Words from China’s young’s

Japam Times, January 17,2006

It’s always nice to talk to young people. Recently I enjoyed a debate with a group of young Chinese political scientists. Their questions and comments provided me with some insight into Beijing’s thinking. They often laughed during unexpected turns in the discussion, without necessarily indicating approval of a question or answer. In all fairness, I should point out that they all represented the official views of the Chinese government. Here are the excerpts:

Does China pose a security threat?

Yes, I think so. Japan stepped up its defense buildup in the 1980s in the face of Soviet military threats and came to possess one of the most advanced naval and air forces in the world. Japan has military superiority over China in the East China Sea. However, Japan has slowed down its defense buildup under its tight budget and has somewhat decreased the number of military aircraft and ships. China, meanwhile, continues to expand its armed forces. If the present trend continues, the military balance will shift in favor of China, and this poses a threat.

Chinese military spending is mostly to pay personnel.

That was one of the problems of the Chinese military. So, in 1997, China started a program to restructure its military forces and cut personnel by 500,000. Since then, military spending has been growing at double-digit rates annually. China has been stepping up annual growth while continuing to cut personnel costs, obviously for the sake of modernization, perhaps learning a lesson from the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis. This renewed military expansion has continued for almost 10 years. Double-digit growth in the past decade is a grave matter.

If Japan had continued expanding its defense budget at double-digit rates in the 1980s, it would have carrier task forces by now. Chinese military power is becoming a formidable presence.

Will Japan revise its Constitution?

Japan must consider countermeasures against the threat from China if it continues to grow. Revising the Constitution is a separate matter, but is one way to deal with the problem.

The recent “2 plus 2” Japan-U.S. security conference dealt with the Taiwanese issue.

Since the end of the Pacific War, U.S. bases on Okinawa have played an important role in defending the security of the region. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander of the Allied Powers, used to say that Okinawa was all he needed to ensure the security of the region. The 1969 Japan-U.S. joint statement on the reversion of Okinawa to Japan declared that Taiwan’s security was an important element in Japan’s security. There has been no change in the two countries’ position since then.

What do you think of present Sino-Japanese relations?

Excellent (laughter). There are no problems in business and private exchanges between the two countries. When Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last paid his respects at Yasukuni Shrine, there were no protest rallies in China, though there were some exchanges of words at the top level (laughter).

In April, there were anti-Japanese demonstrations in China.

There was none after the prime minister’s last Yasukuni visit.

There might be some demonstrations this spring.

I doubt it. This spring the Chinese government would be unsure whether the demonstrations were anti-Japanese or antigovernment (laughter).

Business might be affected. Japanese companies might be omitted from major contracts in China (laughter).

You should never say that. Business must be free. It is against business ethics to make threats in connection with contracts. Such an act is against the spirit of the World Trade Organization and is subject to rebuke from the international community (laughter).

Isn’t it an impediment to bilateral relations for the two countries not to have held a summit for years?

Japanese leaders are ready to meet anytime. If the lack of summits is a problem, Chinese officials are welcome anytime. China is building anti-Japan museums in wide areas of the nation, and naturally Japanese officials don’t like that. Still, China is pushing the projects for domestic reasons, and Japan will not reject summit talks with China over a domestic issue (laughter).

The U.S. is making overtures to China, as recent comments by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick indicate.

Zoellick surely is saying that (laughter). Perhaps China could count on Zoellick for support, among other Bush administration officials, but political problems are not his specialty (laughter).

Today’s Sino-Japanese relations may be tense, but we are hoping they will improve in the next generation.

You are all about 40 years old, having enrolled in a university after the Cultural Revolution. The next generation is about 10 years old (loud laughter). You might try improving the relations in your generation (loud laughter).

They never lost their merry mood even as I saw them off to the elevator hall.