The View From Asia

Partners and neighbours seek mutual gains

Bilateral ties between key players in the region, namely China and the US, Japan and South Korea, and India and Bangladesh, were a theme for Asia News Network commentators this week. Here are excerpts.

Trump and Xi recognise value of better ties

Martin Sieff
China Daily, China

The first set of meetings between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump looks likely to prove a great disappointment to the crisis mongers in the media, since both leaders recognise the value of economic cooperation over rivalry, the importance of a balanced and thriving global trade system and the mutual interdependence and shared interests of their nations.

The first face-to-face meeting between the heads of the world's two most powerful nations will be of great significance for the healthy and stable development of ties as well as the peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region and the world.

Mr Xi and Mr Trump both know this. They have more in common than meets the eye. Mr Trump wants to emulate Mr Xi's success in spreading economic growth, opportunity and prosperity throughout the country, not just the eastern coastal areas. The revival of US industry in its heartland is the emphasised priority of Mr Trump and his strategists as well.

Careful listeners of Mr Trump's speeches through the long 2016 US presidential campaign would have heard him repeatedly express his sincere admiration for the achievements of China's leaders in the modern era, recognising the success of their economic and social policies. His argument throughout his campaign was that the US economic policy could learn from China.

Mr Trump's own professional background is crucial in understanding this shrewd pragmatist. He defines himself above all as a hard negotiator and dealmaker. He understands the necessity of compromise. His aim as a businessman has always been to achieve the goals he has set for his companies and improve their prospects. That is now the aim for the trade and security goals of the United States.

The 45th US President does not see international relations as a Darwinian struggle to survive where one nation can prosper and gain only at another's expense. His approach is to offer concessions to negotiating partners as the understandable price in order to get the key concessions he seeks for his own country.

Protesters surrounding a statue symbolising the plight of comfort women at a rally near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday. Japan wants South Korea to remove a similar statue installed in Busan. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

This does not mean Mr Trump and Mr Xi cannot or will not talk about difficulties and challenges: They certainly will, precisely because such inevitable issues need to be recognised and managed. But that is precisely because the mutual benefits enjoyed by China and the US are so important to both nations.

'Comfort women' deal must be honoured

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

While continuing to respect the 2015 Japan-South Korea deal on the issue of so-called comfort women, the two countries must prioritise compliance with and implementation of the accord.

The Japanese government has sent its ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine and another envoy back to Seoul, nearly three months after they were withdrawn.

Among reasons for sending them back, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida cited the need to bolster information-gathering capabilities and build up a network of personal connections in preparation for the launch of a new South Korean administration after the election of a successor to former president Park Geun Hye, who was recently arrested after being ousted from the post. Mr Kishida also referred to the importance of Tokyo and Seoul forging a close relationship to deal with North Korea.

As a prerequisite for sending them back, Tokyo called for Seoul to take concrete action towards the removal of a statue of a girl symbolising the comfort women, which was installed in front of the Japanese Consulate-General in Busan late last year. Doesn't their return without achieving any outcome send South Korea the wrong message?

Tokyo must continue to point out that the return of diplomatic envoys does not mean that Seoul could be excused for not honouring its promise that "efforts will be made to overcome the issue, although it will take time".

On the South Korean side, in the meantime, Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se merely sent the administrative authorities in Busan and others a letter requesting the statue's removal. Such perfunctory action cannot be evaluated as "efforts" to resolve the issue.

North Korea's nuclear and missile development has entered a more dangerous stage. It must be kept in mind that the strengthening of Japan-South Korea security cooperation arrangements, including the General Security of Military Information Agreement signed by the Park administration, is of mutual benefit to both countries.

Bangladesh PM's visit to India holds promise

Salman Haidar
The Statesman, India

The long-anticipated visit by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is an opportunity to freshen and re-animate ties between India and its important neighbour to the east. Not that there is any pressing need for new initiatives: Relations are good, there is plenty of cooperation between India and Bangladesh, and there are few outstanding issues that demand attention.

The closest there is to a dispute is the division of the waters of the Teesta. And that too need not be an insuperable problem, for the basic groundwork has been done, with extensive negotiations yielding an agreement in principle that former prime minister Manmohan Singh was all set to sign in Dhaka but was forced to delay owing to the unexpected backing off by the West Bengal Chief Minister, whose support was - and is - crucial.

Thus, the technical basis of a balanced agreement has been established but the uncertainties of centre-state relations in India have stood in the way of a final settlement.

Since the earlier near miss on the Teesta, much has changed, in that India is under a different leadership which is widely perceived as being more decisive, and certainly is much stronger in Parliament. Hence, expectations about river-sharing have been revived, for New Delhi could well be in a better position today to come to terms with the water-sharing agreement that Bangladesh has been seeking.

Another factor to be noted is that while India has undergone sweeping political change, Bangladesh has remained under the same leadership - that of Ms Hasina - and this continuity could be helpful when it comes to reviving the earlier effort on the Teesta.

Ms Hasina's exceptional record as a discerning leader who has trans- cended differences and established meaningful cooperation with India should also be acknowledged.

It was under her leadership that the landmark agreement on the sharing of the Ganga waters at Farakka was concluded; indeed, it can be argued that, without her, the Ganga would have remained the biggest obstacle to good relations, as it was for the previous half-century.

Apart from the rivers issue, there are several other matters that can be advanced during Ms Hasina's visit, some being projects to be financed out of a substantial loan that India is to provide. Infrastructure development and better connectivity have long been on the list of joint activities to which both countries are committed, though the follow-up has remained insufficient.

For India, revival of the route across Bangladesh is the most efficient way of getting across to the North-East, and it would make a big difference to the development of that region. Conceivably, should trans-border communications improve, Chittagong could resume its role as the port for the eastern part of the sub-continent and Bangladesh become a central element in the evolution of India's "Make East" policy.

The possibilities are unending.

  • The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media entities. For more, see
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2017, with the headline 'Partners and neighbours seek mutual gains'. Print Edition | Subscribe