A decade ago, I attended a seminar in Sydney where one of the key speakers was the Chinese dissident and law professor Yuan Hongbing, who described the current regime in Beijing as largely being fascist in nature.
By that, he was referring to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) expansionist designs and its promotion of ultra-nationalism among the Chinese population.
Back then, the big issue in relation to China was Taiwan, and the professor said the CCP was already a threat to world peace.
What the professor stated seemed alarmist to the uninitiated, but what he was cautioning about has pretty much now become a broad reality.
Take as evidence, Beijing pushing the envelope in both the East China Sea and South China Sea.
Most notably being Beijing’s construction on reefs in waters that are contested by several nations in the South China Sea.
The Party likewise claims a lot of other territory against many of its neighbors, such as India, where they are disputing over a land mass three times the size of Switzerland. For an infographic depicting China’s territorial disputes, see below:
Decades ago, nationalist fervor replaced Maoism in China, and a large part of it is not a positive sense of self. It involves plenty of hatred of others, i.e., anti-West and anti-Japan sentiment.
- “These parts of the world belong to China and we need to get them back.”
- “We have unfinished business with Japan from World War II.”
The above is similar to what the state-run media and state-run education system has been ramming down the population’s throat for quite some time.
For a glimpse at what I mean, see this little over four minutes long People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) recruitment video that was released just this month:
Called “Our Dream,” the video starts like some Western lifestyle advert, with a Cold Play-sounding tune in the background promoting the new and affluent China, but then—after some scenes of the PLAN partaking in humanitarian work—it becomes bombastic, with images of the Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands and those under contention in the South China Sea.
Add to that plenty of images of things being blown up, with much of it in a historical context in relation to Japan.
In the section “Blue Dream,” the Chinese characters claim that China’s territory includes 3 million square kilometers of ocean, says J. Michael Cole from the Australian think tank the Lowy Institute.
“‘The struggle over our sea rights is not over,’ it continues. ‘We will not yield even the tiniest speck of our resources.’ Note that the text says ‘resources,’ not ‘territory,’ though the latter is implicit. In other words, territory and the resources it contains are China’s alone,” writes Cole.
The third section of the video is titled, ominously, ‘The Honor Gene.’
“Thousands of sea battles forged us… in very bloody combat… hot blood and the smell of gunpowder, we kept working hard, we kept growing… the passionate efforts of youth… forging in trials made possible the breakthrough… we maintain combat readiness… we are prepared for war,’ the text says,” added Cole.
Ever since the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Party has increasingly used nationalism (along with the economy) to legitimize its hold on power.
“Lacking the procedural legitimacy accorded to democratically elected governments and facing the collapse of communist ideology, the CCP is increasingly dependent upon its nationalist credentials to rule,” wrote China expert Peter Hays Gries, from the University of Oklahoma.
As mentioned, a large part of that nationalism in China has to do with Japan, which carried out mass atrocities against the Chinese people during World War II.
What the Japanese Imperial Army did in China was terrible, and for its own purposes, the Party isn’t letting anyone forget about it while adding its own spin.
“Chinese authorities need the people to hate Japan,” says Zhang Lifan, a dissident historian in an article by the Financial Times. “Regimes like ours must have an imaginary enemy,” he adds. “They use it to gather the people around the ruling Party, as if the enemy is likely to invade us at any time.”
Meanwhile, any public criticism of those atrocities—past or present—committed by the Communist Party itself against the Chinese people is taboo, and will quickly get you thrown into a labor camp, or in trouble for disrupting the social order or divulging state secrets.
But to get an idea of idea how toxic the anti-Japan propaganda has been, see this episode of China Uncensored below:
Now, if you watched the video you’d appreciate we aren’t talking about a few isolated examples. The same can be said with the state-run media in general when it comes to Japan.
“News of imminent war, or something that sounds like it, is a constant drumbeat on Chinese media,” Yifu Dong wrote for Foreign Policy.
“Many major news portals have a subsection devoted entirely to military affairs; on Sohu’s, a sampling of titles from the week of July 21 includes: ‘Japan Acts Abnormally and Intends to Return to the Battlefield,’ ‘Japan Spends Lavishly on War Machines,’ ‘Abe Has Devised Multiple Preparations for China-Japan Conflict,’ and ‘It’s Easier Now than During World War II to Suffocate Japan,’ Yifu added in his article.
A few years ago saw anti-Japanese protests on the streets of many Chinese cities about the Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands issue. See a video about that below:
The economy hits a brick wall
But now, the Party’s other legitimizing factor—a growing economy—is in reverse. Its housing market is well and truly kaput, and the Chinese stock market has crashed. Some are now saying there’s a currency war after Beijing last week massively devalued its Yuan.
The problem is, a tanking Chinese economy can further fuel the Party’s expansionist ideals and anti-foreign rhetoric in a bid to keep the population’s eyes off its own abuse of power.
Either way, the Party will try and stay afloat. Just how it tries to do that, and what will unfold, is the million dollar question.