Japan, China and Taiwan in a Time of Turbulence
An Interview with June Teufel Dreyer, a Professor of Political Science and East Asia Specialist

After President Trump won the election, world politics started changing. For instance, last December, then President-elect Trump received a phone call from Tsai Ing-wen, the President of Taiwan. This caused great controversy in East Asian politics. To better understand current affairs in the East Asia region, we interviewed Professor Dreyer, one of the most prominent experts on Taiwan in the U.S. She shared with us some very insightful views on politics in the region.

June Teufel Dreyer, Ph.D.

June Teufel Dreyer is Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami. Formerly, Professor Dreyer was a senior Far East specialist at the Library of Congress. She has also served as Asia policy advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations and as commissioner of the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission established by the U.S. Congress.


Motohisa Fujii

Director General of International Politics Division, Happy Science

Fujii: First of all, could you talk about your latest book on China and Japan titled, The Middle Kingdom and Empire of the Rising Sun?

Dreyer: The reason I wanted to write this book is that there’s too much emphasis from China on saying if Japan only apologizes enough for World War II, then China and Japan will be friends. But this is not true. In fact, there’s been a lot of tension between China and Japan from the beginning of their relations. Therefore, the simple act of an apology will not make these past problems go away.

One of the issues is that there has never been a strong China at the same time there’s a strong Japan. Now you have a very strong China and a strong Japan. That is the root of a lot of frictions recently. I think the Chinese government is behaving very badly. There is no apology Japan can give that will satisfy the Chinese government, because in fact it’s useful for them to have Japan as an enemy. I think that the Chinese leadership feels very insecure, because a lot of Chinese are very unhappy with what’s going on in China. Naturally, they have a tendency to blame the government. I think you see this right now in Xi Jinping trying very hard to consolidate his power.


Will the Xi Jinping Era Last?

Dreyer: I read recently that he hopes to change the informal rule to have people retire when they’re 68. This is said to be perhaps a precedent so that Xi Jinping will not have to step down after the twentieth National Congress, at which time he will be past 68. He has to resign as President, because that is in the Constitution. However, he could stay on as Party General Secretary, and he could stay on as Head of the Central Military Commission. Of course, he has a very big ego, so that’s one reason he wants to stay on.

Another reason is he thinks China needs a strong leader to bring about economic restructuring. There are a lot of vested interests in China who don’t want to permit this. So he thinks, if he gets control of more power, then he can do this. But of course, the more power he controls, the more people in China become resentful of him. It reminds me of the concept in “yin and yang” theory that the sun at midday contains within it the seeds of its own destruction, because you know that night is coming. So the more powerful Xi Jinping gets the more his domestic enemies want to stop him.


Who Will Succeed Abe?

Fujii: What is your view on Japan? I think under the Abe administration, Japan is now experiencing a political turning point.

Dreyer: The problem with turning points is, they can turn back again. I remember when Reagan was the president Japan and the United States had a very warm relationship. They called each other “Ron” and “Yasu”. Then under Koizumi, also they had very good relations. But after Nakasone and Koizumi retired, relations got bad again. The Democratic Party always wanted better relations with China, and it didn’t work. Now, we have an excellent Japanese Prime Minister, but I worry about who will succeed Abe. It could be another very weak person.

So, I try reading all these newspapers. I like Yomiuri and Sankei. I will say that the Asahi Shimbun makes me very angry. I feel it is important to read people that you don’t necessarily agree with. So, I read it anyway. Suppose, for example, Renho should become Prime Minister?


Comfort Women as a Political Lever

Fujii: For many years there have been perception issues between Japan and China. What do you think about that?

Dreyer: The problem with the comfort women is, first of all, that some of these women really were treated very badly. However on the other hand, it’s also become a political lever for certain politicians.

Fujii: Yes, exactly.

Dreyer: I saw this very clearly in Taiwan, because there are now only three of the comfort women still alive.[since we met, another of the women have died, so now there are only two. Perhaps we want to change this?. Both surviving ladies are aboriginals and live in Hualien]The former President of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, decided to open a museum for the comfort women. He wanted to be very friendly with China. That meant being very unpleasant to Japan. I think that the same kind of thing works in Korea. But China is the real problem.


Taiwan as a Nation

Fujii: What is your view on Taiwan? In 1996, Lee Teng-hui was elected as the Taiwan president in the national election.

Dreyer: Lee Teng-hui was the first “popularly” elected president. I think he is a very remarkable man. He speaks beautiful Japanese. The last time I saw him was in his office in Taiwan. He began speaking in English. Then, he said: “Do you mind if I speak Japanese, instead?” I could hardly say “no”. I know many people have said they think his Japanese is much better than his Mandarin.

Fujii: Taiwan is one of the major developed countries in Asia.

Dreyer: One of the four tigers.

Fujii: Yes, from the 80s. I think Taiwan made much more progress than China.

Dreyer: It seems to me that credit for development in Taiwan, goes partly to Japan, partly to the United States, and also partly to the Taiwanese people because they work very hard. Mostly they are afraid of what China will do if China took over. So I admire the Taiwanese people a great deal.

I think the experience of having been a colony of Japan was also very important, because Japan introduced a modern education system. In fact, they educated many of the leading Taiwan independence advocates like Peng Ming-min. He says he first came across the definition of a nation when he was studying as a young man in Japan. He read Ernest Renan, who said that a nation is a shared community. He said, “Ah, Taiwan is a shared community and it’s not China.”


The Effect of Japanese Rule

Dreyer: Then, Chiang Kai-shek came in and he was not popular. He did some very bad things. The Taiwanese people just commemorated the anniversary of the February 28 1947 massacre. At least Taiwan did not have to live through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Many of these Taiwanese nationalists escaped from Chiang Kai-Shek, and went to either Japan or the United States. They came back and helped establish democracy in Taiwan. So the great success story of Taiwan is due to the Taiwanese people. But it also owes a great deal to Japan and the United States.

Fujii: Historically, Japan invested a lot in East Asian countries. What do you think was positive about that?

Dreyer: At the time Japan made a colony out of Taiwan there was no stigma attached to colonialism. The British were colonials. The French were establishing colonies. Italy would like to have established colonies but it didn’t succeed. So, Japan was not doing anything that the Western powers weren’t doing.


Independent Taiwan

Fujii: Last December, Trump talked on the phone with the Taiwanese president. It seemed to be Trump’s endorsement of the independence of Taiwan.

Dreyer: I hope there will be better U.S.-Taiwan relations. China thinks everything is a possible endorsement of Taiwan’s independence. But in fact, Taiwan is independent.

Fujii: Yes, that’s Tsai Ing-wen’s policy.

Dreyer: It is exactly. I first met Tsai Ing-wen at around 1986. Immediately, I was impressed with her. She’s a very smart lady. She speaks very carefully. She doesn’t say anything without thinking first what the consequences are.

Certainly, I approve of that telephone call. What I did not like was when he first said “Well, the One China Policy is negotiable.” Then he was acceding to Xi Jinping’s wishes and accepted the “One China” policy. But he was very careful to say, it’s America’s “One China” policy, which is not the same as China’s “One China” policy. Of course, Japan has the same “One China” policy as the United States. That is, that the status of Taiwan is not resolved. The United States and Japan are aware that the Chinese think there is just one China and its capital is Beijing, but we have not accepted it.


THAAD Deployment in Korea

Fujii: Another current issue is with Korea. President Park Geun-hye was impeached. And the half-brother of Kim Jong-un was assassinated in Malaysia.

Dreyer: Apparently, Korea still wants to have THAAD, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence. I had thought that Ms. Park’s opposition party did not want THAAD. But THAAD is still on track. However, I think this opposition party wants better relations with China. So we will see who the next president is and what happens. But it is a very shaky situation. On the other hand, South Korea should be very wary of North Korea, particularly after this assassination.

Fujii: Why do you think Ms. Park changed South Korea’s policy to allow for the THAAD deployment?

Dreyer: Actually, I don’t know how hard the Obama administration pushed her to take a harder line on China. Because I don’t think Obama paid much attention to Asia at all. I think he has allowed China to essentially take over the South China Sea. I don’t think he made enough of a protest when China declared an Air Defence Identification Zone that included the Diaoyu / Senkaku Islands. He was concerned with the Middle East.


A Possible Flashpoint

Fujii: In modern history Korea was a very critical country in geopolitics, such as by causing the Sino-Japanese War. And now most of the Korean presidential candidates seem to be anti-Japan.

Dreyer: If you talk to the Chinese, Korea is a dagger point straight at the heart of Beijing. Korea is a possible flashpoint for China and Japan. For me, the Korean tail is wagging the Chinese and the Japanese dogs. Japan no longer wants to intervene in Korean politics. Whereas China has no problem intervening in Korean politics. It amuses me that the Chinese are always talking about “the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence,” one of which is, “We never interfere in the domestic politics of another country.” But of course, they do it all the time.


The Chinese Government Is not “Communist”

Fujii: For several decades, China has been ruled by the Communist Party…

Dreyer: Communist in name. Capitalist in truth

Fujii: So, what is your opinion on the political regime in China?

Dreyer: I don’t see them as Communist. I see this as an authoritarian government, hiding behind the name “Communist”. They can’t get rid of it, because the ruling party is the Chinese Communist Party. If they say “well, we’re not Communists”, then there is no legitimacy to the continued rule of the Party. So I see this as an authoritarian self-perpetuating group trying to keep itself in power. It will do whatever it takes.


Will China Democratize?

Fujii: President Xi Jinping seems to be trying to go back to the Mao Zedong era. Do you think China could democratize in the near future, like Taiwan and Japan?

Dreyer: No, I don’t think it will voluntarily democratize. I don’t see that happening. China looked as if it were going to democratize prior to 1989. After those demonstrations in 1989, the Chinese government said, in essence,”Enough! We can’t let this get out of hand, and we have to impose very strong controls.” They thought at the beginning that they could have a market economy with a very strong political leadership. That has proved very difficult. So now they’re moving back towards strong state control of the economy.


The Chinese Bubble May Soon Burst

Fujii: How do you see the Japanese in the post war era?

Dreyer: It seemed to me that the Japanese had regained their self-confidence, through a lot of hard work and a little bit of help from the United States in helping the economy recover. After the bursting of the bubble, the Japanese economy has never recovered to what it used to be. But Japan is now a developed economy, and it’s doing very well. A real example of resilient Japan is after the 3/11 disaster. It was devastating, and horrifying. Yet the Japanese pulled together and the area is recovering. This says something wonderful about the Japanese people.

I admire Japan so much. I think that China is really not like that. I think the Chinese bubble may soon burst, because the financial system is very shaky. You see tremendous capital flight out of the country. There are too many ways around the restrictions that are meant to curtail capital flight . The Chinese Central Bank is trying to get people to stop it, but that is very difficult.

Right now there is a mysterious person who made millions of dollars in the Macau casinos, and they can’t find him. We know that the Macau casinos have been used to launder money to get it out of China. This will keep on going. So China’s most astute investors are finding ways to get their money out. They must know something. There’s also a terrible pollution problem: in many cities at certain times a year you can hardly breathe.


The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Fujii: We published a book on Lee Teng-hui, titled “Japan! Regain Your Samurai Spirit” from Happy Science. Do you have any comments about him?

Dreyer: Well, I think he would like Japan to regain its Samurai spirit. I was also very familiar with Yukio Mishima. He was a very wise man as well as a brilliant writer. He never said he wanted Japan to be a militant country. What he said is that the Japanese character is a blend of the Chrysanthemum and the Sword. So that Japan has a wonderful aesthetic sense and also a great martial spirit. If you don’t have both of those, then you don’t have the essence of what makes Japan great.

Fujii: My last question. I hear that you knew the late Ambassador Hisahiko Okazaki well. Would you like to comment about him?

Dreyer: Yes. He was a great influence on me, because he was willing to say things about China that are true, which most people did not say. I actually met him in Taiwan. I was immediately intrigued because the Japanese are often afraid to say what they mean. Okazaki was very different. He said exactly what he meant.

Fujii: Thank you so much for the interview.

Japan, China and Taiwan in a Time of Turbulence
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