Media  International Exchange  2020.09.24

Can China and the United States accept the idea “We are all different and we are all good”? Japan’s appropriate course of action in anticipation of post-Pax Americana

The article was originally posted on JBpress on August 19 , 2020

International Politics/Diplomacy The U.S.A. China

US-China conflict reported on only one side

The US-China conflict has been getting more and more serious. On July 22, the US government ordered the Chinese government to close the Consulate General in Houston two days later, on July 24. The next day, July 23, the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, made a speech at Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in California, severely criticizing China as follows and called for unity among democratic countries against China. “General Secretary Xi Jinping is a true believer in a bankrupt totalitarian ideology. It’s this ideology that informs his decades-long desire for the global hegemony of Chinese communism.” “We can’t treat this incarnation of China as a normal country.” “Maybe it’s time for a new grouping of like-minded nations (sharing respect for freedom), a new alliance of democracies.” In response, the Chinese government ordered the US government to close the Consulate General in Chengdu on July 24 and the order was carried out on July 27. These retaliatory measures have intensified the US-China conflict. Reports in the public media end with the facts above. In addition, I’ve noticed many comments on what Japan should do in the increasingly intensifying US-China conflict, based on the premise that a lot of experts in the United States support the closure of the Consulate General by the US government and on Pompeo’s speech. However, as I listened to several experts on US-China relations who represent the United States in early August, I discovered a significant issue related to the US-China conflict from a different perspective for the United States.

Tough stance against China aimed at the presidential election

A prominent expert on US-China relations suggested I immediately read the following short article. The expert said that this article speaks for the sensible experts in the United States. On July 25, the day after Pompeo’s speech, Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, a thinktank representing the United States, contributed a short article to The Washington Post. The title is “What Mike Pompeo doesn’t understand about China, Richard Nixon and U.S. foreign policy.” In this article, Mr. Haass severely criticizes Pompeo’s speech as follows. “The problem was not simply that the nation’s chief diplomat was decidedly undiplomatic. Worse was his misrepresentation of history and his failure to suggest a coherent or viable path forward for managing a relationship.” “The Trump administration is undermining prospects for moderating China’s behavior.” “An effective U.S. policy toward China would work with, not against, our allies and partners. Instead, under this administration, we treat the European Union as an economic foe, bash South Korea and Japan.” “We press our allies not to use China’s 5G technology but have failed to work with them to develop an alternative.” The US-China relation expert who introduced this short article to me, as well as other prominent experts in international politics have pointed out that the Trump administration’s latest tough stance against China has the aim of propaganda for the presidential election (voting on November 3). Since this April, the Trump administration has made obvious errors in judgement on infection control measures against COVID-19, which has plunged US society into the worst situation worldwide. Its attitude of attempting to mobilize the army to suppress protest demonstrations against racial discrimination was also exposed to severe criticism. These repeated errors in the middle of the presidential election campaign dealt a heavy blow to the Trump side. Most experts in the United States agree that President Trump will do anything to be reelected thinking nothing of the national interest or world order. In order to avert the people’s eyes from these problems, he chose to demonize China. He also stressed that China is responsible for the spread of COVID-19 infections in the United States. As the biggest propaganda weapon in his presidential election campaign, Trump had prepared the realization of a sustained strong economy. However, due to the spread of COVID-19, the US economy fell into serious stagnation, and the end is not yet in sight. Of course, all countries around the world are also suffering from the same problem, but it’s obvious that the United States has been placed in a more serious situation than the others due to the Trump administration’s erroneous policy judgements.In addition, a problem has arisen with the tough stance against China, which had been prepared as the second propaganda weapon. Joe Biden, the rival Democratic Party candidate in the presidential election, was known as a soft-liner toward China, but he recently published a short article severely criticizing China and criticized the Trump administration’s policy toward China for being weak-kneed. Therefore, any difference in the tough stance against China between President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Biden has been eliminated, and policy toward China is no longer a main issue of the election. Moreover, according to the results of approval rating surveys conducted by major media in June, Biden has a lead over Trump in all surveys, and the gap has widened to 8-14 points. This is the status of the presidential election in the first half of July. It’s obvious how far the Trump side has been driven into a corner. One measure that was taken to try and break through this unfavorable situation was the aberrant tough stance against China mentioned above. In regard to this, all the US-China relation experts point out the following risk. China is a threat to the United States. No matter how inappropriate the Trump administration’s direction of policy toward China is, the fact cannot be ignored that many people who share stronger anti-Chinese sentiments welcome this intensified US-China friction. If this continues, even if Biden wins the presidential election and the Democratic government tries to normalize the US foreign policy, it could be difficult to modify the present hard line against China that caters to the national sentiment.

Unusual situation and risk of the US-China conflict

As isobvious in light of the above, the US-China conflict has been worsening in an unusual political situation two and a half months prior to voting in the US presidential election. The Trump administration leading it not only set the selfish foreign policy of “America First” and carried it out, but is also even trying to use divisions in US society over coronavirus infection control measures and the racial discrimination problem for their election campaign. Moreover, the Trump administration has continuously had few experts who understand China’s political, economic and social realities ever since it was built. If the Chinese government responds to the Trump administration’s tough stance with its own tough stance, without understanding this peculiarity of the Trump administration, it will add fuel to the fire of the US national sentiment leaning toward anti-Chinese sentiment. This would be a welcome response expected by the Trump administration. It is unclear how far the Chinese government has recognized the magnitude of this problem. However, from what we have seen of their retaliatory measure of closing the US Consulate General in Chengdu against closure of the Consulate General in Houston, China doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of the problem and make level-headed responses. In the situation where national sentiment in China has leaned toward nationalism, it can be easily imagined that tough measures against the United States are supported. It’s easy in terms of domestic politics for the Chinese government to adopt a tough stance against the United States under pressure. However, as side effects, US-China relations may worsen and China may be exposed to greater risk. More Chinese experts familiar with the US-China relations have been pointing out the risk of a US-China armed clash in the South China Sea or around Taiwan. Intentionally or accidentally, there is no guarantee that an armed clash could be controlled. If so, naturally Japan would be involved in the armed clash as an ally of the United States. The presidential election in November may also be postponed. In the situation where this risk starts to be recognized, does the Japanese government just have to continue to follow the current unusual situation of the US Trump administration in the same reactive way as before, even though war is renounced in the Constitution of Japan? In the situation where a serious risk has arisen, shouldn’t Japan make its best efforts to avoid the risk?

What should Japan do? The significance of “harmony”

What is important at the moment is to understand that the present US-China conflict is backed by tough measures against China taken regardless of their appearance as propaganda by the Trump administration which has been driven into an extremely tough situation in the US presidential election campaign. The Japanese government should not only respond accurately based on this understanding, but also needs to fully identify how far China has shared this understanding. In addition, let’s think about Japan’s mid-to-long term course. Each country has its own worthy philosophies, national strategies, interests in individual subjects, etc. It is impossible for all of these to agree spontaneously between countries. So, in order to ensure the stability of world order, it is necessary to make endeavors for mutual understanding, mutual trust, and mutual cooperation between countries. In the dayswhen the United States had an overwhelming presence as the hegemonic worldpower, rules were made under strong pressure from the United States. Other countries were forced and had no choice but to follow the rules. As a result, that helped continuously maintain the stability of world order. In those days, the US government also strived for world peace and economic prosperity, and didn’t set such a selfish policy as “America First.” Therefore, other countries allowed the US stance while feeling dissatisfied. Now, however, the situation has greatly changed. The times of Pax Americana in which the United States held the supremacy with an overwhelming presence in terms of both military and economic strength are coming to an end, and the world is heading for multipolarity. Even China with its rapid growth in progress will reach steady growth in the 2030s, when the share of China’s economy will start to decline. China is unlikely to become a hegemonic power in the United States’ stead. For global society to create the “harmony” necessary to maintain the stability of order in this situation, the forced rules of the Pax Americana era won’t work. Countries will have no choice but to compromise little by little and explore the middle ground. It will be necessary to emphasize an attitude of mutual understanding of each other’s differences (in political systems, security interests, historical perspectives, etc.), not to flatly deny the arguments of the other country in a different position. This is the concept of “harmony” in oriental thought. It’s a prerequisite that global society shares the idea “We are all different and we are all good.” The concept of Western “harmony” conjures up images of integration in accordance with uniform standards or rules. Rules are followed by using compelling force as needed. This idea is applicable to monotheism. In contrast, Eastern “harmony” doesn’t use compelling force. Each other’s differences are accepted as they are, toward mutual understanding, mutual respect, and mutual cooperation. This idea is applicable to polytheism. In oriental thought, there is also the principle of “Yin and Yang harmonize to be the origin of structure of the cosmos.” This is the idea that energy and stability cannot be ensured until incompatible things are unified. In Eastern traditional ideas, principles are valued more highly than superficial rules. Principles refers to the right paths of things. This word can be put into morality and reason. The essence of morality is to “do one’s best for others.” Reason is the human nature of looking inward, deep within one’s mind to correct oneself following morals. It means asking one’s internal self every day if one follows morals that one believes is right in all sincerity, not deeming it acceptable to just follow superficial rules. This is a question for one’s internal self, so others cannot see it. The image of an ideal person in oriental thought is someone who continues to try their hardest in areas that cannot be seen by others, every day for as long as they live. For world order stability, rules based on democracy remains an important framework. However, rules are superficial regulations using pro forma standards, and don’t question the internals of each entity. To create Western “harmony,” which doesn’t ask internally, compelling force is needed. On the other hand, for putting into practice the concept of Eastern “harmony” in which each other’s different stance is allowed not using compelling force, it is necessary to share the invisible inside fundamentals such as morality and reason that complement the rule-based framework. In the situation where the compelling force of the United States as a hegemonic power has been failing to work, the limits of using “harmony” based on rules with Western concepts as the fundamentals for world order formation have come into sight. In addition to the previous framework, it’s necessary to introduce the “harmony” concept in oriental thought which emphasizes mutual understanding, mutual respect, and mutual cooperation following morality and reason. It’s time for Japan to show the world a course as a country practicing the oriental “harmony” concept in a society based on Western democratic rules.