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2020.03.09

Novel Pneumonia: Chinese People Who Are Deeply Grateful to Japan - What is in the honest hearts and minds of the Japanese and Chinese people has gone unreported by the Japanese media

The article was originally posted on JBpress on February 19, 2020

  • Kiyoyuki SEGUCHI
  • Research Director
    Kiyoyuki SEGUCHI
  • [Expertise]
    Chinese Economy and Relations among Japan/China and the United States

1.The extent to which infections of novel coronavirus have spread

The number of people infected with novel coronavirus COVID-19 has begun to spread rapidly within Japan as well, with new information being conveyed in great detail through daily news reports.

During this time, the number of people infected by COVID-19 has continued to climb within China.

As of February 15, the total number of people infected came to 68,500 (56,249 of which were in Hubei Province), while the number of people suspected of having been infected came to 8,228 (5,243 of which were in Hubei Province), the number of fatalities had reached 1,665 (1,596 of which were in Hubei Province), and the number that had recovered came to 9,419 (5,623 of which were in Hubei Province).

Performing a simple calculation of the fatality rate from this data shows this to be 2.4% throughout China as a whole, 2.8% in Hubei Province, and 0.6% outside of Hubei Province.

As this indicates, major discrepancies have appeared in the extent of the infections and fatality rates within Hubei Province and those outside of it.

However, novel virus COVID-19 is characterized by the fact that there are many cases of people not exhibiting symptoms despite being infected by the disease, or else recovering despite exhibiting mild symptoms. Because of this, it has been estimated that the actual number of people infected by it far surpasses the figures mentioned above, and thus its fatality rate is quite low.

According to explanations by experts presented by multiple media outlets, every year approximately 10 million people are infected by influenza in Japan, of which approximately 10,000 pass away for a fatality rate of around 0.1%.

While the fatality rate from COVID-19 is higher than this, it is considerably lower than the fatality rate from the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic that struck China in 2003 of 9.6%. It is close to that of common influenza. When seen in this light, the long-term picture is likely not as frightening as SARS, MERS, Ebola hemorrhagic fever or other infectious diseases that have a far higher mortality rate.

However, since no vaccine exists for it as of this point in time, and there is insufficient testing equipment as well, there is still a great deal of unease.

It is important that people maintain a strict regimen of hand-washing and gargling for the sake of prevention, and that they augment their resistance by staying in good health in order to prevent the illness from increasing in severity.


2.Impact on the Chinese economy

The impact that the spread of infections of COVID-19 will have on the Chinese economy is unpredictable at this point in time.

Some companies reopened for business starting from February 10, but many companies have limited this to a partial reopening of business, or stated that they will reopen their businesses or factories starting from the 17th onward.

As a result, it is as of yet still unknown to what degree this will negatively impact production, investment, employment, consumption, and other indicators.

Until the economic statistics for February are released in mid-March, it will be difficult to estimate the impact this will have on the Chinese economy in a quantitative sense.

Therefore, it will take at least about a month until the impact this will have on the economy becomes apparent, and until then we will most likely not get a clear picture of what is going on.

If the period until the spread of infections quiets down stretches on into the future, then it will be some time beyond that before we get a complete view of the impact it will have.


3.The impact of COVID-19 on the dismissal of top leaders in Hubei Province and Wuhan

On February 13, the administration of Xi Jinping dismissed Jiang Chaoliang (age 62), the Communist Party Secretary to Hubei Province, and Ma Guoqiang (age 56), the Communist Party Secretary to the city of Wuhan.

The main cause for this is thought to be because these men were slow to take the necessary measures to curb the spread of infections from COVID-19, thus allowing it to spread.

Former Secretary Jiang Chaoliang has a history of consecutively serving in important, management-level posts at the People's Bank of China (an organization that is equivalent to the Bank of Japan in Japan), the China Development Bank, the Agricultural Bank of China, and more. He is an expert on financial matters, to the point that it is claimed he was a candidate for the position of Governor of the People's Bank of China.

On the other hand, former Secretary Ma Guoqiang was a former chairman at Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., Ltd., which is the largest iron and steel manufacturer in China, and thus is well-versed in the management of state-owned enterprises.

Seen from the perspective of their personal resumes, these two formed a pair with actual capabilities and competency that were among the top class throughout China's provinces and cities with respect to financial and economic matters.

As Wuhan is home to a great many inefficient state-owned enterprises, there had been high hopes that the two men would be able to serve as a driving force when it came to reforming these state-owned enterprises in order to rebuild the local economy.

However, their experience in responding to the risk of infectious diseases like this current one was inadequate, and as such it is unfortunate that they were unable to respond to it quickly and appropriately.

Their successors are Ying Yong (age 62), the Mayor of Shanghai, who assumed the role of the Communist Party Secretary to Hubei Province, and Wang Zhonglin (age 57), the Communist Party Secretary to the city of Jinan in Shandong Province, who assumed the same role for the city of Wuhan.

An important question for the future will be whether they are able to bring their skills and capabilities to bear on the administration of economic policy over the short and medium-term when it comes to rebuilding the economic society and promoting reforms of state-owned enterprises in Hubei Province and Wuhan after the spread of COVID-19 has been halted.

First responding to COVID-19 is the highest priority. But after it has been halted, there are extremely important policy matters for how to go about ensuring the stability of the Chinese economy, and by extension the foundations of the Xi Jinping administration. These include issues like economic policy management to return the regional economy to its normal and proper course, promoting reforms of state-owned enterprises over the medium-term, and so forth.


4.Impact on the political foundations of the Xi administration

The reporting by the Japanese media and some of its critiques have raised criticisms of the Xi Jinping administration related to its handling of COVID-19 that have been posted to social media sites in China. Numerous articles and comments emphasizing the enormity of the blow this will deal to the political foundations of the Xi Jinping administration have been seen.

Yet it cannot be said that these are accurate means of analyzing the current situation in China. This is clear if you call to mind the information posted to social media sites and reporting from the media within Japan.

In Japan, the administration of Shinzo Abe has been engulfed in a maelstrom of criticism over problems like the Moritomo and Kake scandals and the resignation of cabinet ministers, but its approval ratings will recover in a short while.

It is often the case in circumstances like this that, generally speaking, many of the opinions being expressed on social media are more extreme compared with those from the media's reporting, and are therefore not that credible.

This same phenomena occurs in every country. Of course, in China stringent controls are imposed on media reporting, and as such news from its media has little credibility.

Yet having said that, if you were to judge the contents of posts made to social media in terms of the rationales for their arguments, you could not necessarily claim that they exhibit a calm, composed stance.

It is worth noting that evaluations of the Xi Jinping administration in relation to this novel virus problem will likely be largely governed by the results of its policy responses taken as part of its moves toward normalizing economic activity in the future.

We won't know for sure until we see how things turn out a while from now. It would be premature to try to pass judgment right now.


5.Japanese media outlets do not report on China's gratitude

Ever since the issue of this novel virus surfaced in late January, every segment of Japan has been sending sincere, cordial support to China in both a physical and psychological sense.

On January 26, Minister for Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi conveyed the message to the Chinese side that, "We will provide the utmost level of support for any areas in which our cooperation can help to prevent the spread of the infection."

On the 28th, Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan said, "This is a country that we enjoy friendly relations with in our everyday activities. So if there is something we can do for them--our sentiment is that we will lend them a hand the same way you would for a neighbor that has suffered a fire or come down with a sudden illness."

Around this same time, Ito-Yokado donated 1 million face masks to the city of Chengdu, while Tsumura provided a donation of 5 million yen to the Chinese embassy.

Elementary school students have sent masks accompanied by video messages, and in the streets of Ikebukuro a young Japanese woman wearing Chinese dress has held fundraising drives for donations by handing out honey.

When I myself have directly inquired after the opinions of people from the younger generation, including everyone from people in their 20s down to elementary school students, they have only ever expressed sentiments abounding with consideration for the plight of the Chinese people, and a desire to somehow help them to recover from this as quickly as possible.

Many Chinese citizens have become aware of this sort of warm, considerate approach by the Japanese people through social media, and have offered their heartfelt thanks in response.

Yet in the Japanese media and from comments on social media sites one could see numerous articles and comments subtly hinting that the declarations of profound gratitude towards Japan from the Chinese side were a performance put on ahead of President Xi Jinping's visit to Japan, and casting doubt on whether or not the Chinese people actually feel this way.

In addition, such reporting and comments have emphasized problems like the mistakes in the initial response of the Chinese government, the concealment of data regarding the extent of the infections by the Chinese government, and the severe blow this will deal to the Chinese economy. They have also devoted a substantial amount of time to circulating news and comments hoping that this will prove damaging to the administration of Xi Jinping. There has been very little in the way of news conveying the enormous gratitude towards Japan that is widespread throughout the entirety of China.

This editorial stance by the media stands in contrast to the considerate and compassionate attitude that many of the Japanese people have expressed towards China.

In this sense, it cannot be said that reporting by the Japanese media is an accurate indication of what is in the hearts and minds of either the Japanese or Chinese people.


6.The future course of Japan will be charted by the younger generation

In response to this sort of editorial stance from the media, there have also been a great many Japanese people making comments that are critical or insulting of China from a similar standpoint.

Yet a comparatively large share of people from the younger generation view the suffering of the Chinese people with the same sentiment as they would goings-on in Japan.

There are many people who are concerned about the Chinese with a sentiment similar to the consideration shown to people throughout Japan suffering from disasters such as the Great East Japan Earthquake, heavy rainfall disasters, typhoons, and more.

One conceivable reason for this is that the length of time that the younger generation has been viewing media reporting is comparatively shorter, and therefore they are less prone to be influenced by it.

One gets the feeling that another reason for this lies in differences in the degree to which globalization has influenced their fundamental awareness in how they perceive things.

People in their twenties and younger have only ever lived in a world operating under the major premise of a globalized economy, society, and culture since the time they were infants. As a result, it is likely that they have naturally come to internalize only a scant awareness of the boundaries separating their own country from other countries.

In recent years, the active roles played by athletes in sports like soccer, baseball and basketball, as well as culinary chefs and pastry chefs, in other countries have been particularly striking.

Japanese cultural leaders that the younger generation pays attention to, such as anime illustrators, musicians, and dancers, are routinely active globally to a much greater extent than ever before.

The fans of such globally-active individuals can share their excitement and passion with one another across national borders and without distinction for whether one is Japanese, Chinese, Asian, or a Westerner.

Sharing such excitement and passion with one another via social media has become an everyday occurrence. In day-to-day communication, dialog that transcends national boundaries is taking place without any awareness of people's nationality.

It is likely that these sorts of differences in people's regular mindset brought about by the impacts of globalization underpinned by the development of IT have led to differences in their fundamental attitudes in the way they see things as described above.

Yet despite the sustained critical coverage of China by the Japanese media and the controls imposed on the Chinese media by its government, in this age of globalization it is difficult to get young people to all think and feel about things in the same way.

They see other's sadness as their own personal sadness, and other's joy as their own personal joy. It was their parents, teachers, and elders who taught Japan's younger generation the fundamentals of this compassionate mindset.

The younger generation, who have learned from this and soundly internalized it in their own way, honestly convey their thoughts and feelings to a world lacking the distinctions produced by national boundaries.

This appears to be the new vision of Japan of the Reiwa Era.

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