A photograph was taken of a police officer in civilian clothes holding a megaphone and giving instructions, after which a car was destroyed. They’ve turned into a mob. A police officer does something like this, and the security police are providing protection. Amazing, a country capable of such theater.
– A Tweet from Masumitsu Koz, referring to the above photo from Chinese sources
YOU’VE read the news from China on the government-inspired and –supported anti-Japanese demonstrations that have turned into rioting and looting. Now, to paraphrase Paul Harvey, here’s the rest of the story.
The Japanese public was appalled at the incompetence with which the Kan Naoto Cabinet mishandled the incident in September 2010 when a Chinese fishing boat captain rammed into two Japanese Coast Guard vessels near the Senkaku islets. Their misfeasance and negligence included lying about the responsibility of the Okinawa prosecutors, concealing the video of the incident (until a Coast Guard officer released it on Youtube), and charges that government officials had resigned themselves to vassalage to the Chinese. It was one of several factors that would have bounced Kan Naoto from office after only six months on the job, until the Tohoku disaster prolonged his term for another six months.
A direct result of that incompetence was the fund-raising drive started by Tokyo Metro District Gov. Ishihara Shintaro to purchase the islets for Tokyo from their Japanese owners. Widely dismissed, and therefore unwisely disregarded, as an ultranationalist, Mr. Ishihara read the national mood that demanded the government uphold its prime directive to defend the country. The Tokyo government received enough money through the drive to make the purchase.
But he would not have stopped with the title transfer. Under his direction, the Tokyo government would likely have built docks for fishing boats and emergency rescue squads, and conducted surveys to determine the extent of the undersea resources in the area.
That would have upset the Chinese, who manufactured their own claim to the islets in the early 70s to glom the resources for themselves. Therefore, the government of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko stepped in to have the national government buy them. It was an attempt to seize the middle ground — they would satisfy the public by upholding Japanese sovereignty without antagonizing the Chinese by developing the islets.
Tang Jiazhuan, the head of a China-Japan Friendship Association, sent a back-channel message to the Japanese government that the Chinese would accept the purchase (while publicly complaining about it) if Japan did not erect permanent buildings, conducted no surveys, and recognized that the sovereignty of the territory was in dispute.
The first two already were the policy of the Noda government, but the third was and is not. Mr. Noda informed President Hu Jintao that his government would purchase the islets when both men were in Vladivostok for the APEC summit. Here is the Epoch Times description of Mr. Hu’s response:
Hu Jintao admonished Japanese Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Russia Sunday, stating that Japan’s attempts to “interfere” in the Senkaku Islands dispute were “illegal and futile.”
Hu’s remarks, however, were published for less than an hour before they were purged from Party websites and others affiliated with Beijing. No explanation was presented for the deletions.
The article had said, “Hu Jintao solemnly pointed out that recently China and Japan’s conflicts over the Senkaku Islands have been grim. On the Senkaku Islands matter, the Chinese position is consistent and clear. Any means taken by Japan to ‘interfere with the islands’ are illegal, futile, and firmly opposed by China. The Chinese government’s stance on protecting territory and sovereignty is unwavering.”
The Epoch Times reported that Mr. Hu was said to have told the Japanese prime minister, “The Japanese must fully realize the seriousness of the current situation, not make a wrong decision, and protect the development of China-Japan relations.”
They added that the article was deleted from the Chinese Web portal NetEase, Google News, and the Xinhua news agency. Phoenix TV in Hong Kong also ran the article, but later modified it to make it less harsh.
And then it was uploaded again. That is unusual, even for China. It suggests, at a minimum, serious disagreement among the country’s rulers over how to proceed.
The same day, the Chinese Foreign Ministry sent a message to the Japanese government declaring their strong opposition to the purchase. They didn’t make it public until later that night.
The following day, Mr. Noda announced the purchase and ignored the Chinese demands. The Chinese knew that would strengthen Japanese control of the islets and were disturbed because it caused Mr. Hu to lose face. The Chinese president was criticized at home for foreign policy weakness.
The day after that, Prime Minister Wen Jibao and Deputy Prime Minister Li Keqiang issued anti-Japanese statements. Both they and Mr. Hu are viewed as relatively friendly toward Japan (unlike the presumed presidential successor, Xi Jinping). Said Mr. Li:
“Japan’s position on the islands issue is the greatest threat to the postwar international order.”
The Japanese assume that these statements were required to fend off criticism from the hardliners.
In addition, Wu Bangguo, the chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress and therefore technically the Number 2 man in government, declared during his visit to Iran that the Japanese purchase was “illegal and invalid”.
The Chinese government then decided that the Japanese must be taught a lesson. Though Mr. Noda said his Cabinet would not build facilities on the Senkakus, the Chinese know his government is unlikely to last much longer. What they don’t know is the intention of whatever new government will replace it. Therefore, they gave de facto permission to the people to hold public demonstrations as an object lesson to whoever would form the next government.
First, they allowed the publication of lurid front pages on the nation’s newspapers, as we’ve seen here. Government sources also said publicly that they would not be able to prevent the people’s expressions of patriotism and anti-Japanese sentiment. “We must be even more firm in our position on the East and South China Sea after seeing the dissatisfaction of the people on the Net.” Wednesday’s newspapers featured photos of anti-Japanese demonstrations, another signal of the government’s approach.
Further permission was granted when a foreign ministry spokesman declared:
“We can understand the people’s strong sense of righteous indignation.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Sugiyama Shinsuke, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanic Affairs Bureau, was in China to meet Luo Zhaohui, the director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Department of Asian Affairs. Mr. Luo made three demands:
1. Cancel the purchase
2. Japan must “immediately correct its error, return to the shared understanding the two countries had achieved, and seek resolution through discussion.”
3. Maintain existing channels of communication.
Mr. Sugiyama’s response was not made public, but the Chinese do not seem to have liked it.
On Thursday the 13th, Vice Minister of Commerce Jiang Zengwei was asked at a news conference about a possible boycott of Japanese goods:
“The Chinese government will understand if China’s consumers express their position with rational methods in opposition to Japan’s infringement of Chinese sovereignty.”
The Chinese have also been cancelling visits that are part of citizen exchange programs, but one Chinese source said:
“That’s not a full-scale response. We know the Japanese government is not going to cancel its purchase, but this is a strategy to achieve some sort of compromise.”
What they want is the recognition from Japan that a territorial dispute exists and a pledge that they will settle it through discussion. They aren’t going to get it.
Student and youth groups in China sent out a call for action by mobilizing for demonstrations this weekend. The government backed them up, but included a veiled warning:
“The government will staunchly protect all the required actions and proper behavior taken by the students and young people to defend our nation’s sovereignty. The party, the government, and all the people will stand together from start to finish.”
In other words: Go ahead and scare the Japanese, but don’t do anything stupid and get carried away with yourselves. But as we will see, they were unable to prevent that.
There is no question the government coordinated this weekend’s demonstrations.
Mark Mackinnon of the Globe and Mail in Canada posted this photo on Twitter and said, “Red armband gents in last pic are guiding, not preventing demonstrators headed to Japanese Embassy in Beijing.”
The on-call protesters were given transportation to and from the site in Beijing and a box lunch. Here’s a photo of the buses taken yesterday.
The schedules for the demonstrations were announced on Weibo (Chinese Twitter) for 19 Japanese consulates throughout the country yesterday and 18 today. They ensured there would be sufficient police on hand.
But they didn’t anticipate that the Rude Boys would be so disorderly, and serious clashes between the police and demonstrators began right away. In addition to the signs calling for the recovery of Okinawa (not just the Senkakus) and for the “elimination” of the Japanese, many people carried placards with photos of Chairman Mao. The destruction, particularly in Qingdao, demonstrated that events were moving beyond their control. In addition to the factories and sales outlets of Japanese companies, the mob also looted shops belonging to Rolex and Christian Dior.
The government tried to dial back on the demonstrations today. Here’s a message from the State Council Information Office as presented by China Digital Times:
“ All websites are requested to inspect and clear every forum, blog, Weibo post and other form of interactive content of material concerning “mobilizing anti-Japan demonstrations, stirring up excitement, rioting and looting” and “the U.S. history of purchasing territory.” (September 15, 2012)”
By rioting and looting, they mean the estimated 2.4 billion yen in damage to the Qingdao Aeon store alone. The company says they will need at least two months to reopen.
Unlike the newspapers earlier in the week, the front pages this morning carried no reports of the demonstrations at all. They ran typical Sunday features instead. (Clicking on the picture enlarges it somewhat.)
The newspaper coverage was also designed to calm the turbulence. Here are some headlines from this morning’s papers:
Beijing News: Patriotism must not exceed the minimum standard of the law
Beijing Youth Daily (editorial): We must not inject criminality into patriotic passion
People’s Daily (opinion piece by a student): Prevent extreme ethnocentrism from snatching China away from us
Good luck with that last one.
Good luck with all of them, in fact. More than 10,000 people demonstrated today at the Japanese embassy in Beijing, and police had to use pepper spray to drive them back. But more serious was what happened in Shenzhen. Here’s a Reuters report:
“In the biggest flare-up in protests over East China Sea islands claimed by China and Japan, police fired tear gas and used water cannon to repel thousands of protesters occupying a street in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.”
Now here’s what Reuters couldn’t bring themselves to tell their consumers, for reasons known only to them: The thousands of protesters that were “occupying a street” and had to be driven back with tear gas and water cannon were not anywhere near a Japanese public or private sector facility.
They were demonstrating at the local Communist Party headquarters. Here:
The placards they carried bore ominous slogans:
* ”Japan get out, Bo Xilai come back soon, down with genetically modified foods, punish the hanjian (traitors to the Han Chinese) and quislings”
* “Freedom, democracy, human rights, constitutionalism”
It is most interesting that the AP couldn’t even bring themselves to mention the tear gas and water cannon. Their account quoted a woman saying it was a “peaceful protest”.
Because this has now become a mob, and the manufactured anti-Japanese sentiment has now become an excuse, police in Shenzhen closed the four subway stops closest to Huaqiang Road. That is sometimes called China’s Akihabara because it is filled with malls selling consumer electronics and fashions.
The Investing in Chinese Stocks website also notes that this is a manifestation of the social mood :
Reclaim Sheung Shui! Protect our homes!” they chanted, echoing slogans written on the placards they were waving. They said the numbers of parallel traders buying goods in the neighbourhood and travelling through the station had been creating a nuisance for years. Parallel traders buy goods in one market to smuggle into another, where they sell them without authorisation.
The protests also drew about 300 onlookers – including some parallel traders – who stood around the station and on a footbridge.
It did not take long for clashes to break out after two young protesters held up a sign reading: “Chinese people eat s***!”, together with a modified colonial-era Hong Kong flag.
The English-language industrial media is offering a narrative of anti-Japanese hatred fueled by a Chinese-created territorial dispute. Most Japanese see the demonstrations as an extreme version of what they call gasu nuki, in which the Chinese government uses Japan to “let the gas out”. That alleviates social tensions and the dissatisfaction which would ordinarily be directed against them. Japan has seen it many times before and is accustomed to it.
This time, however, something more serious might be happening. A Communist Party congress is due to be held soon, with more turnover in party positions than normal. That suggests an internal power struggle is underway, presumably between the more “liberal” Hu faction and the Old Guard of former President Jiang Zemin, the discredited Bo, and Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi has so far been sitting on the fence. When he was forced to jump before, after the Bo Xilai scandal erupted, he jumped to the Hu side. His two-week vacation from public view has now taken on more disturbing overtones, and his first public appearance came on the first day of the demonstrations. He has yet to make a public statement about all of this.
People still remember Chairman Mao’s use of the Red Guards to eliminate opposition, and his subsequent abandonment of them after they had served his purpose. Are today’s demonstrators their 21st century reincarnation? One Weibo user Weiboed: “My father looked at the photos and videos of the demonstrations and said, that’s just how it was during the Cultural Revolution.”
The single largest interest group in the country the politicians must please is the People’s Liberation Army. Not only does the military have the guns and the numbers, but they also have substantial business interests. They are a major presence, for example, in Huawei Technologies, the China Poly Group (a large trading company also involved in real estate), and the China National Offshore Oil Corp., which focuses on developing crude oil and natural gas resources offshore.
In places like the Senkaku islets.
In other words, China’s military-industrial complex doesn’t have a dash between the first two words.
As the post at the link above explains, there are also concerns of Tiananmen V.2, driven by extreme public dissatisfaction with the corrupt ruling class and a non-responsive government.
The Chinese government itself avers that despite having the world’s second largest economy, they are still a “developing nation”. Perhaps it would be more accurate to use an unfashionable retro term: They’re still a Third World country. Do they not manifest all the symptoms of those dysfunctional regimes? They are nominally Communist, but closer in practice to the national socialism first expressed in Italian fascism. There is a free market of sorts, but it must operate at the discretion of the state: “Everything within the state, and nothing outside the state.”
The people in Third World countries often became ungovernable when they became fed up with a corrupt oligarchy. The usual pattern was for the military to step in with a firm hand and make things right, while making sure they got a piece of the action themselves.
As reader Aoumigamera suggested in a comment this morning, there are similarities between today’s China and pre-war Japan in the 1930s. He compared the hardliners in the Chinese military to the Japanese Imperial Way Faction. That was an element in the Imperial Japanese Army intent on reducing the social turmoil caused by a sharp economic downturn, the polarization of society created by the wealthy growing wealthier through governmental connections (what they now call the income gap), and social unrest. They eventually attempted a coup d’etat in the famous February 26 incident of 1936, the failure of which broke them.
That did not stop Japanese expansion overseas, as a relatively more moderate military faction stepped in to take charge. One of its members was Tojo Hideki. Social conditions at the time were formed in part by the extreme dislocations caused by the rapid modernization of the country. Those dislocations are more extreme in today’s China, which has modernized much more rapidly and covered much more ground. There is a street paved with gold and people living in caves.
While this is not to suggest there will be a coup attempt, it is not out of the question that the military will come to dominate the political class. Chinese television today reported that a large-scale military training exercise in the East China Sea had been conducted with several dozen ships and many aircraft and submarines. There were also simulations of missile attacks and anti-submarine warfare. The report said they “simulated conditions on an actual battlefield”.
This is China today. Tomorrow, the rest of the world may find themselves to be somehow part of Chinaworld whether they like it or not. Four thousand ethnic Chinese held an anti-Japanese demonstration in San Francisco today.
In the meantime, watch how the government responds by next Tuesday, the 81st anniversary of the Mukden Incident with Japan. That’s when the demonstrations were expected to peak. The country’s leaders might now think that’s not such a good idea.
What they do think is a good idea, however, is to send as many as many as 10,000 fishing boats, accompanied by fishery patrol boats, to the East China Sea when fishing season begins tomorrow. They’re getting ready now and waiting for the typhoon to pass, according to a report in the Nikkei Shimbun.
UPDATE: The Yomiuri Shimbun talked to one of the Chinese managers at the now-destroyed Panasonic plant in Qingdao. He told them:
“We won’t be able to resume operations. Counting the other plants, tens of thousands of people will be unemployed. The Chinese did this.”
Here’s another aspect to public demonstrations. This Dazhou marcher carried a placard with a photo of Aoi Sora, a Japanese porno actress and nude model (who is now trying to make the transition to more respectable show business). I’d rather carry that than a red flag.