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4 Ways China Can Best Japan

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4 Ways China Can Best Japan

China can best Japan through reforms aimed at improving Beijing’s image at home and abroad.

4 Ways China Can Best Japan
Credit: Japan China image via Shutterstock

This September, Old Yang is putting out a series of videos. Today’s topic is “How Can China Defeat Japan.” The video (in Chinese) is viewable here, and I summarize the main points below.

On September 3, the CCP held a high-profile commemoration of the 69th anniversary of the victory of the anti-Japanese war, with the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee in attendance. In his speech, President Xi Jinping listed two things China will “resolutely” do and three things China will “never allow.” Xi said: “With utmost determination and effort, we stand with people from countries around the world to resolutely defend the victory won from the Chinese’ People’s Anti-Japanese War and the World Anti-Fascist War and to resolutely safeguard the postwar international order. We will never allow anyone to deny or distort the history of aggression. We will never allow the return of militarism. We will never allow the historical tragedy to be repeated!” Out of these, the idea of “resolutely safeguarding the postwar international order” is especially important, and is worth more attention.

In recent years, especially since Shinzo Abe came to power, Japan has pushed forward values-based ​​diplomacy on all sides. Japan has not only strengthened relations with its allies, but also developed friendly relations with neighboring countries in Asia. At the same time, Japan modified its pacifist constitution to pave the way for the development of offensive weapons and the rapid replacement of weapons and equipment with new models. Chinese war theory tells us to use a general to stop the advance of soldiers, and to use earth bulwarks to stop the advance of water (in other words, you should adapt your approach to the situation). Here are my thoughts on how China should respond to the three-pronged strategy of Japan.

First, establish core values that people will gather around and develop and promote our own culture. There’s a reason I put this point first: looking at China’s recent and modern history, there’s a lesson to be learned from our failures. It’s not hard to discover that the main reason for China’s past defeats was not national weakness or a lack of military prowess, but rather that China lacked values that could unite the whole country, much less attract other nationalities. Popular support coalesces around core values.

In this sense, when Xi Jinping (speaking at the 18th National Party Congress) stressed the need to establish core values with Chinese characteristics and to promote and develop Chinese culture, he was not only talking about cultural, educational, and political reform. Rather, this initiative could be the key to China’s future success. On the international stage, Japan is stressing its values-based diplomacy, raising the banner of democracy, freedom, and rule of law. But Xi’s “12 core values” clearly list these words as well. Of course, some will say this is just lip service. We should take these words seriously and put the rule of law, freedom, and democracy into practice. Once that happens, will any country on earth dare to bully China and its 1.4 billion people?

Second, pay attention to people’s livelihood and value human rights. Today, it is not enough to depend on “nationalism” to mobilize people. If, when it comes to the people’s well-being, a government is seen as biased, unjust, and unfair — and if it violates civil rights —it is more likely that the people will help perceived “enemies.”

During the Anti-Japanese War, a large number of “traitors” appeared in China. Of course, these people should be condemned, but we have never deeply reflected on why there were so many “traitors.” In particular, what about the impoverished and nearly illiterate men who served as soldiers for Japan’s “puppet regime” in China? The Chinese government at that time was corrupt and busy with a civil war; it didn’t treat its citizens as people. Instead, it levied exorbitant taxes by force and conscripted able-bodied men. Shouldn’t it bear responsibility for this? To the lowest levels of society, those in desperate poverty, was the corrupt government that ignored the needs of its citizens really that much better than the “Japanese devils?” What’s the difference between being bullied by the Japanese and being bullies by our own government?

We can even say that to best the Japanese, we should first tackle the problems of government corruption and widespread social injustice. The current government has paid close attention to anti-corruption. Plus, in the “Decision” issued after the Third Plenum, the government pledged to prioritize citizens’ human rights and to pay attention to justice and fairness during the next round of reforms. This is an important strategy for determining who will come out the victor in the current battle between China and Japan. I hope that the CCP can continue this attention to social class, fairness, and the fight against corruption.

Third, China should continue to develop military equipment and modernize its weapons. I put this in the third place not because it’s not important but because we should remember an important fact about the development of weapons: the money and technologies needed to develop weapons are inseparable from a country’s overall wealth, education levels, and scientific and technological abilities. If we develop weapons only to say that we can, and rigidly separate this from the country’s overall situation (for example, by making the masses tighten their belts so we can build fighter jets and missiles or by spending more money on the military than on educating our children), our efforts will be counter-productive. On a certain level, the former Soviet Union collapsed because of its military buildup. If a government is overconfident in expanding its military and preparing for war while its people struggle to make a living and complain bitterly, then you’ll never get a chance to use your weapons. Instead, before the enemy ever invades, the people will rise up and overthrow you.

Fourth, China should try its utmost to make more friends on the international stage. Today, it’s hardly possible to contain a disagreement between two countries. The world is a complex web of alliances. And I have to admit, when it comes to values, China is part of a distinct minority among the international community. Ideologically, China can still be considered as a outlier suppressed by the rest of the world.

During the past few years, China has tried hard to dilute its ideology when dealing with the outside world and has achieved some success. But China is still out of step with the international mainstream on a number of issues, whether its China’s domestic practices or its close relationship with North Korea. If you do not advance human rights and aren’t democratic within your own borders, how can you truly respect other countries and realize the goals of democracy and equality on the world stage? What’s more, as the saying goes, with friends like North Korea, who needs enemies?

I personally do not support any kind of war and I do not think that war is inevitable. In fact, responding proactively and making preparations for war may be the most effective way to avoid war. But how to respond is very important. China is fighting a war of words with Japan through the media, including an endless stream of anti-Japanese dramas. But this type of preparation is not enough, and may actually be counter-productive. Why? Because the international community will see that China’s media and art are exaggerating the war, using actions from 70 years ago to belittle and demonize Japan. People will see the aggressive words in our newspapers and on our televisions, all about breaking down the post-war international order. In the end, people are afraid of the Chinese, not of Japan. Do you think this sort of preparation can be considered a success?

My four points above have little to do with war, but in the end they could determine whether China or Japan comes out on top. I hope that these factors caught your attention. If enough people take them seriously, then China can truly become invincible.


This piece originally appeared in Chinese on Yang Hengjun’s blog. The original post can be found here.

Yang Hengjun is a Chinese independent scholar, novelist, and blogger. He once worked in the Chinese Foreign Ministry and as a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. Yang received his Ph.D. from the University of Technology, Sydney in Australia. His Chinese language blog is featured on major Chinese current affairs and international relations portals and his pieces receive millions of hits. Yang’s blog can be accessed at