The bankruptcy of the China hawks

Sankei‘s Komori Yoshihisa, arch-conservative and China hawk, has published at his blog a list of complaints about Prime Minister Fukuda’s visit to China last week, criticizing the prime minister for failing to criticize China for every perceived and actual failing of the Chinese Communist Party.

Sounding much like his American peers, including the Washington Times’s Bill Gertz, who recently made claims about the Pentagon’s employing a Chinese translation service compromised by Chinese intelligence that proved “patently false,” Mr. Komori thinks that instead of trying to improve the mood in Sino-Japanese relations, Mr. Fukuda should have “referenced, pointed out, criticized, and voiced fears about”: the PLA buildup and lack of transparency, the threatened use of force against Taiwan, rogue development of the East China Sea gas fields, the CCP’s one-party rule, oppression in Tibet and Xinjiang, copyright theft, toxic products, and environmental destruction. (On this last point, Mr. Komori has the gall to criticize China for prioritizing economic growth and neglecting environmental harm. Seriously? Has he seen what Japan’s prioritizing economic growth-above-all-else did to Japan’s environment?)

Having failed to harangue China on these fronts, Mr. Fukuda’s China diplomacy ought to be like an “air-raid siren” for the Japanese people.

Nowhere in his remarks does Mr. Komori suggest what complaining about these issues would have achieved. It’s wholly beyond me how Japan’s (or any other country’s) berating China will (a) lead to the creation of a multi-party democracy in China, (b) lead Beijing to cancel its relentless “colonization” of Tibet and Xinjiang, (c) lead to China’s shifting to “green growth” and inspecting every product leaving China, etc.

This, I think, illustrates the bankruptcy not only of the “contain China” school in Japan, the US, and elsewhere, but also the bankruptcy of the foreign policy thinking of Japanese conservatives.

I recognize that there are genuine problems related to China, but the idea that those problems will be solved if the leaders of neighboring governments just criticize or threaten by way of an encircling security alliance is dangerously absurd. What is it about China hawks that they have an inability to understand mutual interdependence? For better or worse, Japan, the US, and others are bound together with China. The process of making a “responsible stakeholder” out of China will be long and frustrating, with setbacks along the way. This process will demand patient, steady, visionary leadership, not vitriolic, belligerent rhetoric that serves little purpose other than to antagonize China and accelerate arms racing in East Asia.

Meanwhile, this belligerence is about all Japan’s conservatives have to offer for Japanese foreign policy. No constructive vision for the East Asian future here, just bluster and fear. They take the same approach to North Korea and the Korean Peninsula in general.

One problem with this approach is that unless Japan rids itself of its security relationship with the US in near future, Japan’s conservatives are dependent on the US government’s sharing their views on Asia. Japan alone is not in a position to force China to change on any of the issues identified by Mr. Komori as problematic. Any confrontational approach would have to occur in sync with the US, with the US taking the lead. As we have seen in regard to both North Korea and Taiwan under the Bush administration, there is no guarantee that Washington will be on the side of Japanese conservatives even under a bellicose Republican administration. (On the economic front, though, perhaps Mr. Komori and his ilk should hope for a Democratic victory.)

Despite their lack of a concrete and constructive foreign policy agenda — no, the arc of freedom and prosperity does not count — the conservatives will undoubtedly step up their pressure on Mr. Fukuda on foreign policy in the New Year.

And I remain convinced that Dwight Eisenhower was mistaken in his farewell address: the danger is of a military-industrial-media complex, with the media serving the interests of the others by playing up foreign threats and making it appear as if there are no alternatives to belligerence and confrontation. Komori and Gertz are undoubtedly extreme examples of this, but one need not look far to find other examples of press coverage of China that seeks to stoke public fears.

7 thoughts on “The bankruptcy of the China hawks

  1. Good points, I\’d also add that the last thing Japan and the rest of world need is a democratic China. We know little about Chinese public opinion but we can assume that1. Partly due to the CCP\’s own propaganda the population is nationalistic and bellicose. I\’m struck that even the (few) Western-educated young Chinese I have met really believe that Taiwan is Chinese and are infected by the sort of nationalism which only WW1 and WW2 and its tens of millions of victims cured in Western Europe.2. That they\’re probably more xenophobic and thus would probably treat the Tibetans etc even worse.3. And that their political culture is unsuited to multiparty democracy. Chinese needs better property rights, the rule of law, democracy can only come later. That\’s what happened in the West (England was free for centuries before it was democratic).For those who like instant democracy, I suggest a trip to Iraq (if airlines limit your carry-ons, forget about the notebook PC and sunscreen, but keep the body armor and 9 milimeter). Anyhow, hard-core Japanese hawks like don\’t have a problem with China, they have one with America. They think the US destroyed the Imperial State and empowred the commies and assorted bad guys. But now they fear China (and the DPRK) so they have to claim that they are pro-American and share US values (well, with Guantanamo and the Patriot Act, they might) Robert DujarricTemple University Japan


  2. One aspect of this is of course that a heavily militarized antagonistic region is not something that these kinds of conservatives would necessarily abhor. It would mean a strengthening of the kind of institutions (the military especially) and policies they favour, and give legitimate reasons to suppress dissenting opinion and societal freedoms in the name of state security. I would not be surprised if a subset of \”China hawks\” were actually wishing for such a development.


  3. The \”responsible stakeholder\” approach won\’t work, as neatly illustrated by the US Navy\’s experience over the last decade attempting to do just that. After many years of attempting to engage with China, there is still no reciprocity, no openness, and little concrete advancement — for example, a hotline to discuss things between the two navies. Stephen Yates, former Darth Cheney advisor, noted that in the crash incident between a Chinese fighter and a US recon aircraft, when Bush picked up the hotline, nobody answered. To be a responsible stakeholder, it means viewing other nations as equals and as part of a system of equality. China does not; it still has a Dragon Throne mentality, in which it periodically screws its partners to remind them who is boss. Like in the Kitty Hawk incident….the US Navy was the one service that adopted a position of cooperation toward China, to the point that Adm Fallon had forbidden naval exercises with China as the simulated enemy. Yet China made a special point of dicking on it.As for Fukuda, the fact that he is a flaming hypocrite does not mean that he is wrong. Michael


  4. \”a military-industrial-media complex\”This sounds like James Der Derian\’s MIME-NET, or military-industrial media-entertainment network. robert:Do you think Beijing can maintain control of the provinces and minorities if and when property rights and a legal infrastructure develop? It seems local culture is an antidote to the xenophobia you mention, but at the cost of splitting the atom, as it were. Does a free China have to be one?michael turton:How much would a multilateral approach work better to inculcate respect on the international level ? If it\’s just a matter of US vs China, then why shouldn\’t Beijing act just like Pyongyang — continual brinkmanship.


  5. Bryce

    Great post! A \”military industrial media complex\”? Have you been dipping into the Noam lately?\”Partly due to the CCP\’s own propaganda the population is nationalistic and bellicose.\”Indeed, I have heard elsewhere that anti-Japanese sentiment was used by PRO democracy demonstrators as a way to rally people to the cause in the years before Tiananmen, which would partly explain the CCP\’s recent reluctance to give blessing to anti-Japanese protests. Still, democracy is not just about universal suffrage. The citizens of any newly \”democratic\” China worthy of such a categorisation might well find that they are too busy railing against the inequities in their own society – freedom of speech and all – to pay much attention to old war wounds. Any democracy worthy of its name would also grant protection to minority groups in Tibet and elsewhere. I don\’t think a democratic China is a likelihood for the near future, but people do sell democracy short when they imply that it is just about voting.As for the sluggish pace that China has responded to U.S. overtures, I believe that is partly due to the fact that China is a meandering behemoth. I don\’t subscribe to a \”rational China\” thesis. There are a muddle of institutions sending mixed messages. Sometimes the gun controls the party, sometimes the party the gun, sometimes the gun and the party don\’t know who is in control. That said, there are areas where things have improved. In recent years, China\’s human rights record has gone from extremely appalling to just plain appalling, for example.


  6. Mr. Turton – Your analysis makes some rather idealistic assumptions about the level of unity in some Asian governments.The greatest joy of many a Japanese and I suspect many a Chinese official\’s day comes not from the completion of one of his projects but from preventing an official in another ministry from completing one of her projects. The joy felt over this perverse, obstructive behavior should be assumed to be double when the person doing the damage is a member of the uniformed military and the victims are bureaucrats in the civilian ministries.


  7. Anonymous

    A good post that I can heartily agree with. The turning point for the Japanese hawks like Komori, I believe, was the success of the six-party talks in initiating the final denuclearization of N Korea. Though they will continue to rant along with the US hawks who have other issues on their agenda, it is likely in my view that their constituency will lose interest in the extreme views about China that have been resonant over the past decade. Fukuda will as I predicted earlier play a large role in changing the parameters of Japanese foreign policy due to his moderation and experience in Asian affairs inherited from a stint in diplomacy during his father\’s prime ministership.


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