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Coronavirus Crisis Should Open Japan’s Eyes to the Dangers of Dependency on China




Japan faces a national crisis.


The key to overcoming this national crisis over the spread of the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, will be whether or not the government and people of Japan can come together and cooperate.


The coronavirus issue has revealed just how fragile in character is the dependency on China of not just Japan but the entire world. At heart, the coronavirus is more of a question of national security than public health.


Up until now, Japan’s business community and government have viewed China-Japan relations primarily from the standpoint of economics. But the perspective is now changing. In fact, we are seeing a rethink of Japan’s supply chains, reemphasizing the strategy of “China + 1” that includes diversifying production to Vietnam and other countries.


Already, “China + 1” has been a hot topic. But the discussion has been limited, centered on purely economic factors, such as labor costs. If we make an honest appraisal, we have to conclude that, in entering the China market, Japanese companies were too fixated on profits and gave little thought to what would be the future outcomes from doing business with China.


They were loath to leave China, even after China continued to fabricate history, steal intellectual property, and violate Japan’s national territory. But they neither complained nor fought back.


While these Japanese companies continued their quest for profits, in many cases they adopted the stance that, even if their vital assets in the form of intellectual property were being looted, they could make up for it by coming up with even better proposals. With their eyes transfixed by the lure of profits, they have been unable to imagine their huge future losses and inevitable ignominious defeat.



Confiscations Reveal China’s Duplicitous Diplomacy


Nevertheless, the coronavirus has made one thing clear: if Japan continues to approach the question of China purely in terms of the economic dimension, Japan will eventually come to a sorry pass.


In one sense, China’s strategy is easy to understand. Because of the pandemic, the world is now faced with an acute shortage of hygienic facemasks. And China produces 80% of the global supply of such masks. So Beijing is now conducting “mask diplomacy,” as evidenced by the fact that it has been presenting masks to local governments in Japan.


But, at the same time, Beijing has been confiscating all the masks Japanese manufacturers were producing in China for export to Japan, including all their inventories.


According to China’s National Defense Mobilization Law that took effect in 2010, in case of national emergencies foreign companies operating in China must follow orders from the Chinese government. It was under those auspices that the confiscation of Japanese masks took place.


So the Chinese government confiscated the Japanese masks, and then as an expression of China’s “goodwill,” they turned around and offered them as a “gift” to Japan. The idea of their crass scheme was that the Japanese would be overjoyed and thank Beijing for its largesse.



China’s Threats


Or take the case of the anti-flu drug Avigan.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that Avigan, developed by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co., a member of the Fujifilm Holdings Corp. group, had shown effectiveness in treating coronavirus, and domestic clinical tests for such treatment began from March 31.


China had already completed clinical testing of favipiravir, the active ingredient in Avigan, and China’s science and technology ministry announced that Avigan was indeed effective as a coronavirus treatment.


Fujifilm’s patent on the drug has already expired in China and the previous licensing agreement too has concluded. Therefore, Fujifilm will not profit in the least should a Chinese knock-off of Avigan be used in large amounts worldwide.


However, it is not just Japan. American pharmaceutical companies too have, through their business tie-ups in China, already in fact handed over many advanced technologies to the Chinese. As a result, not only have they had their technologies stolen, the United States is now dependent on China for its drug supply and is at China’s tender mercies in this regard.


What will happen as a result of this situation? An editorial ran by Xinhua news agency, an organ of the Chinese Communist Party, on March 4 read in part as follows:


China can limit its exports of drugs. In that case, the United States will be plunged into a mighty sea of coronavirus.


This is a blatant threat to hold the lives of a nation’s people hostage.



Time for All to Consider National Security


More important than the degree of academic knowledge or accumulated experience we possess is the pure intention of each and every Japanese person and corporation to do his or her utmost. That is where the strength to overcome this national emergency will come from. 


Both Japan’s government and its corporations must change their thinking and consider national security aspects when dealing with China.


The first step is for us to draw on the collective strength of the nation’s people to conquer the “Wuhan virus” with suitable emergency measures. Then we need to revise the Constitution so that it will match Japan’s character as a kind-hearted, reliable nation.


(This is an edited version of a Sankei special column by the author. Click here for access to this column in its original Japanese.)


Author: Yoshiko Sakurai