JAPANESE MUST HAVE MORE URGENT SENSE OF CRISIS AMID DEEPENING US-CHINA CONFRONTATION
Three days after the US closed the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas on July 24, China retaliated by closing the US consulate in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province.
In Houston, firefighters responded to reports of a fire caused by consulate staffers burning classified documents in the compound of the Chinese mission the night of July 21, but were reportedly barred entry. But the incident lent credibility to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who described the Chinese consulate as “a hub of spying and intellectual property theft” during an address in southern California on July 23.
As the US and China engaged in the tit-for-tat closings amid the deepening conflict, Japan, sandwiched between the world’s two biggest economies, finds itself at a crucial crossroads in its foreign relations, whether it likes it or not. Unless Japan manages to cope properly with America’s new get-tough policy toward China, it will not be able to protect its interests or the essence of its national character. Against such a backdrop, I cannot understand why our media, politicians, and the public at large appear so little alarmed by what I view as our latest national crisis.
The “Nixon Shock” of 1971 threw the whole of Japan into confusion. President Richard Nixon, who harshly criticized the Johnson administration over America’s deep involvement in the Vietnam War, was set to improve relations with Communist China as he endeavored to settle the war. So says international affairs expert Tadae Takubo in his Nixon and America’s China Policy (Chikuma Bosho, Tokyo; 1994). “He used China as the trump card for dealing with the former Soviet Union, which he viewed as the greatest threat to the US.”
Washington informed Tokyo of Nixon’s decision to visit China, which America had refused to recognize following the end of the Korean War, barely three minutes before Nixon announced it on prime-time television on July 15, 1971. The announcement touched off frenzied coverage by the Japanese media, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato and a hastily arranged visit to Beijing by Sato’s successor Kakuei Tanaka and his foreign minister Masayoshi Ohira, as we well know. Japan swiftly normalized its relations with China in September 1972—nearly seven years before the US recognition of China.
While I don’t approve of the media frenzy that enveloped the whole of Japan at the time with basically superficial news about the “Nixon Shock” day in day out, I feel ill at ease with the eerily subdued reaction in Japan to the dramatically toughened US posture toward China. I cannot but view this as yet more proof that Japan will again resort to the easiest of all choices—maintaining the status quo—which in reality is the wrong path to follow from a medium to long-term point of view when taking our national interests into consideration.
As I mentioned in my last column, the global community is right in the midst of a fierce clash of values. In his address at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in California on July 23, US Secretary of State Pompeo quoted Nixon as saying that America opened China to the global community in order to “induce change.” Nixon later stated to New York Times columnist William Safire: “Maybe, we created a Frankenstein.”
“Distrust and Verify”
For much of the half century in the nearly 70-year history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the US has vigorously backed China under an active engagement policy, giving special economic treatment and expecting it would “produce a future with bright promise, of comity and cooperation.” But China has failed to reciprocate. America has indeed ended up creating the Frankenstein that Nixon feared, as Pompeo effectively admitted.
Pompeo’s address reflected a dramatic reversal of the China policy Washington has pursued since the Nixon era. Pompeo summarized the new policy as: “distrust and verify” every word and action of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—as opposed to the “trust and verify” policy President Regan pursued in dealing with the Soviet Union.
Successive US administrations have turned a blind eye to the fact that the PRC is a communist nation, persistently believing that affluence would lead China to an open and democratic state like America. Pompeo stressed how very mistaken the US has been in ignoring the fundamental political and ideological differences with China and its Marxist-Leninist beliefs. He recounted:
“I grew up and served my time in the army during the Cold War, and if there’s one thing I learned, Communists almost always lie. The biggest lie that they tell is to think that they speak for 1.4 billion people who are surveilled, oppressed, and scared to speak out. Quite the contrary. The CCP fears the Chinese people’s honest opinions more than any foe.”
The US administration has toughened its China policy while clearly differentiating between the CCP and the Chinese people, whom Pompeo lauds as “a dynamic, freedom-loving people who are completely distinct from the Chinese Communist Party.”
Because America believes “getting tough” alone is unlikely to achieve the outcome it desires, said Pompeo, it must “engage and empower” the freedom-loving people of China.
In a Q&A session following Pompeo’s address, Hugh Hewitt, America’s leading expert on Nixon and president of the Nixon Library, asked an intriguing question, pointing out that differentiating between the CCP and the people of China would be like dealing with two Chinas, “making diplomacy impossible.” Hewitt went on to say this was “quite a stance for America’s chief diplomat to take unless your goal is to ensure diplomacy fails. Is that your goal?” Hewitt’s question made my heart skip a beat. It seemed he was asking whether America is intending to bring down the CCP by supporting the people of China.
Pompeo answered by saying America will “deal with the Chinese Communist Party as the head of the state for China.” But he added: “It seems to me, we would dishonor ourselves and the people of China if we ignored them.” The only thing I can deduce from Pompeo’s remarks is that America is eying the collapse of the CCP and a subsequent regime change in China.
Japan’s National Interests at Stake
For the first time since the Nixon era, Americans have started harboring a serious concern about China’s communist ideology. They have belatedly come to realize that the PLA is an army designed and committed only to protecting the CCP, not the Chinese people, and that all of the organizations and corporations in China work solely for the good of the CCP.
State-run Chinese companies operate under the CCP’s directives without the need to pursue profits, enabling them to easily get the better of foreign corporations that operate under the rigid principle of free competition. Chinese students and researchers who come to the US are soldiers for the CCP, incessantly stealing intellectual property and the fruit of American research. Admitting that their government has allowed China to freely engage in these abuses over the years, Americans are now asking themselves why they have so tolerantly resorted to cheek-turning for so long. Among the reasons Pompeo cited were: American ignorance about the innate and intense hostility Chinese communism holds against the Western system; self-conceit as the victor in the Cold War; greedy capitalism; and taking the sweet words of China’s “peaceful rise” at their face value. Ignorance, self-conceit, sweet words, and greedy capitalism all apply directly to Japan as well, especially to our business community.
Proposing a new alliance of democracies to jointly face up to China’s global offense, Pompeo asked: “Now we need the will. To quote Scripture, I ask, is our spirit willing but our flesh weak?” No doubt the CCP is a tough nut to crack. Western democracies must turn a blind eye to short-term economic gains and take the “right path” based on their traditional values. That is the path that our business people, especially those in financial circles, find the most difficult.
But now is the time for Japan to earnestly consider its national interests, taking an enlightened medium to long-term perspective. To change Marxist-Leninist China, we must deal with the communist state on the basis of “action for action,” valuing not what they promise but what they actually deliver. “Distrust and verity” referred to earlier will precisely be the basis on which Japan should cope with China. Japan is called on to make a crucial choice amid one of this century’s most serious crises. At this juncture, we must concentrate our wisdom on establishing a solid foundation on which to pursue our best national interests, including a choice between the US and China.
Look at what is happening to the Senkaku Islands, and the dispute over Japan’s wartime history. Unless every Japanese recognizes these and other problems Japan is faced with, our next generation and the generations that follow it will come under Chinese rule. We must somberly realize the seriousness of our current crisis, vowing to etch a future history in which our proud country continues to reject China’s autocratic ways and walks its own independent path of freedom and democracy.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 912 in the August 6, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)