China continues to face outrage from the political leadership of countries around the world in the backdrop of the Coronavirus Pandemic. The novel virus which originated somewhere in the unsanitary wet markets of the country’s Hubei province has till now claimed 37,815 deaths worldwide and as the impact of the Pandemic increases, so does the outrage against Beijing.
The Trump administration in the United States and the Boris Johnson government in the United Kingdom- both countries affected profoundly by the novel Wuhan virus have already hit out at China, with President Trump terming Coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” and the Johnson government officials alleging China of downplaying the infection by 15 to 40 times.
Now, Japan too seems to be getting disoriented towards Beijing, even as the number of Coronavirus cases in the country have witnessed a sudden spike after the Tokyo Olympics 2020 got postponed to next year recently. Now, with the number of cases rising in Japan’s capital, the authorities are asking people to stay home and even hinting at a possible lockdown.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe too has said that the country is on the brink of a major jump in the number of cases and the situation could escalate any time soon, with the country facing a difficult situation just like the United States and Europe.
Historically, Japan doesn’t share a very good relationship with Beijing. China-Japan relations have always been embittered with the memories of the Second World War when Tokyo’s germ assaults on China had caused widespread damage in the country. A resurgent China has been now reminding Japan of those excesses.
While in the recent past, the shadow of US-Japan ties has defined how Japan approaches China, Shinzo Abe already found himself in a spot of bother as far as his attempts to rebuild ties with China is concerned. With the Trump administration entering into trade tensions with Beijing, Abe found it hard to continue with his balancing act.
Even during the Coronavirus outbreak, Japan was initially able to contain the Pandemic and the infection rate remained quite low only about a couple of weeks ago, even though other countries like Iran, Italy and South Korea got severely affected. But it is the second wave of Coronavirus that seems to be causing a spike in cases in Japan.
Initially, Japan managed the Coronavirus outbreak without lockdowns and restrictions. Even minimal flight restrictions, even though Japan was one of the most immediately affected countries outside China as the Diamond Princess cruise got hit by Coronavirus.
But as the number of cases rose, Shinzo Abe found it difficult not to allow the outbreak to cast a shadow of gloom over bilateral relations with China. Beijing was keen to maintain warm ties with Tokyo, praising the latter for its attitude at a time when all other countries were calling it out over its gross mismanagement of the Wuhan virus.
Now, Japan has become more direct in its criticism of both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and China. The Japanese Deputy PM Taro Aso has even gone on to say that the World Health Organisation might have to change its name to “Chinese Health Organisation”, during a speech in Japanese Parliament on Thursday wherein he lent support to a petition terming Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus unfit for the role of the WHO chief.
Japan’s infuriation towards China is aggravated by the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics. The country was keen on ensuring that the multi-sports event does not get postponed. A Japanese official had even gone on to say that there was no “Plan B”. But owing to the Wuhan virus, Japan had to resort to “Plan B” which was at one time not even being considered.
Japan had invested heavily for the Olympic Games- 35 trillion yen ($12.35bn) to be precise and cancellation/ postponement of the Games meant major losses for the country. Now, it is clear that Japanese investments, or at least a sizeable portion thereof, would go down the drain.
Meanwhile, the narrative and discussions going on within the Japanese media are highly critical of China. While some reports accuse China of not reporting ‘43,000 silent Coronavirus carriers’, while another report featuring in JAPAN Forward titled, “Biological Weapons the Focus of China’s Military Research in the Last 20 Years” goes into how China has been focussing upon ‘Warfare beyond Rules’ and how military experts in China have been, for the last two decades, opining that while the United States leads the race in terms of cutting edge weapons, Beijing must be prepared to conduct “warfare beyond all boundaries and limitations to defend itself.”
The “Voices in Japan” section in Japan Today too had looked for people’s opinion last month while asking, “Some people believe the coronavirus is the result of a bioweapon lab experiment that got out of control? What do you think?”
And then there have been editorials quoted above about why Shinzo Abe will not be able to continue with his pitch for rebuilding stronger ties with Beijing in face of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Such editorials have been followed by the Deputy Prime Minister taking a dig at both the WHO and China for colluding and misleading the entire world about the magnitude of the Coronavirus outbreak.
In all certainty, Japan is the latest country after the US and UK to draw away from China on account of the Coronavirus Pandemic.