The "proxy war" waged between China and Japan for economic and strategic influence in Asia is likely to be stepped up in the New Year. It is a conflict hidden temporarily from general view behind a screen of neutral-sounding regional initiatives. But it will eventually come out into the open and draw in most other Asian nations, and many beyond, not least the U.S.
The screen concealing what is really happening is a tangled undergrowth of trade and investment agreements which, seemingly, do not center on the chief protagonists but on the group of 10 nations within Association of Southeast Asian Nations. These agreements are headed by the Japan-led initiative to implement the long-awaited Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), even though the U.S. has pulled out, and by China's rival proposal for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Alongside these trade pacts are the more nebulous ideas for infrastructure cooperation in the form of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and a competing Japanese-Indian "corridor" scheme.