WILL KISHIDA PURSUE CHANCY PRO-CHINA FACTIONAL POLICY?
It is far too early to give an evaluation of the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. However, its future already appears more than a little uncertain due to the indecisive and appeasing stance toward China that Kishida’s faction, Kochikai, has historically taken. Kishida undeniably has already given the impression that he will not be able to make crucial decisions concerning China until it is too late.
While his administration appears to be enjoying steady approval ratings in the short time since its inauguration on October 4, it has remained unclear what Kishida’s thoughts are regarding the Winter Olympics slated for February in Beijing. Will both athletes and government officials represent Japan? Will the government announce a diplomatic boycott while letting athletes participate? How Kishida handles these decisions will be a barometer of how his administration will deal with China on a broader scale going forward.
The US announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games on December 7, followed quickly by nations like the UK, Australia, and Canada. Japan is one of the major nations that has yet to make clear its stance.
Queried about the possibility of Japan following suit during Lower House budget committee deliberations on December 13, Kishida replied to Sanae Takaichi, chair of the LDP’s Policy Research Council: “I will decide by comprehensively taking into account all pertinent factors.” Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi has remained equally evasive on the issue.
Condemning China’s systemic suppression of Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China as “genocide,” the aim of the boycott is to pressure China to abandon its brutal human rights abuses. Kishida has frequently emphasized the importance of dealing more harshly with China.
“As prime minister, I stand ready to make a strong case against China whenever necessary as regards the human rights abuse of Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongolians, and Hong Kongers, and will demand that China take responsible action,” pledged Kishida on September 29. During a Lower House plenary session on December 9, he also stated: “My cabinet is committed to safeguarding universal values, including human rights.” Again, during the “summit for democracy” hosted online by President Biden Dec. 9-10, Kishida declaired: “Japan will firmly raise its voice against serious human rights violations.”
One wonders why then Kishida, who has already defined his position this clearly, has yet to announce a diplomatic boycott. Amid the fierce clash of values in which the US and China are now pitted against each other, why can’t he shed light on Japan’s position?
Diabolical Hand of CCP
Instead of loosening its policy suppressing Uyghurs, Mongolians, and Tibetans, the CCP has set out to boost surveillance against these ethnic groups.
The diabolical hand of the CCP also extends overseas. CCP operatives put under constant surveillance members of the three ethnic groups working or studying in Japan, persistently intimidating them and coercing them to act as informers against fellow citizens by taking their families in China as hostages. That is the scope of the wrongful acts the CCP operatives in Japan blatantly engage in. Not only that. At least seven Japanese nationals have been detained in China since 2015 without the Chinese authorities revealing legitimate reasons for their detention.
There are many other reasons beyond human rights issues that Japan has as grounds for diplomatically boycotting the Winter Games in order to protest against the CCP. The Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, for instance. China has almost permanently posted four armed Coast Guard patrol boats in the Japanese waters off the islands. In mid-October, a Chinese fleet cruised around the Japanese archipelago in tandem with a Russian fleet, engaging in provocative maritime drills. Meanwhile, a CCP media outlet has set out to concoct an outrageous fabrication of World War II history that “700,000 ‘comfort women’ were coercively recruited by the Japanese military.” Japan should naturally take into consideration all of these Chinese actions in determining how to deal with the upcoming Games.
Instead of congratulating Beijing on the Olympics, Japan should be in the vanguard of those in spearheading a diplomatic boycott along with nations such as the US, UK, Australia, and Canada. And yet, both Kishida and Hayashi continue to stay silent.
Japan’s reticence is conspicuous in connection with the following instance as well. President Biden invited 110 nations and regions to the virtual “Summit for Democracy” he hosted December 9-10—a platform to deal jointly with the threat of authoritarian states, such as China and Russia. At the outset of the summit, Washington announced an “Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative”—a coordinated effort among several governments related to export controls and human rights, with China as one of the targets. It is designed to help stem the tide of misuse by authoritarian governments of technology for digital surveillance, facial recognition cameras, and spyware designed to extract information from smartphones. Over the next year, willing nations are expected to work together to formulate a code of conduct for controlling exports of such technology.
The US, Australia, Denmark and Norway are the founding members of the initiative, with Canada, France, the Netherlands, and the UK joining in support. But Japan is in neither group—despite the fact that, as mentioned earlier, Kishida time and again has made clear his resolve to commit to safeguarding human rights and other universal values.
What explains this passive posture on the part of the Japanese government? Another bizarre thing is that the US-originated initiative with China clearly in mind has not necessarily been shared within the Kishida administration. Gen Nakatani, Kishida’s advisor in charge of international human rights issues, reportedly knew nothing about the initiative until he read an article about it in the December 7 edition of The Japan Economic Journal. Apparently, the Foreign Ministry had failed to bring him up to date on this matter.
Why So Passive?
Masahiko Hosokawa, a former bureaucrat who now teaches international business at Meisei University in Nagoya, central Japan, explained:
“Having long cherished Japan’s relations with China, the Foreign Ministry has been consistently opposed to restrictions. The kind of ploy the ministry used this time to withhold information has not been resorted to in this case alone. As a matter of fact, some pertinent information in the joint communique issued at the end of the June 11-13 G7 summit in Cornwall, England was deliberately excluded in a summary the ministry compiled.”
The ministry was mistrustful of Biden’s democracy summit in the first place because it wasn’t clear as to what standard Washington used in deciding which nations to invite. Of the ten members of ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations), only three nations—Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines—were invited. Singapore and Vietnam weren’t. Washington applied this approach, widely believed to be designed to effectively divide ASEAN, to the Middle East and Europe as well, seemingly revealing America’s intention to decouple nations rather than banding them together. The summit appears to have only further shaken the world’s confidence in the Biden administration.
Koichi Hagyuda, Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, had this to say:
“Safeguarding its close cooperation with the US is the very basis of Japan’s international strategy. I feel strongly that the government should more positively consider the initiative the US proposed. If we cannot put our signature on that agreement now, we must maintain a posture to strive to create an environment which would make signing possible as soon as possible—for instance, early next year. That I think will fall in line with Japan’s national interests.”
What makes the Foreign Ministry so passive to China in marked contrast to the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry? Doesn’t its low posture ultimately imply that it is incapable of speaking on a par with China? It maintains an appeasing posture toward China that appears to be entrenched. And I suspect that it overlaps with the fundamentally appeasing posture toward China of Kishida’s Kochikai faction. That is why I cannot help but be apprehensive of the future shape of the Kishida administration—much as I am well aware it is still too early to render a final judgment.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 980 in the December 23, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)