Having wanted to study abroad since she was a teenager, Keiko Kawasoe decided on China and began working as a writer after returning to Japan. She has published many works of nonfiction that give realistic pictures of China, and also won the Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize) in the 13th Annual “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest for her essay “We Are Living a Historic Moment: The Death of the Mass Media That Pandered to the Chinese Communist Party.” Toshio Motoya spoke with Kawasoe about the actual situation in China.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today, and congratulations on winning the Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize) in the 13th Annual “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest.
(K) Thank you for inviting me. I am also grateful for and surprised to have won this award. I’m so happy that my essay was rated highly by the distinguished members of the Judging Committee.
(M) The 1st Annual Fuji Seiji Prize went to Toshio Tamogami, then-chief of staff of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force. He was dismissed from his position and summoned to the National Diet for writing an essay that said Japan was a good country. However, many people actually read his essay, agreed with it, and were woken up to a conservative way of thinking. I think Japan has grown a great deal conservative in the 12 years since then.
(K) I agree.
(M) First, please tell us a bit about yourself.
(K) Certainly. I decided to study abroad in China after graduating from junior college. I went to Beijing in autumn 1986 and moved to Dalian the following autumn. Many people asked me why I chose China rather than the United States or United Kingdom, but I made this judgement for myself because I thought China would become a major nation in the coming era. Back then China was a “sleeping lion,” although it fundamentally had a liking for business. Many Japanese expats thought that being sent to China was akin to a demotion. Expats and people traveling to China on business trips asked me if I selected China because I liked the Silk Road, but I’m not at all that romantic (laughs). Back then, Japanese businesspeople generally looked down on China as a backwards country with no future, but I predicted that the Sino-Japanese relationship would grow closer in the future.
(M) So you started in Beijing and then went to Dalian.
(K) Yes. Beijing was a city with a great deal of pride, and I found it a rather stiff environment. I visited Dalian several times before deciding to move there, then passed the test to get into Liaoning Normal University, where I attended class with Chinese students. Dalian used to be the entryway to Manchuria, and it is very pro-Japanese. As I walked around town, elderly Manchu people would quietly approach me and ask if I was Japanese. I would then make arrangements to get together and speak with them again. Dalian is right next to Lushun, a naval port that was closed to foreigners. I was able to visit Lushun by putting on a Mao suit-like outfit and being taken there by one of those elderly men. I also went to a large home where my husband’s aunt lived before the end of the war.
(M) When I visited China, some elderly people spoke Japanese with me. They seemed to have a fondness for this language they used in the past.
(K) That’s because they could tell Japanese people apart by their clothing and hairstyles during the 1980s. My jobs included interpreting for Japanese companies. I realized that working with state-run Chinese businesses was the equivalent of giving money to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Japan started providing official development assistance (ODA) to China in 1979. The fundamental principles of ODA clearly state the need to keep a cautious eye on trends such as military spending, the development and manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction and missiles, and the export and import of weapons. This would clearly make China ineligible to receive Japanese ODA. When I pointed this out, experienced expats told me there was nothing to be done about it. And when I stated my doubts about the Japanese-Chinese relationship, I was gradually regarded as an eccentric by Japanese people who were involved with China. However, I still feel the same way today.
(M) We cannot change Japan and China’s geopolitical relationship. It is important for us to co-exist despite our different structures and ways of thinking. I believe a balance of power is vital to that end, and is the only way for us to exist in harmony. Japan must revise its constitution to gain enough military power for that reason.
(K) That’s true, but the CCP knows that Japan lacks military strength and constitutional change momentum remains slow. I think it is snickering with glee over this.
(M) Co-existence must be founded on a balance of power. We do not want the type of peaceful harmony in which one country is ruled by another. The Japan Self-Defense Forces are working extremely hard to stand against China, which is continually reinforcing its military strength. They are properly safeguarding our control of the sea and air and removing intruders. If we allowed these intruders to remain, I think they would steadily work to increase their vested interests. At first the only Chinese ships near the Senkaku Islands area were fishing boats, but now it also sends official ships to keep these fishing boats “under control.” I think China might someday land its citizens on the islands on the pretense of bad weather, and there they will remain just like what happened with Takeshima. We must have more military strength to prevent this, yet many Japanese people believe we can achieve peace just by advocating for it.
(K) I agree. Some people are adamant about a “world without nuclear weapons,” but this makes little sense considering the other weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons.
(M) Viruses are one type of biological weapon. During the COVID-19 pandemic, about 1.2 million people have died around the world and roughly 240,000 people in the U.S. alone. The fatality rates are particularly high in Europe, North America, and South America, and areas with many white people and those of mixed white and other ancestry. In contrast, the numbers of deaths per population are one one-hundredth of these numbers in China, Japan, and other East Asian countries. My guess is that this virus might be a biological weapon designed to cause more serious harm to white people with certain types of DNA. Nuclear and chemical weapons have harmful effects in limited areas, but virus-based biological weapons can spread and cause damage across the globe, which is terrifying. The human race might go extinct if a bacteria or virus that is more fatal than the plague or Spanish flu came from the natural world.
(K) I also wonder if the novel coronavirus is a biological weapon. If so, that means the format of war has changed drastically.
(M) Yes, I think World War III would break out if there was any proof that the novel coronavirus was created by China as a weapon. It definitely seems to have come from Wuhan, China, yet China stubbornly resists calling it the “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus.” The World Health Organization (WHO) ended up giving the disease caused by the novel coronavirus the hard-to-understand name of “COVID-19.”
(K) I think WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus did this out of consideration for China.
(M) Tedros’ home country of Ethiopia has received huge amounts of aid from China. China uses funds of this type to put pressure on other countries and make them do what it wants.
(K) That’s the problem. Rather than respectable lobbying, they use money and intimidation. Carrots work well, but sticks are also powerful.
(M) I wonder if the virus spread first to Italy out of all the European countries because Italy has close ties to China, including its support for the Belt and Road Initiative.
(K) Yes, and I wonder what will happen to Italy going forward. Because the Chinese army is doing research on the Adriatic Sea in recent years, I spent three weeks there in August 2019. I went to Trieste and Venice, which are coastal cities in Italy, as well as the former Yugoslavia.
(M) I’ve been to Dubrovnik in Croatia. The oceans were so beautiful. One can become wiser by traveling around the world and meeting many different people. I’ve cultivated wisdom by visiting 84 countries and speaking with influential figures in them. I truly believe that one’s way of thinking is proportional to how far one has traveled.
(K) I agree entirely. When I look at the world, I don’t just think about the two countries of Japan and China. I consider the world in terms of relationships in three areas, including the U.S./China, and Europe/China. This allows me to predict what will happen in the future, and is why I spend around three hours each day reading English- and Chinese-language news. Sometimes this takes me almost an entire day (laughs).
(M) The China of today is very different from the China until the 1980s. The Western countries gave aid to China during that decade because they thought it would democratize after becoming affluent. However, the political structure is unchanged and China has transformed the economic power it developed through this aid into military power. Today China is second only to the U.S., and the past Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union has been reborn as a Sino-American cold war. China’s strengths are its population of 1.4 billion people and its single-party CCP regime. Democratic nations must heed human rights and equality, but China can concentrate its wealth among a portion of citizens, disregard human rights, and draw its citizens together into a single force. That’s the country that is striving for global hegemony today, which I find quite frightening.
(K) Dictatorships can fully leverage cyberspace and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. The Chinese government uses smartphones to find out where people are and who they are interacting with.
(M) It also has millions of surveillance cameras across the nation to observe who people are meeting with. China utilizes these systems to suddenly take residents of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region into custody and send them to camps. It’s said there are satellite images showing one to two million people interned in these camps. They do this on the pretense of “education” rather than punishment, so no one knows when the inmates will be released.
(K) Just like Uyghur, forced Sinicization is also taking place in Tibet. According to the media, Mongolian-language education was banned in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in September and replaced with the Chinese language.
(M) Cutting off a language is a way to sever people from their history. The same thing happened in South Korea. Young people use Hangul only and don’t understand kanji (Chinese characters), so they cannot read books from the past written with kanji. I think this was done so they wouldn’t read past publications and learn about how Japan contributed to the Korean Peninsula.
(K) That may be true, and it’s certainly unfortunate.
(M) They have ensured that young people are unable to find information on their own and have taught them inaccurate history. On the forced labor issue, they hide the fact that many citizens of the Korean Peninsula tried to stow away to Japan because wages were higher here. Instead they claim that Japan forcibly brought Koreans to Japan, which is the total opposite of what really happened.
(K) That’s outrageous.
(M) Japan fought in World War II according to its Bushido ideal, but this spirit means nothing against bacteriological weapons. Few people died in wars up until World War I, when circumstances were changed with autocannons, tanks, and aircraft. And now roughly 1.2 million people have died of COVID-19 in the blink of an eye.
(K) Weather warfare is another method. Torrential rainfall in China’s Sichuan Province in July and August made the Yangtze River overflow, and the Three Gorges Dam was in danger of collapsing. I wonder if this heavy rain was caused by the wrath of God, or if perhaps Russia or the U.S. was angry at China.
(M) A major dam collapsing would cause enormous damage. It is scary to think this might have been weather warfare.
(K) Yes, it’s an especially frightening prospect considering that rainfall appears to be a natural disaster.
(M) Did you learn Chinese after going there to study?
(K) I first studied it for one year in Japan. In the 1980s you never heard capitalistic terms like “buying stock” in Chinese, in either the government-controlled media or daily life. These kinds of words were imported from Japan and Taiwan starting in the 1990s.
(M) Taiwan uses traditional characters, while China uses simplified characters. Sometimes I can’t tell what these simplified characters mean.
(K) Yes, for example the last character in “飛行機” (airplane) is written as “机,” which means “desk” in Japanese. You wouldn’t be able to read the simplified characters if you aren’t used to them.
(M) Unlike alphabets, kanji characters have individual meanings. Japanese is a highly expressive language because it uses the hiragana and katakana syllabaries together with kanji. I think it’s a superior language for this reason.
(K) You can also use foreign words as-is with katakana pronunciations.
(M) Yes, and Japanese people don’t need to use gestures because we can say everything verbally. Speakers of English and other languages have to use gestures because they can’t fully express themselves otherwise. In addition, European countries and the U.S. had many enemies nearby, so they have to use gestures and facial expressions in addition to spoken language to display a lack of animosity.
(K) They greet each other face-to-face when sharing elevators.
(M) Because Japan is a peaceful nation, there’s need to show that one isn’t hostile.
(K) I see. Another example is that Japanese has many different words for “blue.”
(M) These different terms all have subtle nuances.
(K) I’m not well versed in the vocabulary used by literary people in the past, but modern Chinese conversation has been simplified. Blue is blue, and green is green.
(M) It’s hard to read texts written only in kanji. The combination of hiragana, katakana, and kanji is much easier to read.
(K) I do think Japanese lends itself to speed and skim reading. Chinese is quite similar to English in that its subjects and verbs are close together, and the speaker’s will is quickly made evident. I think Chinese people make quick progress when learning English because the grammars are similar and they share similar mentalities. When speaking Japanese, you can gauge the other person and change what you are saying midway through. These cultures are entirely different.
(M) You did a great job working for four years in the different culture of China. Japan has plentiful agricultural produce so we can feed ourselves without stealing from others. The Vikings continually went pillaging to the south because they lived in the frigid Nordic countries where it was not easy to grow food. I’ve been to a Viking museum with text boasting that the Vikings even made expeditions to the Mediterranean Sea. I’m sure the people who were the victims of this plunder felt differently.
(K) Compared to them, Japan had no culture of or need to pillage. You can also see this by looking at Japan’s postwar rule of Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula.
(M) Japan treated Taiwan and Korea as part of Japan; they were integrated into Japan, not ruled by it. Diseases were rampant in Taiwan – which has a harsh climate and natural features – when it was incorporated into Japanese territory, and there were ethnic groups with differing customs. Japan invested huge amounts of labor and money to improve Taiwan’s circumstances. How Japanese rule improved livelihoods in these countries is proven by the population growth in both Taiwan and Korea. Japan also focused on education by building elementary schools and imperial universities. The major Western powers had exploitive colonial policies, but Japan invested capital into Taiwan and Korea and worked to share the results with everyone. Despite this, South Korea censures Japan for the so-called “seven losses” and says Japan “stole” everything rather than looking at the benefits it provided.
(K) That’s horrible. Japanese people must learn accurate history so we can oppose this. I wish the Science Council of Japan had professors who properly evaluate our Japanese predecessors, but it seems like a highly biased organization.
(M) Criticizing the government is fine, but there’s no need for the government to provide funding to people who censure the government based on exceedingly biased ideologies.
(K) The recent outcry is a good opportunity to hold more profound discussions on topics including the Science Council of Japan, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research. I hope thorough investigations will take place.
(M) At first I was somewhat concerned about Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, but I think he’s working extremely hard.
(K) It might be a good idea for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who must have an extensive network around the world, to establish a diplomatic thinktank at some point.
(M) I hope Abe will become prime minister for a third time after he regains his health, like Taro Katsura did in the past. I don’t think there are many Japanese prime ministers like him who can boldly give speeches in both houses of the U.S. Congress.
(K) Yes, and I also hope for Donald Trump to be re-elected.
(M) Me, too. Joe Biden is in the lead, but they say many Trump supporters do not respond honestly to public opinion polls. Trump, who has an unsparing stance against China, is the better option for Japan. However, the Japanese and American medias are both against him.
(K) The Taiwanese media supports Trump.
(M) We need an administration that can enact policy to prevent China’s further expansion in this era of Sino-American cold war.
(K) I think China would have grown even bigger during the past four years if Hillary Clinton had won the last election.
(M) Yes, and China would use its enhanced military strength to achieve global hegemony.
(K) I would probably be sent to jail as a political prisoner if that happened (laughs).
(M) Let’s do all we can to make sure that doesn’t happen. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(K) First, I hope they will believe in themselves. They shouldn’t have a mercenary point of view. I became a writer because I liked this work and thought I could make full use of my skills. I hope more people will hold to their convictions in any job they do. They are responsible for the future of our nation. That’s why I hope they will never forget that they are Japanese, even if they go abroad.
(M) I wish for them to feel pride in being Japanese, and they must learn accurate history for that reason. I think we would live in a world without racial equality, and that the globe would still be ruled by the Western powers, if Japan hadn’t fought in World War II.
(K) Yes. I hope they will remember that this moment is just one page of history, and feel pride in their ancestors as they keep in mind the fact that we will all become someone’s ancestors someday.
(M) I agree entirely. Thank you for joining me today.
(K) Thank you.
Date of dialogue: October 30, 2020
Born in 1963 in Matsudo City, Chiba Prefecture. After graduating from the Nagoya Municipal Women’s Junior College, she studied abroad at Beijing Foreign Studies University in 1986 and at Liaoning Normal University (Dalian) from 1987. Kawasoe returned to Japan; established K Universal Planning Co., Ltd.; and began her career as a writer. She has published many books on topics including education and a wide range of social issues, and has also written for the Sankei Shimbun, Just Arguments, WiLL, Yukan Fuji, etc. Her most recent book is The Truth of the Coronavirus Concealed by Xi Jinping: Is it a Biological Weapon? (WAC BUNKO).