NO ILLUSION ABOUT CHINA AS WORLD’S GREATEST NATION
The book’s title makes you chuckle but its contents fill you with horror. We Thought China Was the Happiest Nation in the World (Business-Sha Publishing Co., Tokyo; June 2018) by Akio Yaita and Shi Ping is a must read—especially for every Japanese politician and businessman ready to fall for Xi Jinping’s smiles and sweet talk about “China-Japan friendship.”
Shi (56), a former Chinese-born activist turned popular lecturer/commentator on Chinese affairs, obtained Japanese citizenship in 2007 after a series of incidents, including the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, caused him to doubt his future in a China ruled by the Communist Party (CCP). Meanwhile, Yaita (46) is the son of Japanese parents orphaned and left behind in China at the end of the war. Born in Tianjin, he came to Japan at age 15. A graduate of Keio University in Tokyo, he became a reporter for the conservative Sankei Shimbun in 2002.
The understanding of Chinese affairs on the part of the two authors, both of whom grew up as Chinese, and the China policies they recommend for Japan get to the heart of the matter far more persuasively than most China specialists in Japan.
What a title the co-authors have chosen! I picked up a copy thinking it might be something of a bad joke. But I quickly came to realize that both authors at one time truly had no doubt whatsoever that they were the happiest citizens in the world, having been fortunate enough to be born in what they believed was the greatest country on earth.
Shi and Yaita confess that they believed this despite seeing people starve and many other unimaginable tragedies. Shi says he saw an old woman publicly executed for committing the mortal crime of being “anti-Chairman Mao” when she wrapped a newspaper carrying Mao’s photograph around a white radish, and still his faith in China was unshaken. In China, where information is strictly controlled by the CCP and people are told time and again from childhood that their country is the world’s greatest, people can quite easily be deceived into believing what the CCP wants them to believe.
Shi adds that the public execution of the poor old woman was seen as a good opportunity for the public to relieve their stress, as they had no access to popular entertainment. What a horrifying thought.
While the Cultural Revolution raged across China in the late ‘60s and early 70’s, Shi recalls, public executions were staged regularly in towns and cities on the eve of gala events, such as the CCP’s founding day anniversary. In Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province where Shi lived, he once saw as many as 50 people executed publicly en mass with people watching “like a circus in ancient Rome.” Shi explains:
“The day after the murder show is a national holiday. On the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, October 1, the government distributed 0.5 kilograms (roughly a half pound) of pork for every citizen…I lived in a world in which people were expected to exclaim, ‘Oh, we are so fortunate!’ for being fed a measly amount of meat like that.”
CCP’s Biased Viewpoint
Public executions were suspended during the Deng Xiao-ping era that followed the Cultural Revolution, which ended with the death of Mao Zedong. But Yaita points out they are being revived under the Xi Jinping administration. The horror of the past continues on in present-day China.
Yaita writes that he has been interested in international politics since childhood. While being raised in China, he learned about the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, the Iran-Iraq war the following year, and the assassination of John Lennon in the same year. But he saw all these things in the light the CCP wanted him to see, because only the CCP version of these incidents was reported.
Yaita says the predominant sense he got as a youth in China was that “while China was getting stronger and stronger, the US was getting weaker and weaker.” He says he got the impression that the CCP elites who distributed such news must have perceived China’s “superior” position in the world perhaps even more strongly than the recipients themselves. Perhaps he was correct.
Fortunately, Yaita has had the opportunity to modify his views on China. But the CCP leadership, including Xi, obviously has not had such an opportunity. I suspect that the misguided “confidence” of the Chinese leadership may most likely be behind China’s friction with the US.
China’s global aggressiveness became conspicuous beginning in 2013, when President Barack Obama declared the US to no longer be the world’s policeman. China has since occupied reefs and islets in the South China Sea, wasting no time in militarizing them. In 2016, Beijing brushed aside as “nothing but a scrap of paper” the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague that invalidated Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea in favor of the Philippines.
At the CCP’s National Congress in Beijing last fall, China virtually declared its intent to take over the world economically before 2030. I wonder if such a line of thinking on the part of Beijing’s leadership may have led to the current trade war with the US.
In the wake of the trade war with the US, criticism was voiced against Xi’s hardline foreign policy at the Beidaihe conference in August, where current Chinese leaders and elders from earlier generations meet annually to set the tone for major policy decisions. Will Xi manage to mete out shrewd compromises in order to avoid further friction with the US? The prospects remain uncertain, but one must bear clearly in mind the inordinate confidence that prevails among CCP leaders that the US is destined to decline; that China will grow mammoth over time; and that time is definitely on China’s side. Nothing is more dangerous than such miscalculation.
As the Chinese economy begins to weaken and its grand design gradually comes apart, no effective means of economic rehabilitation will be available to Xi.
With no economic options to call on, narrow nationalism will become the unifying force that the Chinese leadership will resort to. That will automatically lead to expansionism abroad. Shi feels that there is a possibility Xi will “provoke a war in order to sort out his domestic problems,” while Yaita declares Beijing will target Taiwan. He notes Xi has dispatched a team of specialists to Russia and is closely studying how Putin managed to annex Crimea.
Taiwan and Senkaku Islands in Danger
In Crimea, Putin employed cyber terrorism, fake news, and a host of other operations to confuse his adversary. He then instigated pro-Russian forces in Crimea to rise against the incumbent government and helped them come into power. Xi is looking for his chance to take Taiwan, drawing on Putin’s game plan. One should take Yaita’s unequivocal statement seriously that Xi will take some action against Taiwan between 2020 and 2025, and that he has already started making preparations by utilizing Taiwan’s major criminal organizations.
After Taiwan, writes Yaita, China will target Okinawa, aiming to make Okinawa independent from Japan. He explains that Beijing’s purpose is to put a check on Japan by incorporating Okinawa into China’s network of “tributary states. ”
Only a small number of Japanese advocate Okinawa’s independence. I have reported in this column that these elements, joining with Chinese supporters, have held symposiums and news conferences in China and at the United Nations calling for the “independence of the Ryukyus.” One will pay a high price by underestimating the influence of this small group of activists for Okinawa’s independence.
Shi and Yaita liken Japan to a Beijing duck. The Chinese enjoy a Beijing duck three times—first wrapping its broiled skin in a rice sheet with a dash of gravy on it； then braising the meat; and lastly making a soup out of its bones. Somewhat similarly, the CCP has “enjoyed” Japan three times. First, they came to power by pitting the Japanese against the Nationalists in a long and bitter war. Next, when adopting a market-opening reform policy, it had Japan develop the Chinese economy with its money and technology. And, finally, it has banded the Chinese people together by implementing a patriotic education which is strictly anti-Japanese. It is about time we Japanese realized that China has sucked us to the very marrow—like a Beijing duck—and that our current situation is just as precarious.
The conversation between the two authors also touches on a possible deal involving the US and China, with China offering to trade North Korea for Taiwan, so to speak. In short, China would get North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ICBM programs if the US promised not to intervene in its invasion of Taiwan.
One should never view such a deal as improbable. The only way for Japan to ensure its future is to enhance its national defense capabilities to the point that it could survive a worst-case scenario. Assuming the very real possibility that North Korea could become a nuclear nation, we must have an extensive national debate about our security, including the right and wrong of Japan itself going nuclear.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 817 in the September 6, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)