Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

It is time to persuade China to pursue the “rule of virtue”
ONUMA Yasuaki / Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo

March 13, 2018
The most important task for Japan in international politics in 2018 is to stop North Korea’s development of nuclear missiles. But that is by no means the only challenge. An even more important task for Japan from a long-term perspective is to rebuild its relationship with China, which is becoming a superpower. This “superpower” China may well bring tectonic changes to the present U.S. -centered world order.

Based on such an idea, I made the following prediction about China’s growing power as early as in the 1980s in an article entitled “The Historical Meaning of Economic Disputes” (Chuo Koron, September 1986 edition): China would exert heavy pressure on the world by mastering the “Western ways with Chinese characteristics” (as compared to the “Japanese spirit and Western learning” in the process of Japan’s modernization). More than 30 years have elapsed since then. As an academic, I am happy that my prediction was not off the mark. Yet as a citizen I am seriously concerned that a colossus China is now projecting its power and is casting a dark cloud on the international order.

The international order reflects the powers and ideas dominant in the epoch. In the 20th century, the dominant powers and ideas of the world resided in the West. In the 21st century, power will most likely shift to Asia centered on China. But what will happen to ideas and soft power?

Up until the 19th century, China had been a great “civilizational power,” viewed with reverence by peoples of other countries. Today, China has no such magnetism: it blatantly pursues its coercive diplomacy, and its tourists behave in ways that are frowned upon in many parts of the world.

In the meantime, the ideational leadership of the United States has declined sharply under President Trump, who is indifferent to such abstraction and is viewed with contempt by people in many countries. This has buoyed the self-confidence of the Chinese leadership, who has started propagating its “Chinese-style” universal values and interests. The Chinese government justifies the initiative of the “One Belt One Road” and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank by advocating those values and interests, which, according to it, can be shared by the people in the wide areas that come under their coverage.

These may be characterized as the beautiful façade or ideology to cover up China’s coercive diplomacy supported by its military and economic power. However, such duplicity of the ideology and coercive diplomacy had been the case with the policies of the British Empire in the 19th century. It was also the case with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank led by the United States in the 20th century.
The key question is whether a powerful state pursues its policies by means of naked power or in a more refined and acceptable manner. The choice depends not only on the leaders and people of that state. It also depends on the views and policies of the peoples of the countries that keep watching it.

In the 1920s, when Japan, as an emerging power, was about to defy the international order centered on Britain and the United States, Sun Yat-sen, later to become the founding father of the Republic of China, posed the following question to the Japanese people: Do you pursue the rule of might, which meant resorting to military force, or the rule of virtue, which meant influencing people through justice and equity?

There were some proponents of the latter in Japan such as ISHIBASHI Tanzan, a liberal journalist who served as prime minister in the 1950s. However, the Yellow Peril racism in the Western world as embodied in the US Asian Exclusion Act left no room for these internationalists in Japan. The hardliners came to dominate the political and military establishments. Japan pursued the rule of might to defy the international order by force, leading the nation to devastation.
We have much to learn from this history. Even in China under Communist rule, there are people who wish to turn the façade of virtue into reality. We should not just “confront” China militarily. We should appeal to the Chinese people by saying, “In the past, we used to have the deepest respect for you, not because of your military might but because of your great thoughts, arts and culture of civility. We would like you to look back on this, and pursue the rule of virtue, not the rule of might.”

It is vitally important that we continue to make this effort of persuasion patiently and tirelessly. For, at the end of the day, there would be neither security nor prosperity for Japan, if it were pitted against China the superpower as its enemy.

ONUMA Yasuaki is an expert of international law. His publication includes
International Law in a Transcivilizational World (Cambridge UP, 2017).
This article appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper of January 30, 2018.

The English-Speaking Union of Japan

大沼 保昭 / 東京大学名誉教授

2018年 3月 13日









(筆者は国際法の専門家であり、International Law in a Transcivilizational World (Cambridge UP, 2017)などの著者。本稿は2018年1月30日読売新聞に掲載された。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > It is time to persuade China to pursue the “rule of virtue”