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NEW YORK — Japan has been in an uproar since five of its citizens who were abducted by North Korean agents more than 20 years ago were allowed to return home Oct. 15. But an even more ominous event for the country, though not prominently reported by the mass media, occurred last month: the “kidnapping” of Keio University and Japan by China, robbing the two of their independence.

It has been a two-stage process: China first “kidnapped” Keio and then Japan — the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to be more exact.

According to a Japanese daily newspaper, in early October the Keio University student club Keizai Shinjin Kai announced plans to invite former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, a highly respected figure in Japan, to give a lecture at the Mita Festival, an annual event on campus.

Keio set out to stop the plan. It feared that a lecture by Lee, whom China considers a big obstacle in its effort to reunite with Taiwan, would damage its exchange programs with China. Keio’s fear was not groundless, for it received a warning to that effect by the vice president of its affiliated university in China as well as an ominous inquiry about the Lee visit from the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo.

Keio embarked on several steps, mostly indirect and behind the scenes, to stop Lee:

(1) A professor who sits on the university board of trustees’ executive committee made the first of several contacts with the student club, advising it to cancel the lecture. Keio’s administrative guidance, so to speak.

(2) University officials scolded student club leaders Nov. 5, saying the invitation to Lee was made without prior consultation and violated university neutrality.

(3) On Nov. 7, the Mita Festival Committee — no doubt under university pressure — notified the student club of its decision to deny the use of a university hall for the Lee lecture.

(4) The Mita Festival Committee, realizing that the student club was determined to carry out its plan anyway, formally canceled the Lee lecture as a festival event altogether and sent a written notification to the club on Nov. 13.

(5) Keio then claimed the student-run Mita Festival Committee — not the university — took action to cancel the Lee lecture.

The episode seemed to exhibit Keio’s knuckling under to China’s political interference. If so, Keio has violated three universally upheld principles: university independence, academic freedom and student-club autonomy. It appears the university — not the student club — violated university neutrality.

Yukichi Fukuzawa, Keio’s famous founder, whose creed was “man’s independence and self-respect,” strongly believed that “the independence of a nation springs from the independence of its citizens.” He lamented that the traditional Oriental civilization (Chinese civilization) lacked rational inquiry and the idea of “independence” in spiritual culture. It was to foster these two essentials and to build a strong and prosperous Japan that Fukuzawa founded Keio University. He must be turning in his grave at the sight of Keio’s loss of independence and academic freedom.

Lee’s lecture was canceled. But the episode did not end there. On Nov. 11, Lee’s agent, unaware of the lecture’s cancellation, applied for a three-day visa. Separately, on the same day, the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo asked Keio about the circumstances surrounding Lee’s lecture, and a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman declared that China still opposed Lee’s trip to Japan. Meanwhile, a high-ranking Japanese Cabinet official stated that he had been informed by Keio officials that Lee’s lecture had been canceled.

On Nov. 12, Lee’s agent, convinced that the Foreign Ministry would not issue a visa, withdrew the application. The student club, though, remained adamant, informing Lee that the lecture would be held at a Tokyo hotel Nov. 24.

On Nov. 14, the deputy foreign minister told reporters that the ministry had notified Lee that no visa would be issued as “it will be very difficult to judge his visit to Japan to be a private one.”

On Nov. 15, Lee abandoned his trip. The Keio student club angrily protested the Foreign Ministry’s action at a news conference.

The ministry’s reasons for rejecting Lee’s visa application were that Lee had applied for a visa with the knowledge that the Mita Festival Committee had canceled the lecture, and that Lee caused chaos by agreeing to give his lecture at a Tokyo hotel even after learning of the Foreign Ministry’s decision. The ministry emphasized that visiting Japan, rather than giving the lecture, was Lee’s primary purpose and thus it would be extremely difficult to judge the visit as a private one.

Lee’s agent insisted that there was no intention of causing any chaos because he had no knowledge of the lecture’s cancellation when the visa application was submitted Nov. 11. The student club representatives concurred, saying they never notified Lee after receiving the cancellation notice from the Mita Festival Committee on Nov. 7 because they had sought to keep negotiating with school officials.

The Foreign Ministry’s stated reasons not only contained factual errors, but made no logical sense. The only credible reason seemed to be the ministry’s surrender to China’s political interference.

What a striking contrast to U.S. policy. When the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman in April 2001 demanded that the United States reject Lee’s application, the National Security Council spokesman replied: “Former President Lee is now a private citizen. Visits by private citizens between Taiwan and the U.S. are common occurrences.”

The U.S. government issued a five-year, multiple-entry visa, with no time limit per visit. It was a principled, independent U.S. government action, allowing no Chinese interference.

China’s interfering with Japan’s decision on Lee’s application is a violation of the United Nations principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries (U.N. Charter, Article 2:7).

Granting visas is a sovereign right of states. For Japan, it should be a simple issue of approval or rejection based on the nation’s immigration and other domestic laws. Since Japan is a sovereign independent state, the government of Japan has supreme power over the residents and land within Japanese territory, i.e., over the internal affairs of Japan.

As a corollary, jurisdiction over domestic affairs, such as the power to issue visas, is Japan’s alone; external interference is not permitted. China’s interference in Japan’s domestic affairs violates and encroaches on Japanese sovereignty. To surrender to Chinese pressure or to obey Chinese wishes or instructions is tantamount to becoming a Chinese vassal state.

The Foreign Ministry has a duty to pursue policies that protect and advance Japan’s national interests. It has often been rumored, however, that Japanese officials of the Asia and Pacific Bureau, the China section in particular, are dominated by pro-China officials whose ultimate career goal is to become the Japanese ambassador to China, which would require Beijing’s approval.

If that’s true, personal interests have triumphed over Japan’s national interest, and Japanese officials have been transformed into Chinese agents. China bullies the weak and respects the strong — those with convictions, principles and courage. Sycophants of China will only suffer its contempt.

This article is not intended as an undue critique of Keio and Japan, but rather as a statement to encourage Japan. The world has seen two Japans in the past 70 years: one of irrational courage between 1930s and 1945 — which saw Japan dare to take on China, the U.S., Britain, France, the Netherlands and others — and one in which courage and firm principles have been lost.

Japan today stands at a crossroads. Will it become a first-class state and contribute to world peace and mankind, or will it wither as a second-class nation by the late 21st century?

One would hope that Japan — squeezed between the U.S. and China, two world powers with clear national goals, resources and strategies — would replace its bureaucrat/Liberal Democratic Party/big business triangle with a new vision, systems, strategies and, above all, self-respect and courage for a bright future.

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