"The question then is "Why is China making poor long-term diplomatic choices?" The answer I believe is to keep domestic pressure away from the current government and focused elsewhere." - DEL, May 24, 2005 written after PM. Koizumi's visit to a controversial Japanese shrine
"While dismissing [Koizumi's] shrine visit as no 'major issue' in the long run, he said: 'I understand because of the war 60 years ago' that the Chinese 'feel Japan is a threat. So, I understand that they want to contain Japan. I think to advance this perception of Japan as a rival and to create a sense of 'anti-Japan' in China would be advantageous to the Chinese leadership.'" - Robert Novak during October 20, 2005 interview with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
DEL is glad to be in similar company of thought as the Prime Minister of Japan regarding Chinese motivations for being so vocally "anti-Japan". What are the reasons behind China's need to have a nearby target of public ire, especially for a crime committed by a government long overthrown from power during a war over 60 years ago?
"It is the Economy Stupid"
The Asia Times Online, as it often does, properly frames the economic situation:
"Economic inequality and social protests in China have become a frequent topic in the Western press. The startling figure of 74,000 protests across China in 2004, up from 58,000 the previous year, has popped up in many newspapers, as has China's most recent Gini coefficient of 0.45, suggesting that economic inequality in China has in fact surpassed that of the US and UK with their allegedly cold-blooded "Anglo-Saxon" model of capitalism. (The Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality developed by the Italian statistician Corrado Gini, is a measure of income inequality ranging between 0 and 1, where 0 corresponds to a society where everyone has exactly the same income, and 1 corresponds to a society where one person has all the income and everyone else has none.)"
Chinese protests, which have been publicly numerated by the Chinese government (for all protests that involve more than 100 people), are a growing phenomenon throughout the country. Most of these protests are not necessarily political in nature, but rather economic, such as land taken by the state from peasants and farmers due to poor wage and working conditions. The Gini coefficient would suggest that income disparities could be the major cause.
However, the Asia Wall Street Journal (subscription required) argues that while income disparities have increased, that less Chinese live in poverty than before the major economic reforms:
"People's Daily reported that China's present index measure of 45 means that the country has 'reached the 'yellow' alarm level. Should there be no effective measures, it will reach the dangerous 'red' level in five years.
In 2003, when China began to implement its WTO reforms, its index was at 40. In 1992, when the reforms stemming from Deng Xiaoping's Southern voyage started, the index was at 37.4. And in 1980, a year after the reforms were first launched, it was at 33. This means that China's income gap has grown 36% in the last quarter century of economic reform.
But, hang on, in that time China has seen not just one of the fastest rates of economic growth in modern history, but also one of the most astonishing records of poverty reduction. By the World Bank's own estimates, the number of people living in poverty had been reduced to 29 million in 2001, from 80 million in 1993 and 250 million when the reform process got under way in 1979."
I believe this economic data further explains the reason for the growing protests. Once a totalitarian state begins to privatize industry and allow individuals to compete in the workplace and in industry towards a capitalist structure, the state is no longer identified as the sole provider of one's complete needs. This type of enlightenment, for either the left-behind state worker who has not the skills to compete in the city, or the successful Chinese entrepreneur, will question their prior reliance on the state for their personal welfare.
Mikhail Gorbachev learned this principle through his glasnost policy of openness coupled with the perestroika policy of promoting market reforms. The Chinese have implemented their own perestroika without the same level of openness. While their economic reforms have largely been successful, the desire for personal freedoms will increase proportionately with the rising incomes and disparities thereby produced.
This takes us back to Japan. When there is civil unrest at home, it is helpful to look abroad for a percieved greater threat. The Chinese believe they have found it in the paper tiger of Japan's sins in the Pacific 60 years ago. This may buy the Chinese government a short-term gain of redirecting the anger of the Chinese people; however, it is raising tensions among Asian neighbors and taking a once pacifist Japan into a period of a reassessment over their own security vis-a-vie China. Add to the mix energy concerns that both nations claim and the paper tiger may chose to toughen up.
Prime Minister Koizumi is moving Japan in such a direction. The Chinese government may wish to look elsewhere abroad to placate their citizens about their lack of freedom. Or, better yet, reform.