Pakistan cannot afford to maintain a one-sided policy in the South China Sea. It must strike a balance in settling disputes between regional players. In relations between the major powers in East Asia such as China, Japan, and Russia, Pakistan must learn to main a balance.

Since the dawn of the present century, Pakistan heavily tilted toward China to such an extent that it drifted away from its close association with Japan. On the other hand, Japan found it appropriate to cultivate strong ties with India. Fearing further alienation, Japan started playing the role of adversary to Chinese interests in the South China under the protection of the United States and the situation further intensified in 2010 when Japan arrested the captain of a Chinese vessel and nationalised Diaoyu/Senkaku Island in 2012. Japan visualizes its relations with Pakistan from the perspective of its tense ties with China, which should not be the case. Pakistan has to make efforts to subside Japanese concerns now.

An effort has been made recently. Foreign Office spokesman, Nafees Zakria, said on 13 July that disputes in the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully through consultations between the concerned parties under the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties. Pakistan will oppose any unilateral will on others in settling disputes, he said.

Outsiders fully respect efforts made by China and ASEAN to settle disputes. The Foreign Office came up with a balance policy option. The statement was not tilted toward China. There are bilateral arrangements that must be respected. The statement warns outside powers not to interfere in bilateral dispute of China with regional countries.

The statement did not directly condemn Japan but left the matter to be resolved bilaterally between Japan and China. Pakistan cannot play strong role in dissolving the China-Japan dispute in the region that have grown historically but Pakistan believes they are resolved peacefully within the spirit of the Joint Statement of 1972 that promotes non-interference in each other affairs and the settlement of disputes through consultations. Foreign Office broke the ice about its possible role or viewpoint on the South China Sea and stroked a balance between China and Japan and other concerned players.

The indication of outside powers involves the United States and India. India is trying to appease the United States and Japan to counter Chinese policy in the South China Sea. Pakistan did not counter Japanese policy in South China Sea either. China never pushed Pakistan or demanded it take its side in the confrontation in the South China Sea.

While India is bringing its border disputes with China to the forefront of the South China Sea. India did not strike a balance like that of Pakistan, which avoids direct and indirect confrontation in the South China Sea and take positions. Even as close partner of China, Pakistan preferred a balance. A tilt was rather an easy option.

Japan must appreciate Pakistan’s position in the South China and must take further efforts to deepen strategic and defense, economic and trade cooperation with Pakistan as bilateral ties have gone to the lower ebb over the past fifteen years.

Bilateral trade has rather gone down. It hovers around US$ 2 billion as recorded in 2014. So are Japanese investments in Pakistan, which have gone down to US$ 71 million compared to US$ 255 million Chinese FDI in 2015. The CPEC offers huge room for Japanese multinationals to invest in infrastructural, energy, transportation, especially railway and industrial projects in Pakistan as these projects will in the long-term perspectives creating new interconnectivity in Asia.

For Japan, these would be innovative investments. So far Japan has been over cautious about its policy on the CPEC and AIIB. Its participation in CPEC projects would not only help reduce its economic stagnation, it would help build a robust economic and trade links with China and other countries affected by situation in the South China Sea.

Gwadar Industrial Zone would invite lucrative Japanese investment as Japan is planning to invest in Chabahar Port in cooperation with Iran and India. By diversifying its investment to make them secure, Japan should look at Gwadar. It is time for Japan to reinvent its Seikei Bunri (separation of politics from economy) adopted to cultivate trading ties with China in the 1950s. The CPEC projects provide that opportunity to Japan.