Leaders of Asian and African nations met this Wednesday at the Asian African Summit, a conference designed to support South South trade and cooperation. The summit was held in Jakarta, Indonesia.
While the leaders called for a new global order that is open to emerging economic powers and leaves the “obsolete ideas” of Bretton Woods institutions in the past the calls were overshadowed by the attendance of Japan and China, two large states increasingly at odds with each other.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping were, however, expected to meet on the sidelines of the conference. This looks like the latest sign of a thaw in relations between the Asian rivals.
Sino-Japanese ties have chilled in recent years due to feuds stemming back to World War Two, as well as territorial disputes and regional rivalry. Bilateral talks in Jakarta on Wednesday could continue a cautious rapprochement that began when Abe and Xi met at a summit in Beijing late last year.
Despite indications of progress Abe, in an apparent reference to China’s growing military aggressiveness, told the conference that the use of force by the “mightier” should never go unchecked.
The Japanese prime minister also said his country had pledged, “with feelings of deep remorse over the past war”, to adhere to pacifist principles such as refraining from acts of aggression and settling international disputes by peaceful means.
It is unlikely the remarks would satisfy China’s desire for Japan to acknowledge its wartime past, but a Japanese official told Reuters Abe and Xi would meet.
China’s communist system of governance has increasingly come under pressure at home as it inefficiently allocates resources and wages a brutal campaign against free speech and political expression inside the country. Expert believe at some point this will boil over, which could be soon given the country’s poor economic performance of late.
Chinese President Xi had earlier told the conference that “a new type of international relations” was needed to encourage cooperation between Asian and African nations, and said the developed world had an obligation to support the rest with no political strings attached, the Xinhua news agency said.
The comments ring particularly hollow as Mr Xi and the Chinese are known to be rabid consumers of fossil fuels and other commodity resources. China is increasingly looking to Africa to satisfy its insatiable demand and usually offers infrastructure investment in return for the right to mine resources.
The strategy is the polar opposite of Mr Xi’s comments yesterday and draws attention to China’s dismal record of environmental and social responsibility when operating in poorly developed host countries. Any investment from China means relatively large upfront payments but even larger environmental and social liabilities in future.
The conference will continue to discuss the role of developing nations in world politics, a tricky issue given their high population levels yet lack of resources to meaningfully contribute to world institutions.