SHOULD JAPAN INVITE XI JINPING AS STATE GUEST NEXT SPRING?
A new protest anthem is sung in chorus in the streets of Hong Kong today—“May Glory Be to Hong Kong.” Protesters, many of them in their teens, are clad in black as they sing the anthem or play its tune on musical instruments. Its lyrics go:
“For all of our tears on our land,
Do you feel the rage in our cries?
Rise up and speak up! Our voice echoes.
Freedom shall shine upon us…”
Protesters in the semi-autonomous Chinese region, where Beijing has promised to implement “one country, two systems” until 2047, are continuing to sing their anthem to secure a free and democratic Hong Kong where “the pearl we hold shall always shine.”
Four months have passed since one million of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million citizens poured into the streets, protesting the revision of an extradition bill. Their resistance has yet to subside, with the confrontation between the demonstrators and the governments of Hong Kong and China steadily intensifying.
The demonstrators initially demanded a full retraction of the extradition bill, but they have since escalated their demands, calling for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign, among other things, and harshly criticizing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and President Xi Jinping.
By chronologically following Lam’s directives and decisions, which undoubtedly reflected the will of the Chinese government, the plans the Chinese leadership have going forward become crystal clear.
On September 29, as last-minute preparations were being made for the gala ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1, 1949, the Hong Kong police abruptly arrested more 140 more youths. The total number of those arrested had passed 1,000 by that point—many of them students of both sexes ranging in age between 14 and 16. It pierces one to the heart to realize that so many young people are fighting in earnest to defend Hong Kong.
On September 30, as another large number of youths were arrested, the Hong Kong government loosened internal guidelines for using lethal force. Anti-China demonstrations are staged on October 1 every year in Hong Kong. This year, anticipating an even larger mass gathering following the series of rallies that have been going on since June, the Hong Kong government relaxed its weapons-use guidelines.
Weapons were swiftly put to use on October 1. Police fired live ammunition at protesters in four locations, seriously injuring a 16-year-old high school student. The injury he sustained was not fatal, but the incident was indicative of dark days ahead for Hong Kong.
China’s Maintains Tough Posture on All Fronts
The October 1 parade in Tiananmen Square was the occasion for China to demonstrate to the world that Xi Jinping’s dogmatic political posture has been solidly established. Xi used the parade to make clear his intention to commit himself to realizing a rejuvenation of China as the great socialist power of the world, emulating Mao Zedong’s tyrannical politics as he dedicates himself to implementing the unwavering leadership system promoted by the CCP.
As Xi viewed the military parade from a platform over Tiananmen Square—the same spot Mao had stood to announce the birth of the PRC—honor guards marched ahead, hoisting the CCP party flag contrary to past parades in which the Chinese national flag traditionally was hoisted ahead of the CCP and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) flags. This obviously reflected Xi’s unfaltering belief in the supremacy of the CCP. Xi declared in an address preceding the parade:
“There is no force that can shake the status of this nation. No force can stop the Chinese people and the Chinese nation forging ahead. In order to make that possible, the CCP’s leadership must be maintained.”
In China, where the three branches of government come under the tight control of the CCP, Xi has seized full power as General Secretary. As the concurrent head of the Military Commission of the Central Committee of the CCP, Xi is also in charge of the PLA, which boasts the world’s second largest military after the US.
The special importance Xi attaches to the PLA and his commitment to an establishment of rigid rule by force are conspicuous among all Chinese leaders past and present. The Chinese defense white paper published in July projected an extremely militant posture for the PLA under the Xi administration.
Condemning the US for “undermining global strategic security,” the white paper asserted that China is “ready to fight” its adversary if necessary. Behind this assertion lurks the confidence China puts in its arsenal of cutting-edge weaponry capable of challenging US military might, some of which were lavishly showcased in the October 1 military parade.
Matters relating to Taiwan are referred to four times in the 86-page white paper by way of contending that Beijing will not tolerate “‛Taiwan independence’ separatist forces” and that the PLA “will absolutely defeat anyone attempting to separate Taiwan from China…” As regards the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, the white paper concluded that they are “an inalienable part of the Chinese territory” and expressed strong antipathy toward Japan, warning that China is determined to “exercise its national sovereignty under law” to take the uninhabited islands.
China maintains a tough posture on all fronts. Its policy toward Hong Kong is no exception, as evidenced in the Emergency Regulation Ordinance (ERO) invoked on October 4 for the first time in roughly a half century to implement an anti-mask law to curb protesters. The ordinance empowers Lam with enormous authority to control Hong Kong without a resolution or approval from the Legislative Council. But demonstrators were quick to react, with even more of them beginning to wear masks.
As was discussed last Friday in my regular “Genron” Internet news show, the demonstrators also undertook creative measures to thwart the police. Some female protesters promptly began wearing their hair in braids with which to hide their faces, leaving only their eyes, noses, and mouths to be seen, while some men colorfully made up their faces like actors in the Beijing opera.
Lam presumably couldn’t care less. To counter, she may implement tighter controls, such as a curfew, a ban on the use of the Internet, or a cancellation of Hong Kong District Council elections slated for November. In point of fact, Lam stated on October 8 that her administration “hasn’t ruled out asking the CCP for help” in coping with the mass street protests, indicating that the Beijing government and the PLA could intervene if the situation should get worse.
Would Xi Qualify as State Guest?
It is against this backdrop that Hong Kongers have started demanding free elections and more harshly criticizing the CCP and Xi. A declaration from the so-called “Hong Kong Provisional Government” spread via the Internet when the anti-mask law was enforced. The declaration is a double-edged sword, however, as it may give Beijing an excuse to intervene. The Hong Kong issue is beginning to take on a character entirely different from four months ago.
The demonstrations in Hong Kong are approaching a limit. The US Congress is casting a stern eye toward China in connection with the unrest in Hong Kong and the suppression of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. That said, there are no forces in the international community ready to take substantive action against the Chinese government in order to support the protesters in Hong Kong.
A survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong conducted in September showed that more than 42% of Hong Kongers interviewed were considering emigrating, of whom 25% were actually preparing to leave Hong Kong. President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen has expressed a readiness to receive immigrants from Hong Kong. In the three months June-August, a total of 1,030 Hong Kongers reportedly applied for visas with the Taiwan government.
Next spring, the Japanese government plans to welcome Xi to Japan as a state guest. Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako will cordially receive him, as they would any other state guest. Frankly speaking, however, I have a problem with that. After all, Xi is the key figure responsible for the horrible suppression and slaughter of Chinese Uyghurs and the undemocratic rule of Hong Kong. Xi is also the very person behind the chronic violation of Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands by Chinese government ships.
China is Japan’s biggest trading partner today, occupying an important position in the world economy, but does that mean we must raise toasts together in a state-sponsored banquet with this autocrat who thinks nothing of resorting to force to pursue China’s core interests? Imagine how the world will view Japan when such a figure is invited to the imperial palace as a state guest. But even before that, government leaders must realize that such a warm welcome for Xi hardly matches the feelings of the vast majority of Japanese.
I wonder why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is inclined to invite Xi to Japan as a state guest. It is particularly difficult to understand in light of Abe’s usually balanced and fair perspective of the world. I suspect the foreign ministry somehow may have failed to supply pertinent information to the prime minister’s office. The government made the decision to invite Xi as a state guest in June, but the situation in Hong Kong has since undergone a sea change and Beijing’s suppression of Chinese Uyghurs still continues in Xinjiang. In the interest of mature diplomacy, I would think it appropriate for the government to propose to China that it reconsider Xi’s state visit to Japan next spring.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 873 in the October 24, 2019 issue of
The Weekly Shincho)