NEVER UNDERESTIMATE CHINA’S EFFORTS TO EXTEND ITS INFLUENCE IN JAPAN
With the world undergoing a sea change 75 years after the end of World War II, we Japanese are at a crucial crossroads as we ask ourselves what type of a nation Japan should be in the next 10 to 20 years–and beyond. What values should uphold the foundation of our family, society, and nation? Now is the time for all of us to think long and hard about the path Japan should follow going forward.
The ongoing clash of values between the US and China will play out for some time to come. In a series of four addresses delivered in July relating to China, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged nations around the world to decide unambiguously which side—and values—they will commit themselves to.
Not only Japan but Britain and Germany as well have no small influence around the world. Against the backdrop of a relative decline of America’s global influence, these nations have been increasing their own influence. Economically and/or militarily powerful nations have commensurate global responsibilities. In order to fulfill its responsibility, Japan must determine how to face up to China in tandem with nations like the US and Britain.
I recently came across a timely report entitled China’s Influence in Japan: Everywhere Yet Nowhere in Particular, published late last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a leading American think tank. The 47-page report concluded that “China’s influence in Japan remains limited compared with other democracies.” I was grossly disappointed by the shallowness of its foresight and the naivete of its analysis.
The report states that China has over the years deployed in Japan both its “benign influence activities (including cultural diplomacy)” and “its sharper, more malign activities (including covert tactics).” It observes: “And yet for this effort, China has little to show.” It further notes that China has achieved “none of its policy objectives with Japan: Japan has not joined the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative); Okinawa has not declared independence from Japan: the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) has few allies in the Japanese government; (and) Japan has not weakened its alliance with the US…”
Imagine what would have become of Japan had any of these Chinese objectives become a reality. For instance, the independence of Okinawa. It would definitely have meant a devastating revolution in Japan—a massive upheaval that would have turned our nation upside down.
A weakened US-Japan alliance would have profoundly altered the course of Japan’s postwar history and its national security strategy.
Aim of Report
The need for a qualitative enhancement of the US-Japan alliance has been a tough challenge Japan has faced during the Obama and Trump administrations. Washington has consistently been urging Tokyo to implement a higher degree of independence as an equal and responsible ally, and Japan is fully aware it should. There is no question, however, that our two nations are aiming to further bolster their alliance, not weaken it.
The independence of Okinawa from Japan and a weakening of the US-Japan alliance have consistently been China’s goal over the years. Beijing has endeavored to stir up public opinion in Japan at every opportunity in order to drive a wedge between Japan and the US. However, I would think it premature to conclude that China’s influence in Japan is weak or “limited compared with other democracies,” just because it has yet to bear fruit.
The report defines its aim as offering “an explanation for China’s failure to influence Japan by looking at traits that are unique to Japan as well as policies that could be shared with other democracies.”
Such a view instantly prompts me to suspect that the author might have spent two years collecting the data just to match the preset conclusion that “China’s influence in Japan remained limited compared with other democracies.” Viewed in this way, one would find it understandable that the first Japanese scholar who appears in this report is Professor Koichi Nakano of Tokyo’s Sophia University, a China expert well known for his pro-Beijing views.
As proof of China’s “limited” influence in Japan, the author refers to the decision made in early April by the Japanese government, which had initially reacted mildly to the Wuhan virus, to come up with a stimulus package aimed at enabling China-based Japanese corporations to relocate their supply chains outside of China to either Japan or elsewhere, such as Southeast Asia.
But the US$22.14 billion the Japanese government has set aside is dwarfed by what Germany and the US have earmarked for similar purposes—US$655 billion and US$500 billion, respectively. In point of fact, the number for Japan is so small that it makes one question seriously how committed Japan really is to decoupling from China. Objectively speaking, it would be inappropriate to cite the size of the Japanese allocation as proof of China’s lack of influence on Japan.
The report has a section dedicated to a description of the activities of the Confucius Institutes in Japan. Frankly, the analysis is so superficial it furnishes the reader with little useful information.
In trying to oppress, or exert its influence over a nation, China utilizes its economic power for maximum effect, manipulating the fate of almost any nation at will. When the Australian government demanded an international investigation into the origins of the Wuhan virus in May, China imposed an 80.5% tariff on Australian barley imports. Three years ago, in March 2017, China banned package tours to South Korea in retaliation against Seoul’s planned deployment of a US missile defense system, called THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Missile), strangling the Korean economy.
Many of us are keenly aware of these examples, but the field of education escapes similar scrutiny. A large number of Chinese students have regularly been sent to colleges and universities across the globe. In most cases, their tuitions are prepaid in bulk, proving economically beneficial to the educational institutions that enroll these Chinese students. A whole university can often become seemingly subservient to Beijing, a place where criticizing China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) becomes taboo. Meanwhile, Chinese students have free access to state-of-the-art technology, putting them in a position to steal that know-how and take it back to China.
Huge Profits for Universities
Another pillar China utilizes in expanding its global influence in the education field is the Confucius Institutes. The stated aim of the Institutes, inaugurated in 2004 by Hanban, a substructure of the Chinese Ministry of Education, is to promote Chinese language, education, and culture around the world. Stated more honestly, its aim is to increase the CCP’s global influence.
Clive Hamilton depicts China’s aggressive efforts to spread its influence in Australia in his Silent Invasion (Hardie Grant Books, Australia; 2018). In this damning indictment, Hamilton quotes Li Changchun, who was in charge of China’s propaganda 2002 to 2012, as describing the Institutes as “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup.”
Since inaugurating its first overseas branch in South Korea in 2004, the Institutes have established 550 branches in a total of 162 nations around the world. There are 14 Confucius Institutes in Japan, the first one having opened in 2005 on the campus of Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. China obviously means good business for the university. Five years earlier, in 2000, the university inaugurated Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Oita Prefecture, Kyushu, with a large enrollment of students from China. Another branch of the Institutes opened at the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo in 2007. The 12 other Japanese universities that have Confucius Institutes on campus are: Obirin, Hokuriku, Aichi, Hyogo Ika, Okayama Shoka, Osaka Sangyo, Fukuyama, Kogakuin, Kansai Gaigo, Musashino, and Yamanashi Gakuin.
Enrolling large numbers of Chinese students while opening Confucius Institutes creates a synergistic effect, generating huge profits for the universities involved. The “profits” include tuitions prepaid in bulk plus various “research” funds provided by the Chinese side. Are these funds, ostensibly provided by the Chinese Ministry of Education, really “clean”? In Hamilton’s book, the eminent US sinologist David Shambaugh asserts that the moneys from China are actually “provided by the CCP’s External Propaganda Department.” In other words, the funds received by many Japanese universities and researchers are provided by the CCP’s Propaganda Department after being “laundered” through the Ministry of Education.
Among the advanced nations of the world, Japan remains the most oblivious to this Chinese threat. It’s time to wake up.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 914 in the August 20, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)