How China, Japan can cooperate on B&R
Published: Apr 25, 2018 07:28 PM

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Belt and Road initiative was heatedly discussed at the ongoing China-Japan high-level think tank-media dialogues, reminding me of the European Coal and Steel Community, an organization set up in 1951 by six European countries to regulate their industrial production under a centralized authority.

The community was first proposed by French foreign minister Robert Schuman in 1950. It received a positive response from Germany that ultimately led to today's European Union.

Economic cooperation outweighed traditional enmities between France and Germany in laying the basis for an integrated regional framework and so eliminated the possibility of a future war.

China-Japan cooperating on the Belt and Road initiative may share similarities to France and Germany cooperating in the 1950s.

The key issue today isn't whether Japan should join the initiative, but how the two countries can cooperate.

Beijing-Tokyo cooperation on the Belt and Road platform conforms to the interests of both countries. China and Japan are economically mutually dependent. In a survey conducted by Japanese media a few years ago, an ordinary Japanese family found nothing was left after removing all the "Made-in-China" products from their home.

Chinese families face a similar scenario. Almost all smartphones, household appliances and cars of China are made with Japanese components, highlighting the integration of their economies. More importantly, Sino-Japanese economic integration is increasingly affecting the Asian and global economy.

For instance, many parts of an iPhone and other similar products are manufactured by China and Japan and then exported to the third-party market. China and Japan share dividends in the industrial chain and extend the chain to other countries. Beijing-Tokyo cooperation has unprecedented form and depth.

Competition comes with cooperation. As China's manufacturing capability improves, competition has become more pronounced. Cooperation amid competition is highly likely to be the normal state of future China-Japan economic ties.

Competition boosts technological development while cooperation makes China and Japan coexist with each other. The Belt and Road initiative aims to build a cooperative platform in which more stakeholders can cooperate for development.

Cooperation is of vital importance for China and Japan, the two largest economies in Asia. Beijing-Tokyo cooperation concerns not only the two countries, but also the survival and growth of other states.

In the past, China and Japan competed with each other on third-party projects. Their competition often resulted in a losing situation and the projects often encountered obstacles during the process. This also harmed the interests of the third party. The Belt and Road initiative has thus made more winners more possible.

Chinese and Japanese companies have experience in constructing infrastructure in developing countries. With their respective advantages, they have established their own investment mechanisms. How China and Japan cooperate to build a mutually beneficial mechanism is essential.

The Belt and Road initiative has grand objectives. But Chinese and Japanese firms can start with concrete and relatively small projects, accumulate experiences during the process and eventually build confidence toward cooperation on third-party programs.

The two sides should seize the opportunity and take the first step toward each other on third-party projects. Their cooperation will not only promote their own bilateral ties, but also create more favorable conditions for the integration of Asian economies.

France tendered the olive branch of cooperation to Germany five years after World War II. Although China-Japan cooperation on the Belt and Road platform lags behind that of France and Germany, it will exert an immeasurable influence on the Asian integration process.

The author is a senior editor at People's Daily and a senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn Follow him on Twitter at @dinggangchina