Look to Hong Kong
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“The Chinese Communist Party will penetrate into your government. Chinese companies will intervene with your political tendency. China will exploit your country like Uyghur. Stay awake, or you’ll be next.”
I saw the frightening words that protesters left at Hong Kong Polytechnic University on social media. Many people must have given a second thought to China after watching the developments in Hong Kong. I felt the weight of “sharing basic values,” especially because of the chaotic Korea-Japan relations busy fighting before the dinosaur of China.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s view on Korea and China was revealed in an episode from 2013 that a Japanese business source told me. That summer, Abe was playing golf with his friends. The golfers told Abe that Korea was important in a greater national perspective and that as the gap in the economic size between China and Japan grew, East Asia would be swayed by China and Japan could block China by embracing Korea and being backed by the United States.
But Abe said he appreciated the advice but disagreed. “My thoughts are different. There are parts of Korea that I cannot trust. The goalpost is constantly changing. Once an agreement is made, another administration would change it according to the people’s will. But China keeps an agreement once it is made. When national ties were normalized in 1972, Zhou Enlai decided that China would not demand compensation from Japan. China controls public opinion and keeps promises, despite people’s protests. It is easy to negotiate with such a country.” He added, “I want to value China over Korea in diplomacy. If Japan and China set the big direction, Korea can follow if it wants to.”
Six years ago, Abe criticized Korea for changing the goalpost whimsically. He considers China, where public opinion is strictly controlled, as a better partner and stressed “a showdown between the big shots.” As the comfort women deal made in 2015 faltered and the Supreme Court ruled on compensation for forced labor by Japan, he must think he’s right. In fact, Abe has been focusing on China over Korea.
But can Abe remain nonchalant even as the Hong Kong protests reveal the bare face of China? Will China treat Japan like it is now after it completely dominates regional hegemony?
The same goes for President Moon Jae-in. If he understood the strategic importance of Japan in East Asian diplomacy and the need to check on China through cooperation with the United States and Japan, he would not drive Korea-Japan relations to this stage. I hope the two leaders stay awake as the Hong Kong protests turn gruesome.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 22, Page 32