I feel compelled to start off the New Year with a painful confession about how foolish I was in the past. You see—I used to be a dyed-in-the-wool “pro-China” youth.
Forty years ago, I chose Chinese as the foreign language to be tested on for my university entrance exams. I vividly recall how I used to avidly listen to NHK online Chinese classes, and how I faithfully attended public lectures by a teacher who had formerly been a member of the Communist Party. I was animated by a youthful determination to make good grades (and also admittedly because I was terrible at English).
At that time, hardly any of my high school peers chose such an absurd path as I found myself hurtling forward on. I still recall the lesson in my text about the barefoot doctors who were highly praised by Chairman Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution. Although having received only barebones medical training, these “doctors” traveled around the countryside providing basic medical care to villagers.
I Was Thoroughly ‘Pro-China’
One reason I thought it would prove somehow to my advantage to become fluent in Chinese was that I envisaged that someday China would develop into a major power on a par with the United States. However, the pace of China’s development far exceeded the flights of fancy of this immature high schooler. Nor could I imagine at the time how the “New China” would become a dystopia, that is to say the polar opposite of a utopia, which would have no place for liberty or democracy.
It took the Tiananmen Massacre of June 4, 1989 to awaken me from my Chinese reverie. I witnessed with horror how the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) unleashed their military to mercilessly mow down with bullets ordinary citizens and students who were demanding freedom and suppressed their peaceful movement. We still do not have an accurate account of how victims there were in the crackdown.
At that time I was a member of the press corps covering the brand new prime minister, Sosuke Uno. Although we journalists all tried to pin him down on what he thought of the momentous event, to my great disappointment he adamantly refused to make any comment on the subject. I clearly remember writing in my diary, “This guy isn’t cut out to be prime minister.”
Foreign Ministry documents from that time were declassified last month. They show that rather than protest the bloodbath, the Japanese government was that very same day planning furious efforts to frustrate moves by Western countries to jointly slap sanctions on China. The documents also show how, at the G7 (Arche) Summit of July 1989, Japan did everything it could to water down the sanctions that were finally adopted.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eastern Bloc countries one after the next broke away from Moscow’s bear hug. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the demise of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the final chapter in these events.
Consequently, at the time it was hardly far-fetched to expect that the Tiananmen Massacre would trigger a collapse of China’s one-party dictatorship. However, an outside party rushed to the scene to save the CCP from its near-death experience. The name of the savior was Japan.
Using the justification that China should not be isolated, Tokyo as quickly as possible resumed financial assistance to China.
Will History Repeat Itself a Third Time?
That was not the first occasion in which Japan had pulled the CCP’s chestnuts from a fire. Back during World War II, the Japanese military had done the favor.
After the war, prominent Japanese visitors to China would make it a point to apologize to their Chinese hosts for the Japanese military’s invasion of their country. While alive, Mao would always answer as follows:
“No need to apologize. Japanese militarism did China a big favor. If it hadn’t been for the Imperial Army, we never would have been able to seize power.”
Perhaps a little background information is warranted here. During the early 1930s, Nationalist military forces under Chiang Kai-shek had the Red Army on the run, and after the Long March its remnants led by Mao were seeking to recuperate in Yanan (Yenan). When the Japanese military launched its full-scale invasion of China in 1937, it gave the Communists a badly needed respite, since Chiang had to break off hostilities against them to fight the Japanese.
By that time, the ranks of the Red Army had dwindled through attrition to only about 25,000 soldiers. But eight years later the number under Mao’s command had swelled to 1.2 million. The Communists, of course, went on to win the Civil War against the Nationalists.
According to some authorities, the modern Japanese arms that the Communists took from the Japanese forces played a critical role in their final victory.
In other words, during the war the Japanese military aided the CCP and in the postwar period the Foreign Ministry has done the same.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world upside-down. The novel coronavirus, of course, first erupted in the Chinese city of Wuhan. And we should never forget that it was the actions by the Chinese government at the time to perpetrate a cover up that triggered the subsequent global pandemic.
In China the state controls all information and dangerous characters demanding freedom are mercilessly locked up in prisons or concentration camps. But be it the suppression of the Tibetan or Uighur peoples or the crackdown in Hong Kong, the truth is there for all to see, although the Japanese government and National Diet prefer to look the other way.
Now once again, China has begun trying to soft-soap Japan so as to undercut an emerging “anti-China alliance” among Western nations. First item on Beijing’s agenda is to see a state visit to Japan by President Xi Jinping materialize.
Already Japan has twice come to the rescue of the CCP when it had one foot in the grave. We should never allow that to happen for a third time.
If politicians and bureaucrats advocate allowing Xi to come to Japan, surely they must be considered “traitors”. I can assure you of what I write, having once been a big time China sympathizer myself.
(Read the original column here, in Japanese.)
By Masato Inui, Executive Editor of The Sankei Shimbun