Assessing the damage of the anti-Japan protests

This is the most biting commentary I’ve seen yet on just how bad the protests were for China, even if they felt good at the time.

When China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, met with the press in India last month, the event was supposed to be a crowning moment for this country’s well-oiled diplomatic machine, which has lately been racking up almost as many plaudits as its booming economy….

The only thing wrong with this picture is that while Wen was wowing his Indian hosts, the streets of this country were given over to unusual unrest: riotous demonstrations against Japan that were at the very least officially tolerated. International coverage of these events smothered the prime minister’s upbeat message in India, forcing him to talk about Japan, and the protests, which sometimes turned violent. The protests have colored news about China’s relations with the world, and indeed the way this country is ruled, in the weeks since.


All in all, the story line of a Communist Party leadership that is forced to play along with populist nationalism may be more worrisome than its alternative, for it is a picture not of a serenely confident new contender for superpower status, but of a highly insecure leadership, so worried about its own hold on legitimacy that it sided – at least initially – with a street mob attacking a foreign diplomatic installation rather than with near universally accepted notions of law and order.

What unites the two views, though are their common threads of emotionalism and nationalism, which few of China’s neighbors and perhaps even countries beyond are likely to judge a reassuring concoction for a 21st century superpower.

Unfortunately, no matter how “right” the Chinese were in their indignation, the image they were presenting to the outside world was a harmful one — harmful only to themselves. It overshadows the good news this week of potentially improved relations with Taiwan (in no way a done deal) and will be much discussed for months, maybe years to come.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

Beijing has just poured cold ice on the idea of a new detente with Taiwan. Basically, it’s the same as with Japan: make demands of them you know they will never accept, as an excuse to remain in a state of outrage. In this case, they’ve made demands of Chen’s party that they’re never going to accept.

Personally, I think it’s going to backfire. The KMT visit to China is going to lose them votes, and the restated hardline against Chen will only increase his winning margins.

May 4, 2005 @ 7:33 pm | Comment

China’s indignation would sound a whole lot more convincing if Beijing wasn’t accepting hundreds of millions of dollars every year in reperations from Japan (only they’re called ODA instead of reperations).

If Japan’s appologies are not good enough, then maybe China should stop excepting the big green ones with pictures of George Washington on them.

People should not bay for blood while accepting blood money. Accept all of the apology or none of it.

May 4, 2005 @ 7:37 pm | Comment

“Personally, I think it’s going to backfire. The KMT visit to China is going to lose them votes, and the restated hardline against Chen will only increase his winning margins.”

This is wishful thinking. The DPP is actually losing votes. However, this probably has less to do with the visits to China than with the meek way that the DPP has handled the issue.

Another note: I would be willing to bet that if the KMT was in power at the moment, there would be no visits. They were much more critical of Beijing when they were not so terrified with the idea of being an opposition party. Plus, it was in this period when the DPP made its greatest gains. Why? Being on top, the KMT had no real grounds to bash the DPP. They had nobody to answer to but themselves. Sure they signed a 10-point consensus, but they also purchased more arms to defend Taiwan in the case of an attack.

Most analysts are predicting that the talks won’t change much anyways. In the short run, they might give the pan blues a boost, but in the long run, people are not going to simply change their views because Lien and Soong go to China.

However, the May 15th national assembly elections in Taiwan might be another bitter pill for the DPP.

May 4, 2005 @ 11:17 pm | Comment

“This is wishful thinking. The DPP is actually losing votes. ”

Yep that’s the fact, the latest Taiwanese poll shows the approval rating of Lien chan surged above that of Chen shui bian.

May 4, 2005 @ 11:34 pm | Comment

My question is when the Chinese had a posive image. The image of the Chinese can be summed up as follows:
Around the Opium War: corrupt
the second Opium War: coward
the Boxer Uprising: Xenophobic
the Civil War: chaotic
the Nanking Gov’t era: incompetent
the WWII: helpless
the communist era up to 1972: fanatic
era ’72-’78: Kmer Rouge supporter
since ’78: natural-born capitalist
since ’89: Tiananmen
since ’99: emotional nationalist
since ’00: flg
since ’05: racist that commited a genocide on small, cute, Japan.

Is there any goody image of China to be defended?

It seems that China is not a country, a nation, with its own concern, discourse, agenda, but a mass with irregular features, a sandstorm, a typhoon, a tsunami, a metaphor, a deed (or punishment?) of God. It can only be preached, not predicted.

May 5, 2005 @ 6:26 am | Comment

Thomas and JR … it’s not wishful thinking, because I don’t particularly wish for that outcome, and the term implies that I’m thinking it because I hope it to happen. Secondly, it may well turn out that I am proven to be incorrect … stranger things have happened. However, the jury is still out on that one, because my prediction doesn’t concern present polls, but eventual outcomes … and the outcome I predict is a loss of position in parliament for the KMT and an increase for Chen. We’ll just have to wait for time to tell if I’m right or not.

May 5, 2005 @ 8:38 am | Comment

Interesting parallell in history here. For it was back in May 1989 when Gorbachev was set to visit Beijing and be a big to-do for Deng and Chinese diplomacy by going all out for a state reception at TianAnMen and the 人民大会堂. Of course this whole deal was usurped by the students and citizens currently occupying the square so there was a hastily arranged reception at the airport. That had to be seen as a huge loss of face for Deng. Interesting that within hours of Gorbachev’s departure, Martial Law was declared.

Of couse this time it was the protests that the gov’t tacitly sanctioned that drew attention away from thier diplomatic achievements.

May 5, 2005 @ 1:12 pm | Comment

Leo: I very much appreciated your comment. Living in China, I get furiously negative about this country. You help put my biases in perspective.

May 6, 2005 @ 7:46 am | Comment


One clarification. It is true Chen’s popularity has dipped. However, recent polls also show that most of his loss of support has not translated into a net gain by the pan blues. A lot of the loss of support comes from die-hard pan greens who feel he should have acted stronger to protest the recent China visits. Those voters are not about to start voting for the pan blues.

I have to admit, Chen has waffled quite a bit in recent months. I can see how it would annoy some. Hell…it annoys me.

Regardless, in the long run, there won’t be much of a major impact on the political landscape from the China meetings since the ROC government is not about to compromise itself on the soveriegnty issue in the next three years.

May 6, 2005 @ 7:51 am | Comment

There is another that I wanted to say, from the conversation I had with a fellow Korean, who wants to go and live in Japan because she like the country and the people so much (who I personally have low esteem for saying this comment). She mentioned she too gets angry when the Japanese government makes ridiculous comments that inevitably provokes its neighbors (like claiming that Dokdo Island is theirs), but that she loves Japan. She is forgetting influence is a mutual thing. You cannot isolate what the Japanese government is doing from its people, Government acts on behalf of its people and say what majority of them wants to hear, as much as its people gets influenced by what the governmet says. If the Japanese people have the right values and decency to view history as is, do you think the Shines which worship “war criminal (in our view)”, woulc exist today?

If the Japanese people have the decency to see history honestly and set what is wrong, right again, they by no means would have placed influence on their governments to do the right thing. It is obvious in my view that the people themselves embody what their governent stands for.

This is why our dislike (I don’t want to use the word hatred) toward Japan is a collective thing. not just towards its government but to its people as well.

I hope you understand better where the current conflict between Japan and Ex-Japan Asia is coming from.

May 10, 2005 @ 4:40 pm | Comment

I realize I posted this msg on the wrong board…I was shirfing around. I apologize if the post was irrevant to the discussion on the current board.

May 10, 2005 @ 4:42 pm | Comment

It’s okay – I only request that you not post the same comment in multiple places. Thanks.

May 10, 2005 @ 4:56 pm | Comment

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