China has reportedly dismissed critical opinions over comments made by a top diplomat who invited Japan and South Korea to an apparent all-Asian alliance.
What happened: Wang Yi, a former foreign minister and current head of the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign affairs commission, urged Tokyo and Seoul to join Beijing in “revitalizing Asia” at an annual trilateral event on Wednesday.
However, his invitation reportedly came with racially charged assumptions, such as that Americans and Europeans cannot tell Chinese, Japanese and Korean visitors apart:
Americans take all visitors from China, South Korea and Japan as Asians. They cannot tell the differences and it’s the same in Europe…No matter how yellow you dye your hair, or how sharp you make your nose, you’ll never turn into a European or American, you’ll never turn into a Westerner.
How critics responded: Wang Yi’s comments immediately sparked outrage. Among those who voiced dissent was Bonnie Glaser, who serves as managing director of the Indo-Pacific program of the U.S.’ German Marshall Fund.
“This message will not land well with Japan and South Korea. Does Wang Yi really think that national interests are less important than appearance?” Glaser tweeted.
Jeff M. Smith, director of the Asian Studies Center at U.S. think tank The Heritage Foundation, also slammed the Chinese diplomat’s statements:
The irony of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi telling Japanese and Koreans ‘You can never become an American,’ is that Japanese and Koreans become Americans every day. They’re part of the fabric of America. What they can’t become is Chinese. Tone deaf. Again.
China’s reaction: China reportedly pushed back against the criticism on Wednesday. In a briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “We cannot agree with it at all.”
The bigger picture: Wang Yi’s call for Asian unity echoes Beijing’s persistent accusation of hegemony against the U.S. In an apparent swipe at Washington, he accused “certain major powers outside the region” of “exaggerating ideological differences” to sow division. He also encouraged Japan and South Korea to foster a sense of “strategic autonomy.”
“The fate of the region is firmly in our own hands,” he ultimately asserted.