April 24, 2005


US begins to be more assertive with China as terror, Iraq concerns ease (AFP, Apr 24, 2005)

The Bush administration is becoming more assertive with China on issues ranging from trade and currency to nuclear proliferation as concerns over Iraq and terrorism begin to ease. [...]

"I see new energy and interest in addressing what the United States perceives to be its top priority in US-China relationship -- namely rectifying trade imbalance and dealing with North Korea's nuclear proliferation," said Elizabeth Economy, an expert on US-China relations at the influential US Council on Foreign Relations.

The shift reflects a "return to the more traditional kind of US-China relationship rather than something very new and startling" and part of it has to do with less attention focused now on the war on terror and Iraq, she said.

Bush abandoned his aggressive China policy after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.

He downplayed key bilateral differences as a trade off for Chinese support for Washington's war on terror and tacit backing for the US-led war on Iraq.

Nearly four years later, as Bush trumpets gains in Iraq and the war on terrorism and faces an increasingly impatient Congress over his China policy, the administration is slowly turning the screws on Beijing.

A Hundred Cellphones Bloom, and Chinese Take to the Streets (JIM YARDLEY, 4/25/05, NY Times)
The thousands of people who poured onto the streets of China this month for the anti-Japanese protests that shook Asia were bound by nationalist anger but also by a more mundane fact: they are China's cellphone and computer generation.

For several weeks as the protests grew larger and more unruly, China banned almost all coverage in the state media. It hardly mattered. An underground conversation was raging via e-mail, text message and instant online messaging that inflamed public opinion and served as an organizing tool for protesters.

The underground noise grew so loud that last Friday the Chinese government moved to silence it by banning the use of text messages or e-mail to organize protests. It was part of a broader curb on the anti-Japanese movement but it also seemed the Communist Party had self-interest in mind.

"They are afraid the Chinese people will think, O.K., today we protest Japan; tomorrow, Japan," said an Asian diplomat who has watched the protests closely. "But the day after tomorrow, how about we protest against the government?"

Nondemocratic governments elsewhere are already learning that lesson. Cellphone messaging is an important communications channel in nascent democracy movements in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East. Ukraine's Orange Revolution used online forums and messaging to help topple a corrupt regime.

Few countries censor information and communications as tightly as China, which has as many as 50,000 people policing the Internet. Yet China is also now the largest cellphone market, with nearly 350 million users, while the number of Internet users is roughly 100 million and growing at 30 percent a year.

The result is a constant tension between a population hungry for freer communication and a government that regards information control as essential to its power. Anti-Japanese protesters have been able to spread information and loosely coordinate marches in a country where political organizing is illegal.

"That has to put the government on guard," said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California at Berkeley. He said the recent organizing effort was even more notable because no one had been able to identify any of its leaders.

Given the internal unrest and the ongoing confrontations with neighbors like Taiwan and Japan, it shouldn't be hard to destabilize the PRC.

China's hardly in a position to lecture Japan (Ross Terrill, 22apr05, The Australian)

East Asia is the axis of world power, because the US, China, Japan, and Russia intersect here as nowhere else.

Coiled Japan and theatrical China have seldom got on well. War between them in 1894-95, starting over Korea, undermined China's last dynasty and gave Taiwan to Japan. Widespread war again occurred from 1937 to 1945, as Japan's armies sought to put China under Japanese tutelage. Japan's attack doomed Chiang Kai-shek's rule and fuelled Mao Zedong's victory - and Tokyo lost control of Korea as well as Taiwan. Since 1945 only US power has prevented a resurgence of China-Japan rivalry, with all that would mean for Australia and other countries in the region.

Although the issues seem genteel, the China-Japan crisis is not really a surprise. China, buoyed by the world's gushing endorsement of its "rise"', believes it can lecture Japan with impunity. Just at this time Tokyo, thanks to North Korea's craziness, generational change in Japan, China's economic clout, and the flourishing Koizumi-Bush relationship, has forsaken bowing and scraping and become hard-nosed in its foreign policy.

Beijing's gripes with Tokyo are mostly spiritual. Younger Japanese are not willing to kowtow in unending shame for World War II. Japan has an economy three times the size of China's (with 10per cent of China's population), which rankles a Middle Kingdom used, until the 19th century, to being No.1. It judges Japan morally unfit for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

Japan says it is graduation time for China. No longer poor and a victim, Beijing is seen to be shamelessly milking the World War II issue for concessionary loans and self-esteem. Many Japanese also see China's anti-Japan rhetoric as calculated political mythology -- and this indeed is the heart of the matter.

China's diplomatic awkwardness in the world is inseparable from its tight political control at home. Apologies, textbooks, uninhabited islands, war memories -- all become painted faces and props in the Beijing opera of the paternalistic Chinese state's cultural and foreign policies. Marxism has mostly lost its hold over Chinese minds. But truth and power emanate from one fount: historically the emperor's court, today the Communist Party. The hold of the Chinese Communist regime over its people depends on belief in the cries and groans of the Beijing opera.

One opera act can give way to a surprising sequel. Folk in the People's Republic were taught to love the Soviet Union and then to hate it. India was esteemed in the 1950s and vilified in the '60s. Vietnam was "as close as lips and teeth" in the '60s yet invaded by Chinese armies in 1979. When Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka tried to apologise directly to Mao for World War II in 1972, Mao brushed him off, saying the "help" provided by Japan's invasion of China made possible the Communist victory in 1949.

The moment's raison d'etat is supreme. Turning on rhetoric, emotion, and government-sanctioned demonstrations is an easy trick. Since political safety valves are lacking in Chinese society, no one knows the relative weight in the anti-Japan demonstrators' motivations among (a) dislike of Japan, (b) doing what supervisors prompt and (c) letting off steam by shouting slogans in the street (normally forbidden in China) that might end up annoying a Chinese government seen as condescending and corrupt.

On textbooks, a projection identification occurs. Dynastic regimes in East Asia all viewed history as the province of state orthodoxy. China and Vietnam, putting Leninist dress on the skeleton of traditional autocracy, still do. Japan and Taiwan, as democracies, do not.

No book of any kind attacking the Communist Party's monopoly of power in China has been published in China in the 56 years of the PRC. Some of the most trenchant books anywhere in the world on Japanese war atrocities have been written, published, and widely read in Japan. Beijing seems to think that because its textbooks jump to government policy, Japan's do too. But they do not. In Japan, unlike in China, there are government-sponsored textbooks as well as independent ones.

The blunt truth is that reasonable Chinese, Japanese, and other scholarly estimates vary widely for Chinese killed by Japan in the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 and in World War II. They also do for Chinese killed by their own Communist government in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution (no apologies, yet, for these mishaps; what's a million here, 10million there, among comrades?). No one textbook can embody final truth.

The main text for middle-school history in China devotes nine chapters to Japan's aggression against China in the 19th and 20th centuries, but does not mention China's invasion of Japan under the Yuan Dynasty. (Vietnam comes off even worse than Japan. Nothing is said of the Han Dynasty's conquest of Vietnam or of China's 1000-year colonisation of thecountry.)

China has enjoyed a good run in relations with Japan and reaped economic benefit. The very real horror of war is one reason and the skilful political theatre practised by Beijing is another. But the mood in Japan toward China has changed and Beijing may be miscalculating. China will certainly pull back from the brink of a real rupture; it has too much to lose. But it is not certain that Tokyo will lie down and take any more abuse, vandalism, and Chinese distortions of history.

Australia and other friends of China and Japan should talk earnestly to both powers about the crucial role of the Japan-China relationship for peace in East Asia.

That assumes we want peace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2005 11:13 PM

"That assumes we want peace."

Easy to say when you're talking about something on the other side of the world that you won't have to experience yourself.

Posted by: creeper at April 25, 2005 8:53 AM


It would drive up the cost of underwear.

Posted by: oj at April 25, 2005 9:07 AM

Stock up now.

Posted by: creeper at April 25, 2005 11:37 AM

Or knit your own.

Posted by: creeper at April 25, 2005 11:37 AM

There's always more cheap labor...

Posted by: oj at April 25, 2005 11:52 AM

That's right. So who cares, as long as our cheap underwear has been secured.

Posted by: creeper at April 25, 2005 11:56 AM

The oppressed Chinese.

Posted by: oj at April 25, 2005 12:17 PM