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2018.11.12

Japan should ease the ever-escalating US-China row -The Japanese model of introducing Eastern ideas into Western institutions for national development is more relevant than ever. -

An article published in October 18, 2018

  • Kiyoyuki SEGUCHI
  • Research Director
    Kiyoyuki SEGUCHI
  • [Expertise]
    Chinese Economy and Relations among Japan/China and the United States
1. Current US-China row

The United States and China remain adamant with regard to bilateral frictions over trade and technology transfer, with no signs of moving toward a compromise.

Analysts see little chance of a breakthrough in ending this impasse. As long as the US economy remains in good shape, the administration of Donald Trump is unlikely to change its hardline stance against China.

Many analysts believe that even if the Republican Party fails to secure a majority in the House in the November 6 midterm elections, there will be no major change in US diplomacy toward China as many Democratic lawmakers share anti-Chinese sentiment with their Republican counterparts.

Washington demands that Beijing depart from its policy of forced technology transfer, halt Made in China 2025, and order the overseas transfer of foreign firms' production bases in China. These demands are too harsh for the Chinese government to accept.

The head-on confrontation between the two countries will not be eased unless economic problems attributable to trade friction such as a stock price crash and economic slowdown took their toll in the US, prompting the Trump administration to modify its hardline stance on China.

If the possibility arises that the US will offer a measure of concession to China for some reason, Beijing might come up with compromise measures. These may include changes to the technology transfer promotion policy and strengthened protection of intellectual property rights, as well as the early implementation of such measures soon.



2. The US-China row will linger and Japan will be forced to make a difficult choice

The worst-case scenario for such US-China trade and technological frictions could be an all-out economic war involving a boycott of the products of each other's country, nationwide protest demonstrations, and a ban on trade and investment, or even an armed conflict. Many analysts think, however, that this scenario could be avoided.

Nevertheless, analysts expect that it will remain extremely difficult for the two countries to mend the relationship for a long time.

What the US sees as a threat from China is nothing but the prospect that the Chinese economy will catch up and overtake the US economy. The fundamental solution would thus be to stem the growth of the Chinese economy by the mid-2020s.

That couldn't possibly be the case.

The Trump administration, however, is seeking to take this impossible option. This hardline stance against China is met with strong opposition from many experts in the US, especially those in international politics and diplomacy who have a good understanding of China.

This is because the Trump administration's "America First" policy flatly denies the two basic policies the US has long been committed to after WWII.

The two basic policies are the prevention of economic bloc formation, and the coordination and development of the world economy. These policies are aimed at preventing the recurrence of the two world wars that broke out in the first half of the 20th century.

Thanks to these policies, Japan was able to achieve its miraculous post-war economic reconstruction and subsequent high economic growth.

The Trump administration, however, will likely demand strongly that Japan, as a US ally, make concerted efforts in its hardline policy against China.

Washington is expected to do so by threatening to impose economic sanctions, most notably higher tariffs on imports from Japan.

The Trump administration's basic policy which denies even free trade and economic growth is unacceptable from the viewpoint of Japan, which has been in step with the economic policy of the US since the end of WWII.

This view is shared by many experts in the US who are distancing themselves from the Trump administration.

Still, many US citizens, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, view China as a threat, heightening anti-Chinese sentiment.

This state of affairs resembles the situation when anti-Chinese sentiment was growing in Japan in the wake of the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands. Experts who objectively analyzed China were labeled as being pro-Chinese and subjected to criticism by many in Japan.

Fueling such anti-Chinese sentiment is the accumulation of negative and unsubstantiated information that is being shared at an accelerated pace via social media.

Unfortunately, trying to refute such information based on objective facts and clear logic is like beating the air.

Under these circumstances, a short-term effective solution is almost impossible. A case in point is the anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan, which had been brewing from the mid-1990s onward and was then fueled by the Senkaku dispute in 2012.

The abnormal situation where nine out of even ten Japanese people harbor negative feelings toward China has not been much improved, although such sentiment has now been somewhat eased due in part to recent improvements in Japan-China relations.

Such a situation is also expected to continue in the US. In that case, Japan will have to face difficult choices.



3. Reason controls desire

In Eastern ideas, reason signifies a self-disciplined mind which controls desire.

In Western ideas, reason is interpreted to mean the "ability to think and judge logically without being swayed by emotion" as defined by Daijirin, a major Japanese language dictionary. The term does not much connote introspection or self-discipline that controls desire.

In traditional Eastern spiritual culture, the purpose of learning is to build character. It fundamentally differs in concept from Western learning, which is built on the Enlightenment and science.

That President Trump puts the egoistic "America First" policy at the center of national policy suggests a lack of control of desire.

After WWII, the US has long made a great contribution to peace, freedom, and prosperity in countries all over the world.

The US support for sound development in many countries with altruistic ideals attracted respect from many people around the globe. Japan is one of the countries that benefited the most from such support.

If countries of the world follow the footsteps of the Trump administration and adopt an egoistic, self-serving policy, the world could again be divided into economic blocs, raising the possibility that an economic war will develop into an armed conflict, which in turn might trigger WWIII.

If that is the case, the whole world will suffer. Many lives will be lost in both victorious and defeated countries. The global economy will enter a long-term recession. Avoiding such a devastating scenario requires reason.



4. Japan's mission

After the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century, Japan learned about Western thought and introduced Western political and socioeconomic institutions under the slogan "Leave Asia, Enter Europe."

Eventually, however, Japan lost its reason in imperialist competition with Western powers. It invaded China, entered into war with the US, and was defeated.

After the war, Japan introduced new Western political and socioeconomic institutions in earnest and committed itself to practicing Western ideas.

Earlier, from the Edo period (1603-1868) onward, Japan had promoted advanced moral education based on the Chinese classics at the national level. Special emphasis was placed on practicing what was taught in such education.

Many years have passed since Japan stopped providing moral education which draws on the Chinese classics and Eastern ideas at school.

However, such fundamental ideals still remain in the minds of many Japanese; they are practiced as a matter of course in daily life in Japan.

Among them are benevolence for others (仁or Ren), courtesy greetings and sincere manners (礼or Li), and an emphasis on faithfulness in human relations (信or Xin). Even in modern Japanese society, such morality is popularly practiced to a greater extent than in China, the origin of these ideals. This is one of the features of Japan that everyone admits.

The Chinese classics were born in a class system; they were handed down from generation to generation as a type of learning for aristocratic leaders.

However, Japan builds its society on Western ideas and institutions that stress freedom, democracy, and equality; it has long maintained a free, equal, and democratic society, rather than a society based on a class system.

China and South Korea have not succeeded in fusing Western and Eastern ideas and institutions in society at large so widely and deeply as Japan has been able to.

Japan is the only nation that has long and steadily practiced major concepts of Eastern thought under Western political and socioeconomic institutions.

Therefore, significance of this practice is also easy to understand to Western people; it can be reasonably applicable to Western society as well.

With the growing skepticism of the Establishment, Western nations now seem to be deep in distress, running into a brick wall that cannot be broken using the power of the Enlightenment and science alone.

Japan is the only country in the developed world that maintains social stability based on reason.

This is largely attributed to the fact that moral education which owes much to Eastern ideas has permeated all walks of life in Japan.

It is important that Western nations halt any further progress in social disintegration and steadfastly maintain the common architecture aimed at achieving peace, free trade, and economic coordination and development for the global community as a whole. Reason can play an important role to that end.

Japan should serve as a model here, putting forward a new vision for the preferred shape of a nation which incorporates Eastern ideas into Western political and socioeconomic institutions.

Worldwide, this is something that only Japan can do. Now, the mission Japan should fulfill in the global community is clearer than ever.


(This article was translated from the Japanese transcript of Mr. Seguchi's column published by JBpress on October 18, 2018.)

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