On Chinese television
Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 27, 2012
KONDO Daisuke returned to Japan in July after spending the past few years in China. He works for the publisher Kodansha, and he is now the editor of the weekly Shukan Gendai. Many of the magazine’s articles appear on the Gendai Business Online website. Last week, Mr. Kondo contributed an article about his experience on Chinese television.
He appeared on a television debate on the subject of the Senkaku islets on Phoenix TV this March. He explains that Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV is similar to CNN. One of their reporters and one of their cameramen were among the 14 people on the ship of Chinese adventurers who sailed from Hong Kong to the Senkakus, created an international incident, got arrested, and were tossed back to China.
Phoenix TV told him the debate would be between five people on both sides of the issue, and they asked him to appear in their Beijing studio. He agreed on the condition that freedom of speech would be protected. Mr. Kondo explained that he had been asked to appear on Chinese television before, but always withdrew because it became apparent during the pre-appearance briefings that what he said would be heavily edited.
The network agreed, and so he went to the studio. There he found that two of the Japanese had backed out at the last minute, and that the other two decided they wanted to sit in the audience as observers. That left him to go one on five with 100 excited Chinese in the studio audience. The story continues in his words.
The denunciations from the five Chinese specialists and the audience were really fierce. It was as if I were a Class A war criminal fighting alone against a large force. When I tried to make a point from the Japanese perspective, there were shouts of, “Get out, riben guizi!” (That’s 日本鬼子, or very roughly, Japanese demon, but it packs a lot of history and negative associations.)
For example, merely by saying, “The issue of these small islands is not all there is to Japan-China relations,” I was met with a deafening barrage of shouts from the five panelists and the audience: “How dare you say Japan’s illegal occupation of Diaoyutai is a small problem!”
With the bright spotlights shining down from all four sides, I literally felt sandbagged. Fortunately, the host was the popular Hu Yihu from Taiwan, and he stayed neutral until the end. Thanks to him, the program was finished before any of the Chinese slugged me.
And thanks to the Phoenix TV program, I gained a valuable experience in the time it takes to watch a movie. What I understood was that for the Chinese, the territorial issue of the Senkakus isn’t one of rationality and logic, but of emotion and action. A debate based on who was there first historically as recorded in documents is not without meaning, but that is not the essence of the issue. That’s because the Chinese have an overwhelming emotional resentment, and they harbor a wish to overturn that with action….If Japan continues to maintain control over the Senkakus, each Japanese must consider this issue as a problem that affects each one of them, in the same way that they thought about the earthquake recovery and the government pension issue. That’s because the other side is heading toward us for a collision and is deadly serious.
As long as the Hu Jintao government remains in office, the possibility that the Chinese government will resort to violence by sending the PLA is near zero. But would it be zero for the next government of Xi Jingping?
If they were to consider it calmly, a military confrontation with Japan would also be unlikely. The difference with Hu Jintao, however, is that Xi Jinping has the support of the PLA, the largest power base of The Princelings (the descendants of prominent CCP officials). The military everywhere throughout the world, past and present, tend to be the hardliners. In short, the new Xi Jinping structure can be expected to take a harder line toward Japan….
One other thing I learned from my appearance on Phoenix TV is that we must be able to accurately determine when the Chinese mean what they say and when they are just speaking for public consumption.
One of the five Chinese experts who appeared on the program debating the Senkakus issue was an impressive person. He came up to me in the Green Room before we started.
“You work for a Japanese publishing company, right? I’ve been working on a book that was just released in China, and I’d really like to do something to have it translated for a Japanese edition. Is there some way you can help me?”
He then bowed deferentially. But as soon as the program began, right from the start, he pointed his finger at me as if I were a devil or a demon. He kept it up until the end of the program. I couldn’t believe my eyes — was this the same man who had bowed to me in the Green Room?
But once the program was over and we had returned to the Green Room, he came over to me and deferentially shook my hand. Bowing once again, he said, “Please see what you can do about the book.”
A few days after that, he got in touch with me and invited me to lunch. Over a table filled with meat dishes, he talked quite volubly as if he were a friend of Japan. When I asked about his performance on the TV program, he blithely explained, “Japan is still a great country. It was a message that China has to work hard to catch up and surpass it.”
I’ve debated the Senkakus issue with many people in Beijing. Individually, the Chinese are not at all like the cookie cutter government broadcasts. They have a diversity of opinions. Of course there are hardliners, but there are also people who don’t care which country the land belongs to, or are fine with the way things are now.
It is extremely important for Japanese to understand the true beliefs of these Chinese.
My concern: It is also extremely important to realize that if the new Chinese government continues to use xenophobic nationalism as a weapon and starts pushing harder, that diversity of opinion will evaporate. Everyone will rally behind the idea of Greater China.
One reason for that is the public sentiment created by what is broadcast on Phoenix TV. PLA Major General Luo Yuan appeared on a discussion program on 2 July this year to present his six-point strategy for the Senkakus. It is:
1. Make the Senkakus an administrative district of China and make the islands a municipality in Chinese Taiwan’s Yilan county.
2. Establish the territorial waters of this municipality by law. Present this to the National People’s Congress and have them make a declaration.
3. Establish the islets as a military training district. Also, make it a target range for the Air Force.
4. Send the Coast Guard to defend the waters around the municipality. Mobilize PLA navy ships, not just the fishing patrol boats.
5. Create a corporate development group to develop the municipality and the nearby waters. The group will extract the oil and develop the fishing industry. The tourist business should also be developed for trips to the municipality.
6. Stating our claim to the world that the South China Sea and the Diaoyutai are our territory is essential.
This, he says, is the same as the strategy for the South China Sea that he proposed in March.
I’m not sure how successful they would be in attracting tourists to the islets to begin with, much less if they were used as an Air Force target range, but that seems to be the sort of thing they take seriously on Chinese television.
When he talks about the commercial and tourist industry development, the background film stock is of naval vessels and a submarine.
Here’s the interview with Japanese subtitles.
This is an excellent article by Michael Turton at The View from Taiwan on New China Newspeak and the attempt by the Chinese to control the semantics of Chinese-related discussions, even in English.