China Policy Institute: Analysis



Japan and China court Africa

Written by Julie Yu-Wen Chen and Obert Hodzi.

Africa is currently being courted by both China and Japan. Rich in natural resources and a growing market, Africa is important to both East Asian economic giants. They have provided Africa with generous financial and economic development deals totalling over US$90 billion between December, 2015 and August 2016. The most recent move was from Japan. At the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) held in Kenya recently (the first time in Africa), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a US$30 billion public-private partnership to develop quality infrastructure, health systems and others in Africa.

Continue reading “Japan and China court Africa”

Can Japan tempt Russia into an alliance against China?

Written by Dmitry Filippov.

Russia, and the Soviet Union before it, has traditionally been on Japan’s diplomatic radar mostly by virtue of its proximity and sheer influence. The two countries’ bilateral ties have been frosty at best, however, thanks to a decades-old territorial dispute over the South Kuril islands, referred to in Japan as the Northern Territories.

But all that is changing. Ever since Shinzo Abe began his second stint as prime minister in December 2012, Japan has been on something of a charm offensive, and it has made Russia a key part of its strategy towards a rising and increasingly assertive China. Continue reading “Can Japan tempt Russia into an alliance against China?”

Asia’s rivalry heats up as Japan and China play host at separate global summits

Written by Hugo Dobson.

Despite occasional reasons to be optimistic, relations between China and Japan have been consistently poor over recent years. This is in part fuelled by China’s rise to the position of second largest economy in the world – overtaking Japan in the process – as well as Japan’s lurch to the right under Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

Chinese-Japanese rivalry has manifested itself across a range of issues, including disputed territory in the East China Sea, interpretations of wartime history and jockeying to assume the role of regional economic leadership. A new low was reached at the beginning of 2014 when ambassadors of both countries traded public insults likening each other to Harry Potter’s archenemy Lord Voldemort.

Now, this rivalry looks likely to be transplanted into the global arena with Japan hosting the forthcoming 42nd summit of the leaders of the G7, and China hosting its first G20 summit in September. Both countries have diametrically opposed interests in each summit, which will be amplified by their role of host in each respective summit.

At the first meeting of the G7 in November 1975 Japan’s status as a fellow contemporary great power and the sole representative of Asia was recognised. Since then, the membership of the G7 has varied – Canada, the EU and Russia became members, although the latter’s membership was suspended in 2014.

The nature of its agenda has also expanded to include political and security issues, but Japan’s position within this annual gathering of predominantly North American and European leaders has remained secure.

Japan has returned the compliment by seeking to ensure the success of the G7, and argued for its continued and central role in global summitry especially with the rise of the G20 as the more representative and effective centre of global governance.

Poor relation?

Today, the G7 accounts for just over 10% of the world’s population and a third of global GDP. Whereas the G20 includes two-thirds of the world’s population and over 80% of its global GDP. This led former Brazilian president, Lula da Silva, to claim that the G7 had lost its authority.

China has shown little interest in the G7. Instead, it has traditionally placed emphasis on the United Nations as the legitimate centre of global governance – where it occupies a permanent security council seat.

Since 2008 and the first meeting of the G20 leaders in response to the global economic and financial crisis, China has increasingly stressed this grouping over the G7 as the “premier” and more “representative” forum for international economic cooperation.

Japan in contrast has regarded the G20 with ambivalence. An expanded membership is seen by Japan to compromise the group’s effectiveness, but more importantly it dilutes Japan’s great power status, with the newer Asian members (including China, Korea and Indonesia) robbing Japan of its exclusive regional leadership role.

Already China is showing more and more interest in the position Japan promotes among its G7 partners. At last year’s German hosted summit, in a thinly veiled reference to China, the G7 leaders’ statement expressed concern over tensions in the East and South China seas. The reaction in China was predictably critical and already this year Beijing has warned the G7 and Japan from repeating similar statements.

Ties that divide

But things didn’t have to be this way – 2016 could have been a significant year of opportunity for the international community and East Asia in particular. And for a while it did look like things were on the mend between these two great Asian powerhouses – from awkward handshakes at international summits to more constructive discussions earlier this year. Sadly under the new normal of deteriorating Sino-Japanese relations, none of this is likely to materialise this year or any time soon.

This lack of collaboration is a missed opportunity because sound Sino-Japanese relations are central to a lasting regional peace and global stability. A greater synergy between the agendas of the G7 and G20 could have been promoted by Japan and China as hosts, and in turn “G” summitry could have provided a welcome opportunity for China and Japan to cooperate.

By embracing China, the G7 leaders could have discussed the challenges that face the Chinese economy – and by default the global economy – in a more meaningful way, and allowing for a more coherent Asian “group” to be fostered within the G20. Instead, lines have been already been drawn for a potential and wholly unnecessary turf war between these global summits.

Hugo Dobson is a Head of Department at the National Institute of Japanese Studies and School of East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield. This article was first published in The Conversation and can be found here. Image credit: CC by Minister-president Rutte/Flickr.

Hong Kong during World War II: A Transnational Battlefield

Written by Chi Man Kwong.

On 30 August, 1945, a combined fleet of British, Australian, and Canadian vessels entered Victoria Harbour of Hong Kong, led by Cecil Harcourt, a British admiral. Expecting the fleet ashore at the Naval Dockyard (modern-day Admiralty) was a cheerful crowd of Hong Kong Chinese and a number of emotionless Japanese soldiers.

British, Indian, Canadian, and Dutch POWs and internees scattered across the ex-British colony were rescued by British and Commonwealth troops, some of them led by a Canadian Chinese officer William K. L. Lore. The above event was known as the “Liberation of Hong Kong” (重光), and 30 August was a public holiday until 1997.

The transfer of Hong Kong’ sovereignty to China changed the focus of war commemoration in Hong Kong: it shifted from the suffering and deliverance of the people of all ethnicity to the local resistance against the Japanese, especially the actions of the communist-led patriotic movements before the war and the underground resistance campaign of the East River Column. Many of the narratives of the war experience of Hong Kong tend to focus on local issues and often risk detaching Hong Kong from the larger scheme of things, namely the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Allies’ war against Japan. The transnational feature of Hong Kong society before and during the war is sometimes left out as well. The seventieth anniversary of the liberation is perhaps a good opportunity for us to review some aspects of the war experience of Hong Kong and rethink the transnational nature of the city.

International Strategic Importance of Hong Kong

As Hans van de Ven, Rana Mitter, and many other academics who work on the Second World War in Asia have convincingly argued, the China-Burma-India Theatre was much more than a sideshow in the war against Japan. Hong Kong, sandwiched between the CBI Theatre and the Pacific theatres of war, had a special role in the eyes of the Japanese decision makers. After the fall of the China coast to Japan in 1937-1938, Hong Kong was the only major port along the China coast that allowed strategic supplies to be sent into mainland China. Equipped with excellent port and repairing facilities, Japan could also use Hong Kong to establish firm control over the South China Sea, Japan’s gateway to Southeast Asia.

Countering the Japanese attempt to turn Hong Kong into a strategic springboard was an Allied air and naval campaign fought by both Chinese and American flyers and US Navy submariners. In Hong Kong and the nearby Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, there was a multinational underground resistance campaign participated by the British Army Aid Group, the Nationalist regulars and guerrillas, and the Communist East River Column. Although these forces were not always cooperating effectively, the combined Allied resistance prevented Japan from fully exploiting Hong Kong’s strategic potential.

This failure, in turn, hindered Japan’s effort to tap the resources of Southeast Asia, and partly explained the Japanese Army’s decision to launch the Operation Ichigo in 1944, a large-scale offensive that almost destroyed the Nationalist regime and helped shape the political history of China for decades. The Ichigo Offensive also swept the Nationalist forces and guerrillas away from Guangdong, unwittingly prevented a Nationalist takeover of Hong Kong when Japan surrendered. The strategic importance of Hong Kong as the only major seaport in South China did not end with the surrender of Japan; when Harry Truman, the US President, decided to allow the British to retake Hong Kong in August 1945, he was expecting the Nationalist troops could use Hong Kong as a springboard to reach North China and Manchuria. Thus, although international military operations are often left out in narratives of Hong Kong history, they were actually instrumental to the changing fate of this city.

At the local level, the “British” garrison of Hong Kong that resisted the Japanese invasion in December 1941 consisted of servicemen from the United Kingdom, the British Raj, Canada, Australia, Portugal (Macau), Philippines, and even France. Many of the members of the local Volunteer Defence Force were Eurasians. More than a thousand local Chinese served in the British forces as seamen, gunners, sappers, and infantry. Some of them escaped captivity and later fought in Burma as a unit. These “Anglo-Chinese” soldiers were highly diversified; students of the University of Hong Kong and London-born Chinese with a Cockney accent were put in the same unit with Hakka sappers from the New Territories. If one only focuses on the local Chinese resistance or suffering one may lose sight of these international dimensions of the conflict.

Complexity of Identity and Collaboration

By 1945, close to half a million Chinese fought on the Japanese side; hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese and Koreans served in the Japanese military; these remain thorny issues nowadays. The problem of collaboration and allegiance in Hong Kong is no less complex. The experience of Gan Zhiyan in Hong Kong is illustrative. Gan, an Anhui native, was a Nationalist officer who was caught in Hong Kong during the Japanese invasion. He avoided certain death only because he was a classmate of a Japanese naval intelligence officer. Gan gained a fortune by working under the Japanese, and eventually commanded a “Coastal Defence Force” that helped the Japanese to control the islands between Macau and Hong Kong such as Lajiweidao. However, he also maintained peace and fed the inhabitants of those islands. When the Japanese surrendered he turned to Zhang Fakui, the Nationalist general who took over Guangdong, and kept his base and his little amphibious force until 1949. Gan then left for the United States and died in 1998.

The issue was particularly problematic to the Eurasians, who were by no means fully accepted by the Chinese and British communities before the war. A number of them turned to the Japanese and even rose in ranks as members of the notorious kempeitai (憲兵隊 or Military Police Corps); others joined the Allied resistance effort. The case of Sir Robert Kotewall, the Eurasian member of the Legislative Council, is worth mentioning. Urged by British officials to help taking care of the population when the British surrendered, Kotewall became a member of the “Chinese Representative Council” formed by the Japanese. Kotewall was accused of being a “Quisling” but was acquitted and silently withdrawn from public life.

Even the identity of the dominant local Chinese population was by no means clear-cut. There were westernised urban dwellers, villagers of the New Territories who claimed their ancestral root to the Song Dynasty or further back, migrants from other provinces, overseas Chinese, and refugees who fled from different parts of China. Contrary to the common view that Hong Kong was a migrant society, a sense of Hong Kong identity also prevailed among at least some of the locals. A Japanese official who was responsible for the forced migration of residents from Hong Kong to China noted that some of the Hong Kong Chinese had little or no connection with mainland China and saw Hong Kong their ancestral home. In short, one risks over-generalisation if one overlooks the transnational nature of the Hong Kong society when assuming all Chinese in Hong Kong shared the same identity and allegiance.

Restoration of a Transnational City

The years between 1937 and 1945 left a considerable mark on the transnational character of Hong Kong. Because of the influx of refugees from different parts of China after 1937, the industry of Hong Kong witnessed a considerable boom before the Japanese invasion. Population pressure also forced the colonial government to pay more attention to hygiene, education, housing, and labour issues. The fall of Hong Kong led to another large-scale movement of the Hong Kong population as residents were forced by the Japanese Occupation Government to leave for mainland China; an unknown number of them died along the way. The end of the war, however, brought another influx of population as the original residents returned and people from different parts of China moved in, partly as the result of the unstable situation in China. The Portuguese, Indian, and Eurasian communities all survived the war. These developments left a permanent mark on the diversity of the population in Hong Kong.

The experience of defeat and captivity also left some long-term impact on the colonial governance. Racial barrier, if not entirely demolished, was loosened after the war. Local Chinese, especially those who had participated in the resistance with the British such as Paul Tsui, entered public service and eventually rose to high ranks. More Chinese representatives were appointed in the legislative and executive councils. The colonial government tried to invite the Chinese population to participate in governance through increasing franchise, although comprehensive political reform in the form of the Young Plan was shelved in 1949. The general attitude changed from one of almost complete segregation to “Co-prosperity of Chinese and British,” as the slogan on the commemorative stamp of the liberation of Hong Kong in 1946 wrote.

Often overlooked, the quick restoration of the international economic importance of the city within months after the end of the war laid the foundation of rapid development for decades. The abrupt end of the war against Japan on 15 August led to a period of chaos and uncertainty in Asia. Compared to the Nationalist reoccupation of mainland China and Taiwan that led to numerous tragedies such as the 228 Incident, Hong Kong was fortunate enough to experience a much less turbulent process. When Japan surrendered, the city was on the verge of starvation and its infrastructure mostly destroyed. Harcourt’s fleet was followed by convoys that brought technicians who restored the infrastructures in days and food that sustained the population and prevented outbreak of unrests. As the head of the British Military Administration admitted, however, the resilience of the residents played perhaps an even more important role in the quick recovery of Hong Kong.

Seventy years after the end of the war, the complexity of the war and its long term impact on Hong Kong are now more clearly understood. Hong Kong was an important international battlefield and its fate was closely related to the Second Sino-Japanese War, the general war in Asia-Pacific, and to a lesser extent the war in Europe. The diverse war experience of the people of different ethnicity and class in Hong Kong is also a strong reminder of the transnational character of this city.

Chi Man KWONG is a Research Assistant Professor at the History Department, Hong Kong Baptist University. One of this latest publications is Eastern Fortress: A Military History of Hong Kong, 1840-1970 (co-authored with Tsoi Yiu-lun) (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2014). Image Credit: CC by BiblioArchives/LibraryArchives /Flickr.

Japan’s sorry saga

Written by Mark Beeson.

What is it about northeast Asia? Why is it that a part of the world that is a byword for unparalleled economic development and astounding social transformation can’t come to terms with its past and develop co-operative intra-regional relations?

Northeast Asia ought to be the most important region in the world in many ways. If Japan, China and South Korea could actually act co-operatively and in concert, they might collectively address some of the world’s more pressing problems. If East Asia’s big three actually got on, a number of the world’s more difficult security problems might disappear overnight.

Don’t hold your breath, though. Despite there not being many people around in northeast Asia who can actually remember what went on during the second world war, much less the occupation of Manchuria that preceded it – and let’s not forget the assassination of Korea’s Queen Min at the hands of the Japanese in 1895 (the Koreans haven’t) – historical enmities loom surprisingly large.

And yet perhaps it’s not so surprising. If you switch on Chinese television at just about any hour of the day or night you’ll have the chance to watch at least one, sometimes three or four dramas about conflicts with the Japanese in which plucky Chinese proletarians fight off the evil invaders. Is it really so surprising that young Chinese people grow up with less than fraternal feelings toward their neighbours?

To say that Shinzo Abe’s speech to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat was eagerly anticipated in China would be the proverbial masterpiece of understatement. For weeks the papers have been full of commentators from inside and outside China calling on Japan to make an unambiguous acknowledgement of, and apology for, its actions during the war.

Whatever Abe said was probably likely to disappoint in such circumstances, but his latest effort – like all those that have gone before – failed to hit the mark.

Abe is a forthright champion of Japan’s national interest and part of a political dynasty that stretches back to before the second world war. He has regularly inflamed regional passions by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where a number of prominent war criminals are interred. Perhaps we should have expected nothing more of him.

But at a time when saying sorry has become decidedly fashionable around the world and almost guaranteed to increase the political standing of whoever does so, it’s striking that even 70 years after the events Japan’s leaders can’t make an unambiguous acknowledgement of their past actions and draw the proverbial line.

The contrast with Germany is instructive and regularly made. No-one considers Germany’s appalling past has anything to do with the current generation or its post-war leadership. On the contrary, Germany’s leaders bend over backwards to dispel the idea that they have any hegemonic ambitions in Europe – sometimes at the cost of effective actions.

In Japan, by contrast, its wartime role continues to be airbrushed out of the historical accounts, fuelling the “textbook wars” that have become another bafflingly divisive issue in the region. The question frustrated friends of Japan might reasonably ask of its leaders is whether placating a domestic constituency of right-wing nationalists is worth the diplomatic cost of not definitively drawing an end to the whole sorry saga.

The costs of not doing so continue to be substantial. Unlike Germany, Japan has never been able to provide any sort of regional leadership. True, this is partly because of Japan’s continuing strategic subordination to the US, but its position isn’t helped by its problematic diplomatic profile and China’s barely contained animosity.

The occasionally poisonous relationship with China is perhaps the greatest cost of Japan’s leaders’ failure to unambiguously atone for the past. While Japan’s leaders may be sick of having to go through the diplomatic motions of issuing mealy mouthed circumlocutions, they are giving China a free diplomatic kick as long as they cannot produce the genuine article. It is an opportunity China’s leaders have proved only too happy to take.

China is soon to embark on an orgy of parading, gun-fondling and national commemoration as it celebrates its seemingly ever more significant historic role in bringing about Japan’s defeat during the second world war. There was talk of Abe attending these celebrations at one stage, but it seems unlikely in light of his latest sub-optimal offering.

Perhaps a new generation of leaders in northeast Asia will manage a more cordial commemoration for the 100th anniversary. Or, then again, perhaps not.

Mark Beeson is a Professor of International Politics at University of Western Australia. This article first appeared on The Conversation and can be found here. Image credit: CC by Hudson Institute/Flickr.

Abe’s statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and Sino-Japanese relations

Written by Karl Gustafsson.

On 14 August, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered his long anticipated statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. For months, scholars and pundits have speculated about whether Abe would use words such as “apology”, aggression and regret. Would the statement reflect the revisionist views that he has repeatedly expressed or would he adopt the kind of pragmatic approach that characterized his behaviour during his first period as prime minister in 2006-2007? While numerous points can be made about Abe’s statement, I will briefly touch on the content of the statement and how it has been received and then limit myself to making a few points of importance for Sino-Japanese relations.

So, what did Abe say and how are we to make sense of it? Drawing on the Report of the Advisory Panel of the 20th Century and on Japan’s Role and the World Order in the 21st Century, released on 6 August, Abe described the events in the late 1800s and the first decades of the 1900s that led to the war, admitting that: “Japan gradually transformed itself into a challenger to the new international order” and “took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war”.

The following excerpt shows how the victimization of people in Japan’s neighbouring countries is dealt with: “Also in countries that fought against Japan, countless lives were lost among young people with promising futures. In China, Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and elsewhere that became the battlefields, numerous innocent citizens suffered and fell victim to battles as well as hardships such as severe deprivation of food. We must never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured. Upon the innocent people did our country inflict immeasurable damage and suffering”. Whereas agency is obfuscated in the first three sentences here through the use of passive forms – “lives were lost”, “innocent citizens suffered”, women’s “honour and dignity were severely injured” – the final sentence in the quote more clearly states that “our country” inflicted such “damage and suffering”.

If agency is generally ambiguous in most descriptions of Japan’s acts during the war, it is considerably clearer in how Abe depicts Japan’s post-war achievements: “we have created a free and democratic country, abided by the rule of law, and consistently upheld that pledge never to wage a war again. While taking silent pride in the path we have walked as a peace-loving nation for as long as seventy years, we remain determined never to deviate from this steadfast course. Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war”. The final sentence in this excerpt is one of the key phrases in the statement and one of its main bones of contention. Even though Abe stated that this “position articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future”, unlike those previous cabinets he did not express “feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology” himself but merely pointed out that Japan has repeatedly made such expressions, suggesting that through those previous statements Japan has already apologised enough.

Among the main Japanese newspapers, both the left-leaning Mainichi Shinbun and Asahi Shinbun criticised the statement for reasons similar to the ones outlined above. The former stated in an editorial that: “The statement does mention ’incident, aggression, war,’ but stopped short of mentioning whether Japan was involved in these acts”. The Asahi Shimbun editorial mentioned that even though all the keywords – apology, aggression, colonial rule and so on – were in the statement, Abe blurred the agency involved by making it unclear whether Japan had been responsible for aggression and colonial rule and only touched on regret and apology in an indirect fashion by stating that previous Japanese cabinets had expressed such statements.

The Chinese news outlet The Global Times expressed similar views in an editorial: “Abe avoided directly apologizing to Asian countries, but instead said ’Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war,’ while adding that ’Such a position, articulated by the previous cabinets, will remain unshakable in the future’”.

The official Chinese reaction, as evidenced in Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying’s comment, was similarly critical: “Japan should have made an explicit statement on the nature of the war of militarism and aggression and its responsibility on the wars, made sincere apology to the people of victim countries, and made a clean break with the past of militarist aggression, rather than being evasive on this major issue of principle”.

Both the Mainichi Shinbun and the Asahi Shinbun asked whom the statement was made for and what its purpose was. These are very good questions. A statement like this one, of course, needs to take into account numerous audiences and will therefore always be the outcome of compromise. Even so, it seems highly unlikely that Abe and his aides would have thought that the highly ambiguous statement would be appreciated by China, South Korea and the Japanese left. This makes one think that maybe these were not the main intended audiences of the statement. If Abe and his aides really thought that the statement would please China it seems that their calculations were far off.

Perhaps it was more about convincing other audiences, mainly Western ones, that Japan has already apologised sufficiently and that the failure of reconciliation in East Asia is not so much due to the insufficiencies of Japan’s expressions of contrition but rather the results of Chinese and South Korean unwillingness to recognise the previous apologies and other expressions of contrition that Japan has repeatedly made.

Karl Gustafsson is a research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. Karl’s doctoral dissertation received the Stockholm University Association’s award for best dissertation in the Social Sciences in 2011. His article ”Memory politics and ontological security in Sino-Japanese relations” won the Wang Gungwu Prize for best article published in Asian Studies Review in 2014. He recently published in Global Affairs, The Pacific Review. Image credit: CC by Global Panorama/Flickr

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