China is no longer the country it was under Deng Xiaoping. He saw the horrors of Maoism from the Great Leap Forward to the Cultural Revolution and decided to open up the economy in 1978. Now Deng’s policies are no longer in the ascendant.
Xi Jinping is now emperor. He has centralized all power. Xi followed a disastrous zero-COVID policy that decimated the economy. Protests forced him to make a U-turn. A little after the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi abandoned his zero-COVID policy suddenly and dramatically.
China did not reopen in a phased manner. It went from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in less than five seconds. Chinese health authorities have admitted that 80% of the population has caught COVID since early December. This means 1.2 billion of China’s 1.41 billion people have caught COVID.
Official figures record a mere 72,000 deaths. There are lies, damned lies and statistics. And then there are Chinese statistics. This figure is patently and absurdly untrue. On January 22, the Chinese rang in the lunar new year. Family gatherings and temple visits shot up. So did COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
Just as in other parts of the world before, reports are coming in from around China about hospitals running out of beds, oxygen and drugs. It is clear that the Xi-led CCP failed to prepare for this COVID surge. They neither have the right vaccines nor the right drugs. China’s vaccine development and deployment is in deep doubt.
Many Chinese, Taiwanese and Japanese analysts observe that Xi’s and the CCP’s competence is now in question. Even two years earlier, few Chinese students criticized Xi. Now, almost all of them are critical of the emperor. Xi’s legitimacy and the CCP’s hegemony are now in question.
In 2022, China admitted that the country lost 850,000 people. This might mark the start of China’s relative decline. The days of fast economic growth based on cheap labor are over. This will make China a more dangerous actor on the global stage. External aggression has often been a diversionary tactic to overcome internal tension. Xi might find patriotism and Wolf Warrior diplomacy a useful tool to rally public support.
Over the last few years, China has been acting increasingly aggressively against its neighbors in general and Japan in particular. In 2021, a joint Chinese and Russian fleet circumnavigated Honshu, Japan’s largest island. No foreign fleet had ever done this. Last year, Chinese warships and Russian bombers operated near Japan.
In December, Japan released two important documents: National Defense Strategy and National Security Strategy. Both of them outline how Japan plans a more robust foreign and defense policy to counter China. Japan is also doubling its defense budget from 1% to 2% of the GDP over five years. This will make it the third biggest defense spender after the US and China.
Japan does not want any unilateral changes to the status quo and will work with allies to counter any unilateral moves. Japan also aims to deter any invasion. It is clear that zeitenwende—an epochal tectonic shift—has come to Japan instead of Germany. While the latter is still dilly dallying as the speakers discussed earlier, Japan has acted decisively.
The increase in Japanese defense achievement will see innovation in technology. Japan has the memory of making good stuff. The land of Toyota might create new unmanned vehicles that operate both in the air and in water. Japan might also give a fillip to the use of robots in war.
Carle takes a very upbeat view of Tokyo’s recent moves. Until now, Japan has been a subordinate ally of the US. Now, Japan is acting in Africa to counter the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It is no longer acting under the umbrella of the US but a strategic defense partner. It is no longer Pax Americana in Asia but it is an alliance that is fundamentally different from the past.
Japan is also investing big time in India. Osamu Suzuki invested in India, revolutionized India’s automobile industry and achieved historic success. More Japanese investment has followed in multiple industries. Japan is building the bullet train from Ahmedabad, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home city, to Mumbai, India’s business capital.
The Japanese are engaging with their allies from South Korea and Taiwan to Vietnam and India. The Quad—a group of Japan, India, Australia and the US—was the late Shinzo Abe’s idea when he was prime minister. In some ways, Xi’s actions have upset nearly all of China’s neighbors and gives Tokyo a historic opportunity to finally counter Beijing. Finally, Tokyo is reverting to the pre-1945 days when Japan was powerful and influential in Asia. At a time of historic shifts, the balance of power is changing profoundly.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.