China’s militarism is on the rise, both at home and abroad. This is the message that has been sent out by the ongoing anti-Japan movement engineered and directed by the Communist Party.
On September 15, 2012, Chinese citizens in 83 cities staged massive rallies or parades to protest Japan’s alleged nationalization of the Diaoyu Islands (known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan). The following day, more Chinese cities joined the ensemble. Then it is said that more than 100 cities saw similar mass protests on September 18, 2012, which is the 81st anniversary of Japan’s attack and invasion of Northeastern China. Chinese widely regarded this day as the Day of National Shame.
However, the protests on September 15th and 16th differ from those on September 18th, as the first two days were marked by violence, looting, arson, and disorder, while September 18th was peaceful. What was the reason for this remarkable change? On September 18th, the Communist Party asked the police to monitor protesters and maintain order; whereas, during the first two days the police stood idly by while the “protesters” (which many suspect were plainclothes government provocateurs) went on violent binge.
On September 18th, the Communist Party dispatched even more paramilitary forces to maintain order. Once those paramilitary forces took the stage, the anti-Japan movement began to show its true colors. After the 1989 democracy movement, the deployment of paramilitary forces in the name of order on domestic scenes had never before reached such a scale. Their presence in the wake of the massive protests was both symbolic and substantive, signifying the increasing importance of the military and paramilitary forces in China’s society and polity.
Under the CCP, foreign policy usually has to do with domestic politics. The domestic component of the anti-Japan movement is even more important and pronounced than its foreign counterpart. Domestically, the CCP has a lot of reasons to worry about their monopoly on political power. The Chinese economy is weakening and the policies to address the economic ills are futile or, even worse, aggravating the economy. Rival factions within the CCP are deadlocked in a succession struggle, and as a result, the CCP has failed to determine the date of the 18th party congress, which had been widely expected to convene in October this year. Social discontent is boiling, and every aspect of life has been subject to increasingly harsh criticism from the Chinese people: education, health care, the environment, food safety, pension, housing, taxation, jobs, salaries, inflation, morality. Indeed, the permeating uneasiness, anxiety, and frustration within Chinese society need to be released in one way or another. A foreign target is ideal, and Japan perfectly meets that need. Japan is viewed by most Chinese as an archrival, especially in light of the cruelty committed by the Japanese during the long conflict with and occupation of China in the 1930s and 1940s. The wounds created have hardly vanished and feelings of suspicion and hatred among generations of Chinese have been accentuated by the CCP’s propaganda, both through its educational system and media outlets. The incessant CCP-directed media smearing campaign and the recent decision by the Japanese government to nationalize the disputed islands only compounded an already tense situation. As a result of all of this, the anti-Japan movement began to show its force on the street.
Riding on fabricated and exaggerated sentiments on the streets of China’s major cities, the Chinese military tried to project a more belligerent image. Mr. Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the party mouthpiece newspaper, the Global Times, and General Luo Yuan, a retired army major general, have both openly remarked that the Chinese military is ready to meet challenges from the Japanese. Their militant comments have thrust China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into the center of China’s foreign policy. The inevitability of war with Japan has become a common perception among the Chinese. The Chinese people are displaying anti-Japan banners, slogans, videos, and even commercials. Many are brazenly calling for war with Japan.
Militarily speaking, the hostility exhibited during the anti-Japan movement is symptomatic of the dominant but dormant jingoistic thought, which has been long inculcated by the CCP. Additionally, the relentless military buildup over the last several decades has raised the confidence of the militarist rank and file, as exemplified by the remarks of Messrs Hu and Luo. Whenever it meets the needs of the Chinese leadership, the dormant militarism will resurface as part of the party politics to either win broad popular support or solidify the party control, as is the case at this point of time in China.
The most telling signs are the posters of the late chairman, which in many parades were at the head of the marches of the demonstrators. The so-called “Mao Zedong Thought” has always been the prevailing ideology of the PLA. Unfortunately, the reincarnation of “Mao Zedong Thought” among the demonstrators led to such extreme and horrifying slogans and demands as “Kill All Japanese,” “Trample on Japan” and even “We would rather all Chinese die than let Japan occupy the Diaoyu Islands.” The Chinese PLA‘s hawkish stance and the popular anti-Japan sentiment converged on the Mao Zedong thought.
Is the world ready for the CCP’s atavistic regeneration in the image and thought of Mao Zedong?