Japanese, Chinese speakers clash at Hong Kong forum

by Chris Zappone

According to the SCMP, Japan’s top foreign policy minister had a speech delivered (not in person) at an annual regional forum which was met with outrage with a Chinese participant. The speech was penned by Yachi Shotaro, who is understood to be the architect of the new Japanese prime minister’s more nationalist foreign policy. Retired PLA major general Pan Zhenqiang refuted the premise of the speech, which he described as “very rude and arrogant.”

Basically, Yachi made the point that China had not contested the ownership of the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands after WWII or in 1997 when China and Japan normalised ties. Yachi’s speech went on to say China is “asserting claim by force.” Essentially, Yachi has charged China with revisionism about their territorial claims.

“One must say that the act alone is breaching the rule of international order,” he said. “I should like to ask you: is this a China you want to show to the world? Is this a China that your children will be proud of?

(An aside: China “resents” the current global order created by Allies after WWII, according to ex-PM of Australia Kevin Rudd.)

General Pan drew a parallel between Japan’s attitude today and when Japan invaded China. “this was the kind of attitude they showed to Chinese people: you can only enjoy peace and prosperity if you listen to our command. Do they still want to send that message to [the] Chinese today?”

From the article:

Pan called Japan Asia’s revisionist power, as Abe’s government was trying to change the international order established after the second world war, which imposed a peaceful constitution on Japan and banned it from full-fledged militarisation.

So there you have it, on full display. Both sides accuse the other of revisionism with history, which points to a competing, conflicting view of history, around the islands, from both nations. But it’s emblematic difference in how they view themselves and history.

It’s almost like two tectonic plates rubbing up against each other. Physics dictate that the space can only be occupied by one.

But it’s worth noting that only 25-30 years ago, fears of an ascendant Japan dominated thinking in the US. Then for reasons that had a lot to do with the very specific cultural, societal and economic realities of Japan, it began to recede to the point it finds itself today.

The US, with its problems, is largely in the same spot as it was back then. It’s still the undisputed superpower of the world in part because it doesn’t seek to be a superpower.

The political history of the US aligns with the modern world. It has a mutable strength and can achieve change as it does today. But I believe the deeper integration of China’s culture, history and society with modernity will result in a country that is unable to achieve its ambitions both at home and abroad. I don’t know if the historical power structures of China that remain in place today can cope with modernity. And perhaps in the numerous island disputes we’re seeing examples of that.