summit about Russia's annexation of Crimea. Given what China is doing in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, there are even misgivings that Beijing, too, may be aiming to exploit its military clout to topple the postwar order. Japan cannot help but be vigilant, given that Chinese official vessels repeatedly have encroached on Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Diplomatic challenge

In a speech delivered on May 21 at an international security summit held in Shanghai, Xi said Asia's security should be upheld by the people of Asia -- a remark regarded as an attempt to sideline Washington's influence in Asia. The security summit, which groups 26 states and territories, including China and Russia, gives the U.S. and Japan only non-member observer status.

     China and Russia also have been conducting joint naval exercises this month in the East China Sea. Top leaders from both countries attended the Shanghai opening ceremony for the exercises. The drills, which appear to have been timed to coincide with the security conference, are providing the two countries an opportunity to demonstrate their military strengths, which far outstrip those of other full-status members attending the summit.

     The two countries this month also reached an agreement on Russia's natural gas exports to China, a major step toward strengthening their economic relationship. They fell short of concluding negotiations on high-tech arms exports, however, suggesting the existence of a subtle disconnect.

     While paying careful attention to such delicate realities in diplomacy, Japan needs to encourage China and Russia to be constructive partners to preserve and develop the international order. It will be a hard diplomatic challenge for Japan, but one it must face.