Even with Zhou Niu’s Arrest, the Japanese Media’s “China Illusion” Apparently Won’t Go Away

Even with Zhou Niu’s Arrest, the Japanese Media’s “China Illusion” Apparently Won’t Go Away


By Hideomi Tanaka, Professor, Faculty of Business and Information Studies, Jobu University

 China’s “madness” is only expanding. On the evening of August 10, the Hong Kong police arrested Agnes Chow, a symbol of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, on suspicion of violating Hong Kong’s National Security Law. For the past few days, Ms. Zhou had been reporting on Facebook that there were many suspicious people around her home in the suburbs of Hong Kong. It is likely that he was already under police surveillance.

 At least nine people, including Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Digital, which publishes the Shohin Daily, a Hong Kong newspaper that has contributed to the spread of the pro-democracy movement internationally, and the paper’s president, had just been arrested for violating the same law.

 Mr. Zhou also wrote on Facebook, “What happened to Apple today may happen again in the future. He may have foreseen the repercussions for himself.

 The next day, the night of the 11th, the police released Mr. Zhou on bail. Mr. Li is also expected to be released on bail soon. After coming out of the police station, Mr. Zhou held a press conference where he revealed that his passport had been confiscated and said, “I don’t understand why I was arrested at all. It’s political oppression,” he said.

 However, the details of the charges against Mr. Zhou and Mr. Li are still unknown. The National Security Law was enacted and came into effect on June 30. Since then, the two men have not been conspicuously politically active.

 According to a Hong Kong newspaper, the charge against Mr. Lei is that he “endangered national security by colluding with foreign forces,” which is prohibited under Article 29 of the National Security Law. However, as many media reports and experts have pointed out, neither Mr. Li nor Mr. Zhou has committed any suspected acts since the enforcement of the National Security Law.

 If there is any doubt, there is only one. The National Security Law does not cover words and deeds said or done before the law came into effect, but the suspicion arises that the Hong Kong Police Force itself has arbitrarily, or in other words, haphazardly applied the law.

 Moreover, the will of the Chinese government to have the Hong Kong authorities act in such a way is itself illegal. In other words, it is the Chinese government itself that is committing the crime. In this case, “the law” does not mean some silly law like the National Security Law. It is a law that protects freedom of speech and expression as commonly accepted in the international community.

Mr. Zhou Niu (left) speaks at a press conference in front of a police station in Hong Kong after being released on bail on August 11, 2020 (photo by Kinya Fujimoto)

 Probably, the law will be interpreted quite broadly in the future, and the “charges” against Zhou and others will be made up. It is important to note that the application of the National Security Law extends to other citizens operating overseas.

 In particular, there is a possibility of harm to media personnel and public speakers. The possibility of harm itself will have the effect of delegitimizing foreign media and speech. There is no doubt that China’s aim is to check the world’s media.

Journalist Kaori Fukushima accurately pointed this out on her Twitter page.

 The CCP’s threats are directed at us, the media. Foreign journalists will be put on the brakes even to take comments from Hong Kong citizens in the future. It is an intimidation to the foreign media to make it a crime of incitement to take an interview. It is an attempt to control not only the media of China and Hong Kong but also the foreign media.

 And the arrest of Mr. Zhou and others this time will be a response to the rising confrontation between the U.S. and China. On the 7th of this month, the Trump administration designated 11 Hong Kong government officials, including Secretary of State for Administration Carrie Lam, and Chinese Communist Party officials for sanctions, freezing their assets in the US and banning them from doing business with US citizens. In response, the Chinese side also announced that 11 people, including a U.S. senator and a representative of an international human rights organization, had been placed under sanctions.

 The timing of the sanctions also coincided with the appearance of what appeared to be police personnel around Zhou’s home. As Yosuke Naito, a postal scientist and an expert on international propaganda (the use of information for national interests), points out in his blog, the arrest of Zhou and others is probably an extension of this retaliation against the US.

 In addition, the Trump administration sent Health and Human Services Secretary Azar to Taiwan. This is the first visit to Taiwan by a U.S. cabinet member in six years.

 The ostensible reason for the visit was to exchange information with Taiwan, which has made remarkable achievements in controlling the new coronavirus. However, it is clear that the U.S. has its own agenda to check China’s growing military threats to the South China Sea, the Senkaku Islands, and Taiwan.

 The Chinese side has also escalated its criticism of the U.S. through the Communist Party-affiliated media, and the Chinese Air Force has been threatening to invade Taiwanese airspace. Of course, we must not forget China’s daily incursions into the Senkaku Islands and the upcoming concern about the “illegal operation card” using Chinese private fishing boats.

President Tsai Ing-wen (right) and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Azar (left) meet at the Taiwan Presidential Office on August 10, 2020 (Courtesy of Taiwan Presidential Office, Kyodo)

 Everything is interlinked. Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Senkakus are not proceeding in isolation. The arrest of Zhou and others is not only a means of suppressing speech in Hong Kong, but also, as Fukushima pointed out, a means of jeopardizing press freedom in foreign media.

 Here, however, I encountered a surprising revelation when TV Asahi’s “News Station” reported on the meeting between Secretary Azar and President Tsai on the evening of March 10.

 After reporting on the rising tensions between the U.S. and China, one of the regular commentators first said, “I would like to ask Taiwan to refrain from doing so. He immediately added, “Self-restraint by the U.S., China, and Taiwan,” but I was more surprised than anything that the comment asking for “self-restraint by Taiwan” was given priority.

This kind of “self-restraint” is probably the attitude that the Chinese government is most looking for in the foreign media. It is also clear that “Ho-Ste” has little awareness of the fact that, as mentioned earlier, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Senkaku issue are all linked, and not only that, that China’s foreign operations are becoming increasingly radical.

 Currently, protests with the hashtag #FreeAgnes are gaining momentum on the Internet. Of course, we should protest as much as we can.

 However, I can’t help but feel that many of the “liberal” commentators in Japan who are promoting the hashtag movement are a bit thin-skinned. This is because these “liberal gestures” believe that the Chinese government is based on the same values and political views as we are.

 Some “liberal” intellectuals are asking the Chinese government to be aware that it is a “great power,” but this is really foolish. The only thing that makes China a “superpower” is its greed for money and its inclination toward tyrannical behavior, and in that sense, its growing size. Therefore, rational persuasion that requires China to behave according to the same values as ours is nothing but an illusion.

 From now on, the Chinese government will continue to push forward with its foreign propaganda efforts. While there may be some manipulation on the Internet, what we should be wary of is the suppression of speech through government offices and universities. Moves to refrain from or ban criticism of the Chinese government as a “discriminatory act” are the most alarming. On this point, I would like to recommend that you read the following books during your Bon vacation.

 The first is “China’s Great Propaganda” (Fusosha) by economist and journalist Qing Ren Ka, which Mr. Fukushima translated. This book describes in detail the history and methods of China’s foreign propaganda operations.

 The other book is “Intelligence and Conservatism” (Seirindo) by critic Michiro Esaki. Mr. Esaki is a leading expert in this field who has emphasized the importance of intelligence. In this book, he also analyzes China from a variety of perspectives, stating that “war begins with propaganda warfare. This book is a must-have for thinking about Japan’s domestic policies in the future.

Democratic activist Zhou Ting appears in court in Hong Kong’s Kowloon District on August 5, 2020 (Kyodo)

 Recent studies in economics have shown that when conflicting claims and the likes of fake news come out, whether the information is actually correct or fake, many people become skeptical of both. In other words, the more manipulative propaganda becomes, the more likely it is that people will find it difficult to access the truth. We call this “skeptical indiscrimination.

 Fortunately, public opinion in Japan has not yet fallen into a situation of “skeptical indiscrimination” against China. But the danger is likely to grow stronger by the day.

 Perhaps, from now on, Japanese speech and public opinion will face a decisive and serious phase with regard to China. It is important to have an axis that will not waver at that time. I would like to urge all readers to refer to the writings and statements of Mr. Fukushima, Mr. Naito, Mr. Ezaki, and others mentioned in this article, and from there to further decipher the future situation with their own eyes.

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