Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that Japan is ready to cooperate with China’s “One Belt, One Road” cross-continental infrastructure development scheme, under certain conditions.
Speaking at a forum in Tokyo on Asia’s future, Abe said those conditions would include “harmony with a free and fair Trans-Pacific economic zone,” alluding to the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, to which Japan is a signatory but China is not.
The One Belt, One Road initiative, put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, would involve massive investment to connect up both a land-based economic belt based off the ancient Silk Road and a maritime corridor spanning from China to Southeast Asia, India, Africa and Europe.
Xi has said he wants to create a “big family of harmonious coexistence” through the project, but skeptics see it as a bid to position China as a viable alternative to U.S. global leadership.
Abe lauded the initiative’s “potential to connect East and West as well as the diverse regions found in between.”
ut he cautioned that it is “critical for infrastructure to be open to use by all, and to be developed through procurement that is transparent and fair.”
“I furthermore consider it essential for projects to be economically viable and to be financed by debt that can be repaid, and not to harm the soundness of the debtor nation’s finances,” Abe said, adding Tokyo is “ready to extend cooperation from that perspective.”
The statement may be part of efforts to foster warmer relations with China as Japan seeks to host a postponed trilateral summit with the leaders of China and South Korea by the end of the year.
It also comes amid speculation that the United States could be considering joining the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a move that would likely put pressure on Japan to follow suit.
In response to Abe’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “We believe the One Belt, One Road initiative can be a new platform and a testing field for China and Japan to achieve mutually beneficial cooperation and common development.” Hua also reiterated China’s insistence that OBOR is committed to being a series of projects committed to “fair” and “transparent” rules of international trade and investment.
However, cooperation is still tentative, and nothing is formalized yet. Instead, China and Japan are directly competing for port rights along the OBOR – including Sihanoukville Autonomous Port in Cambodia, the Port of Colombo in Sri Lanka, and Thilawa Port in Myanmar.