Thursday, July 22, 2021



Yushan aka Jade Mountain aka Niitakayama


 Philip Cunningham

Independent Scholar 

(published in China-US Focus, July 20, 2021)  

Japan’s Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo wrote the preface for a recently released whitepaper that paints China as a threat to peace and “free world” values. He says that Japan should collaborate with Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, India, New Zealand, and the United States because of shared values and a military need to counter China’s rising might and assertiveness. 

"It expresses my determination as defense minister to protect the country, including values” such as freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights, he further said in defense of his country’s new strategic posture. 

In March, Defense Minister Kishi and Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu met with their American counterparts, Lloyd Austin and Antony Blinken in Tokyo for the so-called “two-plus-two talks” aimed at shoring up a U.S.-Japan scheme to counter China in defense of cultural values such as human rights. 

A month after trumpeting a “clash of civilisations” mentality worthy of the Cold War, Kishi visited Yonaguni, a remote Japanese island close to Taiwan. There, he stirred the already troubled South Sea waters when he said if Taiwan turns red, Japan has to be prepared. 

“Taiwan turns red” is not only dated but it’s a bigoted way of talking about a historic province of China that was colonized by Japan. It provocatively posits a red scare and a new domino theory, since Mainland China is nominally red and Taiwan isn’t. 

Known in Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as a loyal booster of Taiwan, Kishi most recently visited Taipei for the September 2020 memorial service of former leader Lee Teng-hui. 

“The peace and stability of Taiwan are directly connected to Japan,” Kishi said, “and we are closely monitoring ties between China and Taiwan, as well as Chinese military activity.” 

So, who is Kishi and why do his words carry weight? 

Kishi is Abe Shinzo’s younger brother. Although Abe has stepped off center stage, the hawkish tune being played in Tokyo hasn’t changed much; if anything, it has intensified. 

Kishi Nobuo, like his brother Shinzo, is an active member of the right-wing nationalist group Nippon Kaigi, but the two siblings also share a personal animus in their much-heralded drive to distort history and keep China at arm’s length. 

Both men are grandsons of convicted war criminal Kishi Nobusuke, who was known as the “monster of Manchuria” when he served in the World War II cabinet of Tojo Hideki. Munitions minister Kishi Nobusuke spent three years imprisoned as a Class-A war criminal, but was cynically rehabilitated due to his uncompromising anti-communist stance and actually went on to serve as Prime Minister with clandestine U.S. support. He is known for pushing through a controversial, widely-protested U.S.-Japan security treaty.  

Kishi Nubuo shares the same parentage as Shinzo, but was raised in the Kishi household by his childless uncle and infamous grandfather, so one might argue that he is even more a cut off the old block than Abe Shinzo, who himself made no secret of revering his “illustrious” grandfather. 

Kishi Nobusuke’s brother, Sato Eisaku, also served as Prime Minister from 1964 to 1972, during which time he visited Taipei and doubled down on Japan’s support for Taiwan, saying it was necessary to the defense of Japan. Sato’s ambitious grand-nephews, Abe Shinzo and Kishi Nobu both echo this stance today. 

The Nippon Kaigi, founded in 1997, represents the merger of two of Japan’s most strident ultranationalist groups with roots in the bitter aftermath of Tokyo’s eventual turn away from Taiwan. Its core tenets include revising the Peace Constitution to augment Japan’s war powers, rejecting the Tokyo Tribunal’s findings of war guilt, and valorizing Japan’s war dead at Yasukuni Shinto Shrine, all part of a coordinated program to stoke nationalism and strengthen Tokyo’s military determination to counter China. 

The influence of Nippon Kaigi on Sino-Japanese tensions remains profound. Not only has its policy plank been the source of headline tensions: comfort women, textbook revision, denying the Nanking massacre, instituting mandatory respect of the wartime flag and imperial anthem, but it also serves institutionally to thwart the possibility of good relations with Japan’s neighbors, especially China, even after a change in prime ministers. 

It should come as no surprise that former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is a combative member of this right-wing political cult, but it is still unsettling to realize that 15 out of 18 members of his third cabinet were also members. Other prominent LDP politicians with paid-up membership include current Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide, who previously served as Abe’s former chief cabinet secretary, and current deputy prime minister Aso Taro, who served briefly as Prime Minister. Aso shares with Abe and Kishi a direct blood relation to yet another influential post-war prime minister, Yoshida Shigeru. 

Right-wing firebrand Ishihara Shintaro is a member of Nippon Kaigi, along with a motley assortment of Nanjing massacre deniers, radical misogynists and even eccentric supporters of Hitler. 

Unsettling premonitions of tribalism and war are not coming from Japan-hawks alone. Secretary of State Blinken echoes much of the same bellicose rhetoric as his predecessor Mike Pompeo. Retired U.S. admiral and former NATO commander James Stavridis recently raised the unthinkable question of a U.S.-China war. 

“Who would prevail?” Stavridis asked. “At this moment, my money would still narrowly be on the U.S. military, but the trends are not moving in the right direction. The Pentagon will have to put more money and training toward cyberwarfare, employment of Special Forces at sea, unmanned vehicles, subsurface capabilities (both manned submarines and undersea drones); and air defenses against hypersonic cruise and ballistic missiles.” 

Echoing this fear, Kishi’s whitepaper states that “stabilising the situation surrounding Taiwan is important for Japan’s security and the stability of the international community. Therefore, it is necessary that we pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis more than ever before.” 

The strategic balance with Taiwan is said to be tipping heavily to the Chinese side and the gap is widening every year. 

Former Prime Minister Taro Aso recently lent support to Kishi’s bellicose pronouncements, saying Japan should join forces with the United States to defend Taiwan from any invasion. 

Taiwan has long been a sensitive issue for policy makers in Tokyo. It’s a former Japanese colony, 1895-1945, that was once seen as so integral to the empire of Imperial Japan that Taiwan’s highest peak, Yushan, officially eclipsed beloved Mount Fuji as the highest mountain in the realm. Dubbed Mount Niitaka, it’s very name in Japanese means the new high mountain. 

Japan lost control of Taiwan at the end of WW2 but continued to maintain strong ties in terms of trade and culture, building on personal links, corporate links and residual goodwill for what some might argue was Japan’s only successful colonial occupation. 

Japan adjusted to the shock of Nixon’s overture to China in 1972 by normalizing relations the same year and quietly jettisoning official links with Taiwan. In recent years however, in the aftermath of Tiananmen and other shocks from the mainland, Taiwan has regained some of its lost stature. It does not rise to the level of a strategic partner, but it serves as an informal foil to Beijing and as a destination for trade and tourism enriched by a long shared history.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021



Philip Cunningham

Independent Scholar
(published in China-US Focus, June 30, 2021)  

The mild-mannered Dr. Anthony Fauci is a much-maligned man. As a man of science who has entered the media arena, he has to suffer fools, some less gladly than others, but he usually manages to keep an even temper and a smile on his face, befitting a wise man of 80. 

Fauci’s quiet but firm deportment as a man of science famously put him at odds with President Trump and continues to rile anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists who make wild claims of a Wuhan lab-engineered virus without scientific logic, documentation or evidence. Fauci has been ludicrously accused of helping China to create and weaponize the virus. 

China, for reasons of geography, biology and wildlife, especially the bat population on its southern border, is a well-documented site of zoonotic transmission of viral contagions, entirely of natural origin, most notably the 2003 SARS outbreak. Still it can take years to track down the cause and mechanism of a new virus and the zoonotic transmission of COVID-19 has not yet been traced. 

Science can be slow and methodical but it is neutral and illuminating. Politicians, on the other hand, can be impetuous and impatient, as personified by the Trump administration, its lapdog media and fervent domestic supporters. Beijing has understandably taken umbrage from the prejudicial and overtly politicized attacks from Pompeo’s state department and Fox News, but that doesn’t mean the lab should go uninspected. 

In an age of competing nationalisms abroad and divisive partisanship at home, Dr. Fauci possesses the rare quality of quietly speaking the truth even if it is not to his political advantage. Although it would be humiliating for China to open up its Wuhan lab to a U.S. governmental inspection team, given the way U.S. populists have trumped up the so-called “Wuhan virus” to score political points, it would be reasonable to open the labs to Dr. Fauci and an independent team of respected scientists. He has not engaged in anti-China invective. Instead he gives praise where due to the work of his Chinese colleagues and finds it reasonable that the U.S. should, through funding and scientific exchange, support the work of the Wuhan lab. 

A respectful but rigorous inspection of the lab by dedicated scientists could squelch lab leak fantasies and assuage the rise of paranoia that threatens to thrust the U.S. and China deep into a cold war. 

As I prepared to join a group Zoom conversation with Dr. Fauci on June 8, 2021, a search for his name on Twitter produced among its top ten tweets the following entries from sitting members of the U.S. Congress: 

Sen. Marsha Blackburn: Dr. Fauci put Mark Zuckerberg and the CCP before American jobs and lives. He needs to go, now. 

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene: Earlier this year, I introduced H.R. 2316, the Fire Fauci Act. Should Fauci be fired? Do you agree? 

Rep. Matt Gaetz: “Dr. Anthony Fauci and his friends do not want the American people to know the truth about the origins of COVID-19.” 

Not only has his name been defamed by congress members, but at a New York City vaccination clinic that Fauci visited with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, anti-vax protesters called for him to be fired. Death threats, a feature of his life since the pandemic put him in the spotlight, have necessitated increased security for his family. 

Jeneen Interlandi of the New York Times, who hosted the Nieman Foundation Q&A, said that Fauci was sounding more forthright and emotional than usual, perhaps a reflection of the personal attacks in the latest media frenzy. 

Asked if he ever thought of resigning due to the vitriol and pressure he has been put under after clashing with Trump and Trump supporters, he said no. He respects the Presidency but didn’t want to play political games. He spoke out not only because he had his own reputation to consider but for fear of a vacuum of truthful information at the top. 

I asked him about MIT Broad Institute Fellow Alina Chan’s contention that a scientist should give equal weight to all possibilities, even extremely unlikely possibilities such as a lab leak. He reiterated that one has to allow for the possibility that a lab leak took place, but that even if there were a lab leak, it would not indicate a manufactured virus or bio-weapon. There is simply no evidence to support that, and the virus does not have those characteristics. The accidental transmission of a natural virus that infected someone in the lab is theoretically possible, but unknowable unless there was an examination. He added later that examining the health records of lab workers could help clear that up. 

When questioned about the location of the Wuhan lab, Fauci said it makes sense to locate research centers near the source of viral outbreaks. He cited SARS and related viruses traced to bat populations in China as prime examples of that. U.S. financial support was limited to about $125,000 a year, but such sharing of data and resources is important and necessary to tackle global issues such as a pandemic. 

He also stressed that lockdowns, masks and social distancing were key mitigations in slowing spread, but now that vaccines are available and have proven effective, widespread vaccination is the only way forward. 

But anti-vaxxers, who can be a hostile gutter media and recalcitrant die-hard supporters of Trump stand in the way. Trump continues to rail against Fauci, while Fox News host Tucker Carlson calls him the “patron saint of Wuhan” and insinuates that he instituted “medical martial law” to dampen questioning about his funding of experiments that released the virus.

Fauci insists that the U.S. has enough vaccines for its population and that he can see no reason why it shouldn’t be able to get the whole population vaccinated. But danger remains if the virus is not stopped elsewhere, which is why a global problem needs a global solution. It’s not only the right ethical thing to do but in the interests of the U.S. that people in countries without access to the vaccine get protection, even if it costs “billions and billions” of dollars. 

The thing that keeps him up at night is not the pot shots of the gutter press or even the name-calling, calls to resign and threats against his person, but a long-held theoretical fear that has sadly come true. 

Ever since he started working on pandemic research around 30 years ago, he said his greatest fear was that one day there would be an animal-to-man jump of a highly contagious virus with high morbidity and mortality that would spread around the world. But while he is now confronting the reality of Covid-19, the materialization of his long-held fear, he continues to navigate the road back to normalcy with science, logic, and grace.