Today's date:
Summer 2005

Japan vs. China: Asia’s New Cold War

Shintaro Ishihara, one of Japan’s most popular politicians and the governor of Tokyo, co-authored the book A Japan That Can Say No with the late Sony chairman Akio Morita and An Asia That Can Say No with (now former) Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Tokyo—Regional tension in Europe has largely disappeared since the end of the Cold War. In Asia, however, it is not an exaggeration to say that the region is facing a crisis with greater severity than that seen during the Cold War due to China’s insistence on establishing hegemony and its support for North Korea. The entire world could easily be dragged into a dangerous situation.

In our time, most ideologically based political endeavors have come to an end. Almost all political activities nowadays are motivated by economic interests. Although the collapse of the Soviet Union proved that the nature of communism was inefficient and inhumane, particular concepts of communism are still employed to justify political dictatorships in some countries. China and North Korea are cases in point, and they are the two major sources of instability in the Asian region today.

At a recent media conference in Beijing, Chinese President Hu Jintao reportedly stated, "In terms of ideological management, we must learn from North Korea and Cuba. Pyongyang is currently facing economic difficulties, but on a political level, it has consistently remained correct." In the present age, Hu’s remarks are surprising; they inadvertently reveal the real nature of communist rule.

China and North Korea both censor different ideas and thoughts, and exercise tight control over the freedom of speech under the strict principles of communism, which is held up as the supreme philosophy. For example, China, the protector of North Korea, has arrested self-improvement groups for preaching the elevation of life through mental and physical self-discipline taught by Falun Gong, a spiritual movement. The government has also imposed a ban on the group for its attempts to seek solidarity in a philosophy other than communism.

It is a historical fact that prior to the launch of communist rule, mainland China completely lacked a civil society throughout the Ching dynasty. Following its demise, civil strife among warring factions in China continued to cause havoc and disorder into the modern age.

Except for Hong Kong and Macau, which were under European sovereignty for almost one and a half centuries, and Taiwan, which freed itself from the legacy of Chiang Kai-shek’s repressive rule through democratization, the people of China have not had the chance to experience a civil society. Regardless of how Beijing asserts itself, or whether people in Taiwan belong to the same ethnic group as in mainland China, it is very doubtful whether Taipei wants to belong to a society under communist rule.

When we consider China’s growing global presence, it is most important to ascertain the central government’s true intent. One indicator of Beijing’s increasing presence is its persistent territorial claims and the nation’s military buildup. This hegemonic stance is outdated. China has already annexed Tibet, a region comprised of a different ethnic group with a unique culture, and continues to claim sovereignty over territories located in waters around the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan.

Beijing’s true nature can also be seen in its pretext of a "one nation, two systems" principle, under which it falsely advocates economic liberalization. If we liken the industrial process to a river, the conception of new products and the development of necessary technologies, as well as new model building, represent the upstream. Mass production forms the midstream, with the downstream indicated by the ability to widely distribute manufactured goods through effective advertising.

However, China’s economy is currently only able to function through the "midstream." The economy is dependent on excessively cheap labor provided under inhumane conditions where no labor unions are allowed to exist.

China’s recent acquisition of IBM’s personal computer division—actually no longer on the cutting edge in the United States—also symbolizes the nation’s limited ability to develop new technology on its own. For this reason, China has no scruples in its blatant pirating and counterfeiting of new products created through the economic upstream process of other nations. The World Trade Organization must be responsible for monitoring such behavior.

Although China’s growing economy is favorably seen as a new global market, it is important to be aware that this economic growth serves to maintain Beijing’s military modernization. China’s economic rise also acts to justify the authoritarian rule of the Communist Party, which has achieved success through its hegemonic stance toward the rest of Asia.

In the words of one expert on China’s economy, the nation’s uncontrolled development, much like the disorganized state of its construction sites, has caused an apocalypse of environmental destruction. For example, in some parts of the Yellow River, one of the world’s major rivers, water flow has come to a virtual standstill.

There are also countless contradictions in terms of China’s massive income gap. At a motor show held in Beijing, several Chinese millionaires vulgarly displayed their wealth by purchasing Daimler Chrysler top-of-the-line cars. In an interview afterward, one of the four customers nonchalantly commented that luxury goods are a status symbol. While several thousand new rich earn more than $930,000 (us) a year, the annual wages of the more than 1 billion poor in China barely reach $350 (us).

Despite official media restrictions, reports are coming out about such contradictions, including the whitewashing of countless acts of corruption among public servants. However, the government’s desire to maintain its one-party dictatorship prevents it from questioning the embedded level of economic corruption and the dangerous climate it has created.

Instead, the government is inciting a dangerous kind of patriotism in order to divert public frustration to foreign affairs. Both implicitly and explicitly, the government is supporting anti-Japanese sentiment by taking up the issue of wartime history between Japan and China.

Territorial disputes are often a convenient issue in the promotion of public sentiment bordering on nationalism. China has voiced outrageous claims to Japanese territory that was officially returned to Japan after its conclusion of an agreement with the US.

China also insists that Taiwan, which has a well-developed civil society, should be reunited because the Taiwanese people are of the same ethnicity as those of the mainland. China has also emphasized its justification for its recently enacted anti-secession law and the nation’s right to use military force to prevent any attempts by Taiwan to pursue formal independence. The assertion that Taiwan should be part of China is tantamount to Adolf Hitler’s view that Austria be annexed because the Austrians were of the same ethnicity as Germans.

Amid this climate of tension, the European Union is considering whether to lift its arms embargo against China, which is clearly the source of such danger.

This move derives from commercial greed on the part of European nations, rather than from their not knowing the true nature of emerging tension in Asia. As the world becomes smaller, both in physical proximity and in terms of time, the entire global community, including Europe, could easily be affected.

Many of us in civil society have been able to achieve freedom because of the great sacrifice made by forebearers. Can we really allow China, an outright defiant nation with massive political energy, to blatantly pursue its economic interests in the Asian region?