WHAT WOULD WORLD LOOK LIKE UNDER CHINESE HEGEMONY?
The year 2020 looks like a tough year for Japan, with a seemingly bumpy road ahead. Faced with a fierce rivalry between the US and China shaking up the world order, Japan must commit itself to solidifying its stance in order to best safeguard its national interests and contribute to stability in the Asia-Pacific.
If the US continues to pursue “America First” policies, allowing China to aggressively fill the vacuum, what might a new world order with China at its center look like and how might Japan best cope with that new reality?
The likelihood of China taking over from the US as the new hegemon is by no means high. But let us for a moment imagine what the world would be like should that come to pass. Lee Kwan Yew, the late prime minister of Singapore (1959-1990) who was well versed in the thinking and mindset of Communist Chinese leaders through his close association with such figures as Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao, once remarked:
“Will an industrialized and strong China be as benign to Southeast Asia as the United States has been since 1945? Singapore is not sure. Neither are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam…We already see a China more assured and willing to take tough positions.” (Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insight on China, the United States, and the World. The MIT Press Belfer Center Studies edition; February 1, 2013)
Lee also stated:
“They expect Singaporeans to be more respectful of China as it grows more influential. They tell us that countries big or small are equal: we are not a hegemon. But when we do something they do not like, they say you have made 1.3 billion people unhappy…So please know your place.”
The language they employ may be flowery, but Chinese leaders never view other nations as China’s “equals.”
In July 2004, a month before taking office as Singapore’s prime minister succeeding Goh Chok Tong, Lee’s son Hsien Loong visited Taiwan as deputy prime minister on “an unofficial visit.” He had previously visited Taiwan once, in 1992, but he obviously had failed to come to grips with China’s resolve to reunite with Taiwan. China reacted angrily to his visit, warning that the Singaporean side should “take full responsibility for any consequences” of the visit.
Terrified by the Chinese reaction, Lee went on to declare during the August 22 National Day rally a month later: “A move by Taiwan towards independence is neither in Singapore’s interests nor in the region’s. If Taiwan goes for independence, Singapore will not recognize it.”
Xi Jinping’s Coming State Visit to Japan
During the 2010 ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi, China’s Yang Jiechi declared, glaring at foreign ministers from 26 other nations: “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.”
During the 2015 Asian Security Conference, also called the Shangri-Li Dialogue, held in Singapore two months after Lee Kwan Yew passed away, China revealed its true hegemonic colors.
At the time, President Obama’s diplomatic inaction in the international arena continued as China forged ahead with a gigantic reclamation project in the South China Sea. Having been designated as the keynote speaker, Lee Hsien Loong was naturally expected to take up the subject. However, as the international community watched, Lee refrained from condemning China, criticizing the Philippines and Vietnam instead for their almost negligible land reclamation efforts. Lee obviously was reluctant to anger the Chinese by bringing up their land-fill project.
In May the previous year, China had hosted the Shanghai summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), a regional forum begun in 1993. Before the leaders and representatives from 47 nations and international organizations, Xi Jinping declared: “It is for the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia, solve the problems of Asia and uphold the security of Asia. No country should attempt to dominate regional security affairs or infringe upon the legitimate rights and interests of other countries.“ Xi effectively declared that China would assume hegemony over Asia, which accounts for approximately 60% of the world’s population. Xi thus sought to put a check on America’s plans to rebalance its focus from Europe toward the Asia-Pacific.
During the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CCP) held in Beijing in October 2017, Xi vowed to realize “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and a “great renewal of the Chinese race.” He further pledged to enable China to tower over the other nations of the world by 2049, when China will mark the 100th anniversary of its founding.
What kind of a nation will China be in 2049? Asked if he thought China, expected to be affluent and strong by then, would transform itself into a democracy, Lee Kuan Yew instantly replied “no.” It was obvious to Lee that democracy in China would mean a collapse of the despotic rule of the CCP.
With these remarks, Lee reminded his reader that there had never been a trace of democracy throughout China’s history and that the Chinese people do not long for it.（“China never counted heads: all rulers ruled by right of being the emperor, and if you disagree, you chop off heads, not count heads.”）
What we must recognize about China is how disparate its values are. It would be absurd to try and judge China and its people by our standards.
This spring, Xi is expected to make a state visit to Japan. Although the governments of Japan and China praise each other for having “significantly improved” the bilateral relations, I see a different picture.
Japan is faced with a heap of serious problems created by China, including: the colossal military expansion; chronic violation by armed patrol ships of the Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands; stalled joint exploration of underwater gas reserves in the East China Sea; undue objections to visits to Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese leaders; a grossly distorted view of the history of the war with Japan; intellectual property theft; and the detention of Japanese nationals in China.
Since his first tête-à-tête with Xi in October 2018, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has conferred with his Chinese counterpart four times, urging him to resolve the detention and Senkaku issues in particular. Has Xi complied with Abe’s requests? No. How can such a Chinese posture be proof of the “amiable relations” the leaders of both nations claim to have cultivated in recent years?
Xi Ignores Abe’s Requests
Since 2015, a total of 15 Japanese nationals have been detained on dubious charges. Tokyo has demanded that Beijing release them expeditiously. With only five of them having so far been released, the requests have obviously fallen on deaf ears.
The Chinese government has gone ahead with convicting the remaining detainees one after the other, as the following cases show:
•In December 2018, a man from Sapporo City, Hokkaido was sentenced to 12 years in jail and a naturalized Chinese woman was sentenced to six years.
•In May 2019, three Japanese men were handed prison terms with a maximum of 15 years;
•In October, a male employee of Itochu Corporation detained on spying charges was sentenced to three years.
Last July, a Japanese man in his fifties was detained in Changsha, Hunan
Province, but China failed to publicize his detention until late November. Then in September a University of Hokkaido professor visiting China as a guest of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was detained for “spying” before being released in November.
Incredibly, the Chinese authorities do not make verdicts public. As a result, the Japanese detainees as well as the Japanese consulate have been unable to figure out what specific crimes they were charged with and if the verdicts were legitimate.
Even after Abe discussed these issues directly with Xi, China has continued to detain Japanese nationals in China for opaque and unwarranted reasons, handing down prison sentences without explaining what they had done wrong. This Chinese treatment of Japanese citizens shows an absolute lack of sincerity on the part of the leadership to improve relations with Japan. There appears to be almost no respect for Japan.
As is now well known, Chinese patrol ships are almost daily violating the Japanese waters around the Senkakus. How can the bilateral relationship be described as friendly when China chronically indulges in such acts? In a world ruled by China, this type of behavior would become the norm.
Amid growing rivalry between the US and China, Japan must do its best to enhance its cooperation with a US committed to freedom and democratic values. To make that possible, it is mandatory for Japan to revise its constitution and significantly strengthen its military and economic power.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 884 in the January 16, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)