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Politics & Security

Was Xi Jinping Irked by Kishida's Surprise Ukraine Visit?

PM Kishida's Ukraine visit hit a raw nerve with the CCP, led by Xi Jinping. One reason for this is China's complex post-war psychological stance toward Japan.

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Prime Minister Kishida offers flowers at a memorial for the war dead in Ukraine. (@ Cabinet Public Relations Office)

From March 20-22, 2023, shortly after securing his third term as Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi Jinping took his "maiden" international voyage (of his new administration). Xi's destination was Russia for a three-day state visit with Vladimir Putin.

The CCP side touted Xi's trip as a "journey of friendship, cooperation, and peace that has attracted the entire world's attention."

However, on March 21, 2023, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's sudden visit to Ukraine caused half of the "world's attention" to shift from Xi Jinping and Putin to Ukraine, which is currently in the midst of a war caused by Russia's invasion a year ago.

Kishida's visit instantly shattered the false image of "peace envoy" that the CCP had deliberately created around Xi. As a result of Kishida's Ukraine trip, the world was reminded that Russia, and its "friend" the People's Republic of China (PRC), are anything but peaceful.

Xi Jinping Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping leave after a reception at the Kremlin in honor of the Chinese leader's visit to Moscow on March 21, 2023. (©Sputnik/Grigory Sysoev/Kremlin via REUTERS)

China's Displeasure with Kishida's Ukraine Visit

Perhaps it was because of this reminder that, during a routine Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs press conference on March 21, spokesperson Wang Wenbin said with much bitterness in his tone:

"The international community should adhere to the correct direction of persuasion and dialogue, and create conditions for a political solution to the Ukrainian crisis. We hope that Japan will do more things conducive to cooling down the situation, rather than the opposite."

It is worth noting that before Japanese Prime Minister Kishida, many Western leaders had also visited Ukraine. And yet, the CCP did not make a big deal out of those other visits.

So, why is the CCP so unhappy about the visit of the Japanese prime minister?

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A Tacit Acknowledgement of Japan's Influence

I believe there are very complex and profound reasons behind China's displeasure over Kishida's Ukraine trip.

The most superficial reason is that Kishida's visit took the spotlight away from Xi Jinping, diverting the world media's attention from Xi and Putin to Ukraine and Japan.

A secondary reason is that, while Xi Jinping chose to visit an invader, the Japanese prime minister visited the victim instead. Japan provides not only firm moral support but also actual material aid.

This has shown the world how hollow the CCP's so-called "neutrality" is. On the one hand, the CCP strongly supports Russia even though the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Putin for his alleged war crimes. On the other hand, the CCP provides no moral, linguistic, or material support to the side that opposes aggression in Ukraine. What kind of neutrality has the CCP offered?

The third reason is that the CCP has realized the important restraining role that Japan will play in any future war against Taiwan that the CCP may launch. The CCP's aggressive posture in the Taiwan Strait in recent years has already made Japan aware of the threats it faces.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe once declared his determination to defend Taiwan by saying that "a Taiwan contingency is a Japan contingency." Japan has since increased its defense budget to 2% of GDP.

Some commentators say that it is the CCP's military threat that has "activated" Japan, which has been "dormant" for many years as a former military power.

Oleksandra Matviichuk CCL war crimes
International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan stands next to a grave where the remains of three bodies were found, in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv, Ukraine April 13, 2022. (© REUTERS/Volodymyr Petrov)

Chinese Communists' Japan-Related Psychological Hangups

The fourth reason why the CCP reacted as it did to Kishida's Ukraine visit is more complicated.

The CCP did not win World War II. Nevertheless, the CCP stole the status of the Republic of China, represented by the Kuomintang government which later fled to Taiwan, as one of the victorious countries during that war. It's a case of stolen valor in a way. The CCP pretends that it fought Japan, but most of the fighting was done by the CCP's rivals, the Kuomintang.

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This created the CCP's complex psychological situation toward Japan as a defeated country in WWII.

Former CCP chairman Mao Zedong expressed "gratitude" to Japan many times, saying that without Japan's invasion of China, the Communist Party might have been wiped out by the Kuomintang. At the same time, as a thief of victorious country status, the CCP has a psychological contempt for the defeated country of Japan.

In other words, the CCP knows that it is not a victorious country, and knows also that it did not win any victory at all against Japan. Notice that, when its own rule is in crisis, "anti-Japanese sentiment" is always a nationalist card that the CCP plays to divert attention away from its own mistakes.

Because of these factors, the CCP has a complex psychological state towards Japan, with arrogance and hostility as the main ingredients.

Thus, when other national leaders visited Ukraine, the CCP remained silent. But when Prime Minister Kishida did the same thing, the CCP expressed deep dissatisfaction.

Xi Jinping's Ominous 'Profound Changes' Remark

As to why Xi Jinping would make such a high-profile visit to Russia after Putin was accused of being a war criminal, different international media outlets have given different interpretations.

For me, the best expression of Xi's intentions and purpose for his Russia trip was something he said to Putin before leaving Moscow at the end of his state visit: "We are here to drive changes not seen for one hundred years."

This utterance echoes the phrase "profound changes unseen in a century," Xi Jinping's exclusive political term which he proposed in 2017. Although the Chinese Communist Party has never officially explained what the "profound changes unseen in a century" are, the term is frequently cited and appears often in Xi Jinping's various "important speeches."

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After years of "serious understanding and study," many Chinese people have gradually come to understand that the "profound changes unseen in a century" that Xi Jinping refers to probably include two aspects:

First, Xi wants to achieve the so-called "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."

Second, Xi wants China to replace the United States as the world's hegemonic power. This is consistent with the "historical logic of the East is rising and the West is falling" that the Chinese Communist Party believes in and propagates.

At the very least, Xi seems to believe that the CCP should enjoy equal international status as the United States, which is what Xi Jinping calls "viewing the world on an equal footing." Even many Western scholars are still predicting that China's GDP will eventually surpass that of the United States, so it is inevitable that Xi Jinping would have such confidence in his long-term goals.

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Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping attend a reception at the Kremlin in Russia on March 21, 2023. (© Sputnik/Pavel Byrkin/Kremlin via REUTERS)

A Red Guard on the World Stage

It is difficult for outsiders to understand and imagine that the world in Xi Jinping's eyes is different from that of ordinary society. In many ways, Xi is still a Red Guard from the Mao Zedong era. His dream is to plant red flags of Communist revolution all over the world.

This vision for world Communist domination explains Xi's remarks about the disintegration of the Soviet Union: "There wasn't even one man who could call himself a true man."

What Xi meant was that no one was bold enough to defend Communism when the Soviet Union was collapsing. Everybody was a coward, in his eyes, for not continuing the global red revolution.

Perhaps, in Xi Jinping's eyes, daring to form an alliance with belligerent Russia and go against the world is an expression of his "manliness." In the whole world, only Xi is a "real man," a hero of Communism.

Mao and Joseph Stalin at Stalin's 71st birthday celebration in Moscow in December 1949 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons).

Perhaps, in his own mind, Xi has even surpassed his idol Mao Zedong.

Why?

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Because when Mao went to visit Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, the "big brother" of communism, as a "little brother" of communism Mao was treated very coldly and even placed under house arrest for ten days. The CCP was humiliated by Russia then.

But today, when Xi Jinping visited Vladimir Putin, he was greeted with the full measure of diplomatic and state honors. From this perspective, Xi Jinping has surpassed his "spiritual mentor" Mao Zedong. Russia and China have traded places.

However, things may not go according to Xi's ambitious plans. As both China and Russia are currently embroiled in internal and external difficulties due to their own dictators, how long can this temporary "warmth-seeking alliance" last?


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Author: Jennifer Zeng

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