There has not been a major global outbreak like the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) for quite some time. The American media reported on the theory that this pandemic was caused by a manmade virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is involved in developing bacteriological weapons for the Chinese People’ s Liberation Army.
COVID-19 is very contagious, but the death rate is not that high. As I am writing this essay on March 6, there are 360 infected people in Japan, of whom just six have died. Most of these deaths were elderly people with underlying conditions. Most Japanese media outlets include the 696 cases on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and are making a fuss by saying the total exceeds 1,000 people. However, I think these cases should actually be counted in the United Kingdom, where the ship is registered, or the United States, home to the company operating the ship. However, neither of these countries has said anything. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Johns Hopkins University put the Diamond Princess in a separate category in their statistics.
Each year, roughly 3,000 Japanese people and about 12,000 Americans die from influenza. In contrast, just 3,383 people across the world have died from the coronavirus as of March 6. Most of these were in Wuhan, China, where there are issues with medical care and hygiene. In Japan we can regard the coronavirus as a type of cold, and I do not believe we need to be overly frightened of this infectious disease. However, the reporting on the virus has had massive impacts. This topic is repeatedly covered in newspapers and on TV every day, and the media is asking people to exercise self-restraint by canceling all sorts of events, concerts, parties, vacations, and business trips. This misinformation is causing enormous damage.
The March 10 issue of Newsweek contained an article entitled, “The World Must Imagine a Worst-case Scenario.” It read:
The first issue is lockdowns. The Chinese government limited the movements of more than 700 million people, and ordered 150 million of these to stay in their homes. However, because this could lead to an economic collapse, they are currently relaxing these measures and trying to allow people to return to work. The authorities and society are in turmoil.
An announcement was made that the quarantine would be relaxed in Wuhan, Hubei Province, then retracted just three hours later. The streets of Beijing and Shanghai are still deserted. Small companies are on the verge of bankruptcy, and sales have fallen significantly in various industries. Cargo ships leaving Chinese ports are mostly empty.
Foreign companies are already experiencing chaos in their supply chains. Stocks plunged across the globe on February 24, but it is possible this drop did not fully reflect the risk of infection, and prices may fall even further.
The outbreak in China began right before the Chinese New Year. Many people have been unable to return from their home regions to their workplaces, which worsened impacts on the economy. It is highly likely that companies and factories will continue to be shuttered for some time. Theoretically this can be covered to some degree through remote work at home and other locations, but systems and communications infrastructure have not kept up with this need.
This is the situation the world will face in the future. Still, democratic countries may not be able to put iron-handed limits on economic activities like those inside China.
It certainly seems true that China was able to put Wuhan – a city of about 11 million people – under lockdown and ban anyone from entering or leaving the city because it is a country solely ruled by the Communist Party of China. Residents are banned from leaving their homes or are only allowed to go outside once every few days. Most shops are closed, so they have to buy groceries online or have them passed through small windows at the few stores that are open. Videos have been released showing the strong-armed measures in place to contain the virus. For instance, the authorities use drones to search for and give warnings to people who are not wearing masks, and they destroy Mahjong boards so people cannot gather to play the game. The outbreak in China has weakened thanks to these authoritarian measures that can only be implemented in a nation with one-party rule. In late February, the number of people who had recovered exceeded the number of new cases. At one point the Chinese government said it was studying the idea of limiting travelers from Japan, suggesting it would treat Japan in the same manner as South Korea, a country with cases and deaths on a whole different order of magnitude.
Japan is a democratic nation, so it is difficult to take heavy-handed measures against the virus like China did. That is why citizens must make efforts to protect themselves, such as hand washing and wearing masks when necessary, to prevent further infections and deaths.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered all elementary, junior high, and high schools to close on February 29. The opposition parties criticized this decision in unison, but I support what Abe did. I imagine his intention was to make the citizens feel a heightened sense of tension and danger, which would help suddenly halt the spread of the virus. I am sure the effects of this will become clear as time passes, and I believe the outbreak would have been worse under a different prime minister. I think Abe is the only one who can take the bold step of issuing this order at his own political accountability.
It is easy to imagine that Japan might find itself in rather difficult economic straits in the future. COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through contact and droplet infection. There are still few cases in Japan, and the particular problem we are experiencing now is damage caused by misinformation in the media. We need to look at the numbers of cases and deaths not only in terms of the absolute figures, but also by thinking about infection and death rates among total populations. It is clear that the number of deaths is a smaller ratio of the population in Japan compared to South Korea or Italy. The people who die are also much less – under 1% – than the annual number of influenza deaths. News should be based on scientific proof and calculations of statistical probability. The media is sharing harmful rumors that have impacts many times greater than the actual virus. However, some theorize that this has resulted in a drastic decline of influenza and cold deaths this year. These extreme news reports are also causing great concern among people in other countries, more of which are limiting travelers from Japan. These baseless criticisms are just like those regarding the fictitious Nanjing Massacre.
The Japanese army invaded and captured Nanjing in December 1937. China insists that Japan massacred 300,000 citizens of Nanjing, but the Japanese army had strict military discipline and certainly would not have meaninglessly slaughtered the residents of an occupied city after the fighting had ended. One piece of proof is a film that shows Chinese children setting off firecrackers as Japanese soldiers holding guns pass by right after New Year. These children would not have been playing with firecrackers if a massacre had taken place, and they would have scattered and run away from the Japanese soldiers.
A Japanese soldier who killed a single unarmed civilian in this way would have certainly been court-martialed and disciplined harshly. Joint historical research on Nanjing was conducted by Japan and China, with Shinichi Kitaoka serving as the head of the Japanese side, and a report was published in 2010. They should have stated that the Japanese army did not kill a single unarmed civilian in Nanjing. Despite this, the Japanese side (which may have been driven into a corner) ended up agreeing that there had been a massacre in Nanjing of prisoners, defeated army members, plainclothes soldiers, and some citizens. They came to the extremely ambiguous conclusion that, “The research by the Japanese side indicates different estimates of victims, such as 40,000 or 20,000, with an upper limit of 200,000.” This is one factor behind the 2017 incident in which the Chinese foreign minister and other government officials ordered me to remove my book from APA Hotel rooms that states there was no massacre of regular citizens in Nanjing. They censured me by saying, “This book must be removed because it denies the Nanjing Massacre, which even the Japanese government has admitted took place.” This was because the joint research released an incorrect conclusion. The Japanese side should have stated there was absolutely no massacre of unarmed civilians.
In 1983, Seiji Yoshida published an entirely untrue book saying the Japanese army forcibly transported women and made them serve as military prostitutes on the Korean Peninsula. He went to South Korea that year and was praised for his courageous writing. Japan has been denounced for the comfort women because of this spurious publication, and comfort woman statues are being installed in Seoul and around the world. This is another example of Japan being subjected to baseless criticisms. Japan and South Korea agreed in 2015 to a “final and irreversible resolution” to the comfort women issue, and the Japanese government paid one billion yen to a foundation set up by the South Korean government. However, South Korea has not abided by the content of the agreement – such as taking down the comfort woman statues – and it dissolved the foundation in 2019. Since then, the issue has been rehashed again and again between Japan and South Korea.
Some people say General Council of Trade Unions of Japan provided the funds to build the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders in Nanjing. Some Japanese people truly do hold anti-Japanese, masochistic sentiments. The left-wing media is supported by these people, and it continues demeaning Japan in its recent reporting on COVID-19 as well. The Japanese media blindly follows the overseas media outlets by criticizing how the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has handled the Diamond Princess. The ship is operated by an American company, and the U.S. should have dealt with what happened onboard. This would have had nothing to do with Japan if the ship had not docked at the Port of Yokohama. Information has been gradually made public about the great difficulty of this operation, which has never been experienced in human history – they had to quarantine the confined space of the ship while respecting the intentions of the captain and company operating this ship, which is registered in another country. It is utterly absurd that other countries are criticizing Japan by saying the cruise ship was handled in an inept way. This turmoil should be used as a rare opportunity to establish a “Ministry of Information” separate from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, something I have advocated for quite some time. It should have an annual budget of 300 billion yen and a staff of 3,000 to monitor news reports across the world and refute any mistaken news or baseless criticisms and reports in the local language and English within 24 hours. If the overseas media will not amend its statements, the ministry should continue making thorough rebuttals until the information is corrected. I believe this is a necessary step to reviving Japan as a nation where people feel pride in their home country.
I am chief advisor to the Greater East Asian Holy War Monument Maintenance Association at Ishikawa Gokoku Shrine. World War II was definitely a holy war. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected as president based on his promise that the U.S. would not join the war in Europe. He wanted to rescue the UK, which was on the brink of capitulating after Germany swept over Europe. After the Tripartite Pact was signed, Roosevelt used the ABCD encirclement to force Japan to attack, giving the U.S. a means to enter the European war. As part of these efforts, the U.S. put a total oil embargo on Japan as an economic blockade. Japan had no choice but to open hostilities for this reason. Japan did not start the war to invade Asian countries – it helped these nations gain freedom and independence from Western European colonial rule. When Japan began this fight, it is accurate to say the world belonged to the white Christians. Besides Japan, the only independent Asian and African nations were Thailand and Ethiopia, which maintained their freedom as French and British buffer states. Although Japan was defeated in World War II, all nations are independent states today thanks to the results of Japan’s fight with the Western powers. However, many people question these great accomplishments. The Japanese government submitted a proposal to clearly specify the abolition of racial discrimination in the Covenant of the League of Nations at the League of Nations Commission during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference after World War I. It was approved by a majority of commission members, but American President Woodrow Wilson (the chairman of the commission) struck down the proposal by declaring that it must be passed unanimously. This is not mentioned in any Japanese history textbooks. Many Japanese people believe Japan was a war criminal that did bad things because of inaccurate TV programs, newspaper articles, and other new reports, and due to the incorrect education they receive. That is why they cannot go overseas and speak with confidence and pride about their own history. We must make it so many people can learn the truth and regain pride in Japan’s history.
COVID-19 is a new type of infectious disease, and it is highly possible that things will naturally return to normal if drugs or a vaccine can be developed. It is also very likely that this situation might continue for another four or five months.
However, people are at risk if they are in the same room as infected persons, although there is little concern if you can avoid contact with infected people outdoors. There is no need for excessive self-restraint as long as we take sufficient steps such as washing our hands, and we should try to continue our normal lives to the maximum degree possible. One side effect of the COVID-19 outcry has been a reduced number of influenza cases and deaths, but it seems likely there could be a grave economic crisis caused by misinformation in Japan and across the world. The Olympic Games are scheduled for this summer and I was hoping that 2020 would be a wonderful year, but the novel coronavirus from China has put the world in a difficult situation. I hope the Tokyo Olympics will somehow go on despite the current circumstances, even if they must be postponed.
March 14 (Saturday), 10:00 a.m.