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Foreign Policy

Looking for Ways to Pressure China

Apr 28, 2021

In the shadow of COVID-19, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden released a joint statement titled “U.S.-Japan Global Partnership for a New Era” on April 16 in Washington.

The Japanese government and media made it sound as though Tokyo had been struggling over whether to include Taiwan in the statement. Actually, the text was carefully planned. It was an intentional move on the Japanese government’s part to write Taiwan into a joint leaders’ statement with the U.S. for the first time since 1969. 

This is serious interference in China’s domestic affairs. In addition, the Japanese side also managed to include in the statement such topics as the Diaoyu Islands and Xinjiang.

The statement was actually an updated version of the U.S.-Japan joint statement from the recent 2+2 meeting. The first serious interference by Japan in Chinese domestic affairs since the two countries normalized diplomatic relations indicates that the Suga cabinet is determined and has made an alliance with the Biden administration to confront China.

It is also the first time since the normalization of bilateral ties that a Japanese prime minister has openly called China a threat that seeks hegemony.

For the Chinese side, it is significant that Japan scrapped four political documents, including the China-Japan Joint Statement and the Peace and Friendship Treaty, and that it is showcasing to China the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance. It will then attempt to make China give in under pressure from the alliance of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India.

China-Japan friendship and cooperation have suffered serious damage at the hands of the Suga cabinet, and relations are sliding into a dangerous abyss. The efforts of previous generations on both sides may end up having been made in vain.

Over the past decade, the Japanese government has carried out nationwide brainwashing on the matter of the Diaoyu Islands and smeared the Chinese law-enforcement vessels’ patrols in the territorial waters off the Diaoyu as an “invasion of Japanese territorial waters” that seriously damaged the Japanese public’s friendly feelings toward China.

The Diaoyu Islands have been Chinese territories, and are not located in the territories of the ancient Ryukyu kingdom. The Japanese side has failed to find any evidence that the Diaoyu Islands have ever belonged to Japan historically. Less than 150 years ago, in 1879, the Ryukyu kingdom was annexed by the Meiji government of Japan by force and renamed “Okinawa Prefecture.”

After that, there were attempts to target China’s Diaoyu Islands. However, in the 20 years before Japan launched the First China-Japan War, the Japanese Department of the Navy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs were aware of and identified the fact that the Diaoyu Island, Huangwei Yu and Chiwei Yu were associated with China’s Taiwan, and dared not occupy them.

After winning the war on Jan. 21, 1895, the Ito Hirobumi cabinet secretly passed a resolution to take over the Diaoyu Islands and put them under Japanese jurisdiction while practicing colonial rule over Taiwan under the Shimonoseki Treaty. In 1896, Japan permitted Tatsushiro Kuga of Fukuoka Prefecture to develop them under a lease arrangement. After World War II, with Japan accepting the Potsdam Proclamation and surrendering, it should have returned the Diaoyu Islands to China along with Taiwan.

However, in 1969 the Eisaku Sato cabinet asked the U.S. to put the Diaoyu Islands under Japanese jurisdiction, along with the Ryukyu islands, which ignited unanimous opposition by Chinese people all over the world. Large-scale movements to safeguard the Diaoyu Islands arose in the U.S. 50 years ago.

Today's troubles in China-Japan relations have their roots in the Eisaku Sato cabinet’s anti-China policy. Sato is a grandfather-in-law of Shinzo Abe and Kishi Nobuo, who have inherited the former’s China policy thinking.

One reason the Suga cabinet has gone its own way despite solemn representations by China is that Japan is aware China has become a global power that will likely surpass the U.S. within the next 30 years. China-U.S. strategic competition is inevitable. Japan is thus attempting to instigate and take advantage of China-U.S. contradictions so that both China and the U.S. will suffer damage, while Japan can profit, regain dominance in Asia and comfort the souls of the war dead enshrined at the Yasukuni Shrine. This is the new strategy of the Reiwa era, in which a nation defeated in WWII is again taking part in the competition for global hegemony, seeking to rise again and manipulating China and the U.S., two of the victorious countries.

To lose all doubt, listen to former Japanese ambassador Ryozo Kato. In an article published in the Sankei Shimbun on April 5, he said the U.S. finally has identified China as a challenge and threat, which is good for Japan, which has waited a long time for this.

Coincidentally, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proclaimed before Suga’s U.S. visit that Japan is standing at the forefront of the China-U.S. confrontation. Both revealed Japan’s future strategic attempt to take advantage of China-U.S. contradictions, enhance military strength, obstruct China’s peaceful reunification, snatch back the Diaoyu Islands, leave China and the U.S. to exhaust each other in strategic friction  (so that both of them would try to align with Japan), put together an “eight-nation alliance” in a new era against China to build political, scientific, technological and military advantages over China and work with the U.S. to build an Indo-Pacific co-prosperity sphere.  In this process, matters of Japanese public welfare and security, such as the handling of the Fukushima nuclear accident and COVID-19 containment, are being put on the back burner.

Japan’s backpedaling won’t have a good outcome. The U.S. also needs to reconsider its moves to suppress China, in part by making allies of unrepentant Japanese politicians. Otherwise, disaster may come.

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