By Jon Solomon
Anti-racism isn’t immune from its own pitfalls, including the repression of history. That Chinese society should be deeply racist shouldn’t surprise anyone. I can’t think of a Chinese society anywhere that isn’t. But I simply don’t buy the narrative that holds that racism is a residual leftover from China’s premodern history. (Already in my PhD dissertation, I dissected Frank Dikötter’s The Discourse of Race in China, which is the authoritative source for this narrative, for its historicist repression of history). How could the imperative to form a population into a nation-state under conditions of imperialist dispossession and capitalist unequal development lead to anything but extreme forms of racism (not to mention sexism, classism, etc.)? Anyone who thinks that that question can be answered by various theories of state-building and market development is little better than an apparatchik whose ideology prevents recognition of the simple truth revealed by world-systems theorists: there has been virtually no path for a nation-state within the system to transition successfully from periphery to center. The construction of the nation-state itself, in the imperialist nations no less than in the colonized ones, is a thoroughly racist project and I defy anyone to point and show me the modern nation-state in east Asia that isn’t a community of ethno-linguistic communal fusion (as Jean-Luc Nancy describes the concept in his philosophical deconstruction of the modern concept of political sovereignty).
After 1945, the United States absorbed the former domain of Imperial Japan in ways that were specifically designed to consolidate and perpetuate this kind of cultural-national racism. The preservation of Yasukuni Shrine and the Emperor System were both measures taken by the US occupation explicitly designed to perform the task of population management and international governance in the postwar period.
Hence, a lot of the presuppositions deployed by Western specialists working on Xinjiang today boil down to lamenting the fact that Xinjiang hasn’t yet been properly incorporated into the Pax Americana system of using postcolonial sovereignty and national independence as levers of subordination that Naoki Sakai calls “colonial governmentality under erasure.”
Naoki’s understanding of postwar Japan as America’s Manchukuo poses a serious challenge to those who hold that the National Security Law in Hong Kong constitutes a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration from 1984. Line 2 of Article 3 in the Declaration says, “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs which are the responsibilities of the Central People’s Government.” This formula recalls almost to the letter the way that Naoki describes the relation between Japan and the United States in the postwar period, where Japan is absolutely subordinate to the US in terms of defense and foreign affairs (the sole exception was the Hatoyama government in 2009-10 that broke with uninterrupted LDP rule and opposed US bases, leading to a soft coup within months). With the major difference being that Hong Kong isn’t even a sovereign nation on paper but an administrative region of the PRC.
I suspect that a lot of people wouldn’t accept Naoki’s Japan = American’s Manchukuo thesis. If so, if they refuse to recognize Japan’s colonial subordination to the US, how could they still argue that Hong Kong is being colonized by the Chinese Central Government? How could they, furthermore, object to the Chinese Central Government’s attempt to quell separatism via a fascist-style law that creates a “double state” for the purpose of fighting separatism? Seen from that perspective, the NSL would fall within the rights of the Central Government to exercise control over the foreign and defense affairs that constitute an exception to the autonomy recognized by the Joint Declaration.
On the other hand, if people accept Naoki’s thesis, presumably in the desire to accuse China of colonizing Hong Kong just as the US colonizes Japan (despite the inconvenient fact that Hong Kong is not a sovereign jurisdiction), that stance might simply provide the Central Government a further basis of legitimacy to enact national security laws in Hong Kong in the first place (which were an obligation under the Basic Law unmet by the Hong Kong government for over 23 years)? If Japan were effectively a US colony, the whole meaning of the security arrangement in East Asia would have to be revisited, for it could no longer be depicted as an alliance of liberalism against authoritarianism, but would rather have to be seen as a colonial arrangement. In which case, appeals to U.S. sanctions and various instruments of intervention in the “First Island Chain,” including Hong Kong, necessarily pose a security threat to China’s national independence.
The greatest danger in east Asian affairs today lies in the liberal imperial nationalist stance that holds that problems in the other country are simply that, problems in the other country, for which the other country alone must be held responsible. In truth, an implicit notion of indemnity (they must perform repayment for their criminal behavior) and immunity (we could not possibly be held responsible for their criminal behavior) has permeated public discourse about east and central Asia. Just as it was after 1918, the discourse of indemnity and immunity is sure to fan the flames of resentment and sow the seeds of uncontrollable biopolitical conflagration.
In the meantime, the real problem of biopolitical indemnity — our collective debt to the other species with whom we share this planet that we are quickly transforming into a toxic desert — remains unaddressed, growing larger day by day.