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Japanese fear rising over China's (and Xi's) rising power

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By Michael Hoffman

To Shukan Gendai (Oct 29), “the invasion has already begun” – of Japan, by China.

There are grounds for concern if not alarm. (The line between the two is a fine one.) Incursions into Japan’s territorial waters, intermittent over the past decade, coupled with the five ballistic missiles fired into Japan’s exclusive economic zone in August, cannot fail to provoke an unsettling question among thoughtful Japanese. Answers may vary, but the question – “What, exactly, is China trying to tell us?” – grows hard to dismiss. A second question arises naturally from it: “ If push turns to shove… what?”

Global power is shifting. America’s loss is mostly China’s gain. Democracy, once widely seen as ultimately inseparable from modernization and economic growth, no longer seems so. China’s blunt authoritarianism presents an alternative, increasingly influential and respected even while increasingly abhorred and feared. “Democracy versus autocracy,” is U.S. President Joe Biden’s interpretation of international tensions now simmering. And if the tensions boil over? China’s first target, says Shukan Gendai, would be “the Western alliance’s most vulnerable member – this weak little island country Japan.”

 The invasion it says has already begun, however, is not military but economic. A certain “A-san,” age 40, specialist in semi-conductors, employed by Toshiba, heard one morning of a colleague who’d submitted his resignation. His first thought, he says, was: “Ah – China again.” Chinese headhunting of Japanese technicians is notorious, the magazine says. The hunch proved correct. “He’d been making just under 7 million yen a year. A Chinese semi-conductor firm offered him twice that – plus benefits beyond anything Japanese companies will match. To tell you the truth,” A-san adds, “I’ve considered (moving to China) myself.”

To strip Japan of its best engineers is to wage war by other means – as would be, for example, cutting off exports to Japan of semiconductors. Sixty-three percent of Japan’s semi-conductors come from China. Should Chinese President Xi Jinping adopt that course, analysts would have no difficulty tracing the strategy to its classical root. “The supreme art of war,” wrote General Sun Tzu circa the 6th century BC, “is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Fond of the classics, Xi quotes Confucius: “There cannot be two suns in the sky, nor two emperors on the earth.” Is Xi out to be the one emperor? Now beginning his precedent-breaking third presidential term, he is China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, whose personality cult was seen, post-Mao, as the very model to avoid in future.

This is not irrelevant to Japan, warns Shukan Gendai. At last month’s 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, “Xi spoke for one hour and 45 minutes and used the word ‘security’ 73 times – as against a previous high of 55 times, drawing thunderous applause with a reference to unification with Taiwan by force if necessary.”

Taiwan is 700 km from Okinawa. Shukan Gendai fears “a (Chinese) invasion of Okinawa by 2045.” If it happens, the ongoing rape of Ukraine by Russia suggests one possible unfolding.

Xi’s rise, and the vast sweep of the power he has secured, has more than a few puzzling aspects. He has none of Mao’s charisma. He was besides one of Mao’s victims, having been rusticated as a child for the alleged counter-revolutionary crimes of his once very powerful father. Mao’s Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 raised the low high and plunged the high low, causing countless deaths and  blighting an entire generation. Xi, in short, had a deeply troubled childhood.  It is this aspect of his life that the monthly Bungei Shunju (November) emphasizes. 

His father was Xi Zhongxun, comrade in arms of Mao’s in the Communists’ fight for power in the 1920s and ’30s and ultimate seizure of it in 1949. Jinping was nine in 1962 when Zhongxun, ranking  very high in the Party hierarchy, was purged for supposed liberal tendencies. Exile to the remote countryside was the first of many deprivations and humiliations. Persecution dragged on. The Cultural Revolution intensified it. Student mobs incited by Mao went berserk. Theirs was the power. They smashed, beat, murdered, tortured, denounced, tried, convicted, with no apparent rhyme or reason, with the Party’s blessings. How many died? Estimates range from hundreds of thousands to 20 million. The Xi family home was ransacked. Xi Jinping’s mother was forced to denounce his father. His sister committed suicide. He himself was exiled to the remote countryside. He lived in a cave, ran away, was caught and put to work digging ditches. Such was the childhood of the man who today rules China.

The elder Xi was rehabilitated in 1978, and his son began his slow, steady rise within the Party. His presidency began in 2013. Initial hopes were, says Bungei Shunju, that the son of a liberal father would rule liberally. This seemed reasonable enough. One might naturally suppose that a child growing up as he did would, on coming to power, do his or her best to ensure the like would never happen again. Yet far from distancing himself from Mao, both Shukan Gendai and Bungei Shunju point out, he seems bent on resurrecting him – in his own person.

Michael Hoffman is the author of “Cipangu, Golden Cipangu.” 

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

13 Comments
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Having lived next door to the giant all its life one might be surprised that Japan is not a complete expert on China. Yet, it seems clueless. Perhaps the insularity or the years of smug superiority have triumphed even over curiosity. Now Japan slowly seems to be waking up to an existential crisis.

-5 ( +6 / -11 )

Japan actually does have expertise on China, it's just that what the J-govt knows and what the average Japanese person on the street knows are two entirely different things.

The Chinese dictatorship's "invasion" of all countries is an all fronts war, where business, trade, economy, academic research, technology, cultural exchange are all tied in with a strategic goal.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

OssanAmerica you have been brainwashed. China has not threatened Japan and you know it. Anyone who has had their eyes open for the last 30 years would know that the US is the most violent country on this planet and a threat to the whole world. How old are you? I am guessing that you are either GenZ or a millennial in which case your ignorance may be excusable.

-11 ( +3 / -14 )

@The Regulator. Maybe you don't live in Japan. Maybe you live in China and are "educated" to believe China does no wrong and never has. I dunno. But if you had your eyes open you would have noticed there are endless incursions by Chinese coastguard vessels and "fishing boats" - even rammed a J coastguard boat - and planes and submarines. These are not the actions of a well-meaning neighbour coming round for tea. China long ago showed its cards. Few, apart from the Xi fanboys and those, like you perhaps, who gravitate to the simplistic what-about-the-US argument, would defend this bully.

And no, I am not American, nor do I care for America, especially in its recent incarnations.

8 ( +12 / -4 )

That's what happens when you constantly try to return to an 80's export-driven economy that failed instead of pushing ahead and advancing, and then just trying to pray the competition away. China's already surpassed Japan in economy and then some, and Vietnam and South Korea will before too long, too. With Japan spending all of its money on defense instead of investing in family, education, and future, the nation will crumble within a few decades.

-11 ( +5 / -16 )

Another biased US-centric view showcased on this site which only considers one side of the story (doesn't even mention that Mao fought a civil war due to the fact that the US was sponsoring the Nationalists).

2 ( +4 / -2 )

No amount of money is worth moving to China. Besides, those Chinese companies only want you so they can steal the secrets you know from whatever other Japanese company you were working for. That includes Chinese Tesla.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The proper assessment should be that Japanese people fear becoming the poorest country in Asia within a few decades. China will be the one to deliver Japan towards that destination of poverty and decline ultimately.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

That weakness-strength relation is just simply a result of WW2. Like Germany is very much limited in those military fields and now can’t help effectively defend neither the Ukraine against Russia nor even itself, the same is similarly valid for Japan when it comes to keep pace with China, economically and militarily. The responsibility for that false long term planning and missing to early estimate such future developments is somewhere else and highly probably nothing can’t or will be done to correct that quickly or still in time. Of course Russia and China respectively knew and still know that and draw merits out of those old historically grown restrictions.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Those engineers moving to China will just have their brains picked for a very few years then be back in Japan to finally retire - using the public health system, etc.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

GOOD FOR THE GOOSE? GOOD FOR THE GANDERING JAPANESE

Stop simply gandering and make a move. Biden put a ban on semiconductors to China and forced Americans working in the industry to quit working there or lose their citizenship. Within 24 hours, it was done and China lost all American personnel in the semi-conductor industry.

So, why is Japan allowing Chinese headhunting of Japanese technicians to continue? These people are turncoats. While the US citizens are protecting Japan by forsaking higher incomes in China for the sake of keeping China from being the hegemon in the region, these self-seeking and greedy Japanese are only looking out for themselves.

It's time for Japan to take a cue from the US and stop simply gandering the Chinese headhunting of Japanese technicians. It's time for action against these Japanese turncoats.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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