China’s Top Diplomat Urges Race-Based Alliance With Japan, South Korea

"You can never become a Westerner."
MUNICH, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 18: Chinese foreign affairs Minister Wang Yi speaks during the 2023 Munich Security Conference (MSC) on February 18, 2023 in Munich, Germany. The Munich Security Conference brings together defence leaders and stakeholders from around the world and is taking place February 17-19. Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine is dominating the agenda.
Johannes Simon/Getty Images

China’s top diplomat urged South Korea and Japan to form a race-based alliance with Beijing to “revitalize East Asia.”

Wang Yi, the head of the Chinese Communist Party’s Foreign Affairs Commission and former foreign minister, told Japanese and South Korean guests at the 2023 International Forum for Trilateral Cooperation that Americans can’t tell the three countries apart.

“Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans are all viewed as ‘Asians’ by Americans. They cannot tell the differences between us, and it’s the same in Europe,” Wang said. “No matter how you dye your hair blonde, or if you lift your nose tip, you can never become a Westerner.”

“We need to remember where we came from,” Wang continued, calling for China, Japan, and South Korea to “prosper together, revitalize East Asia, revitalize Asia and benefit the world.” 

Wang then appeared to take a swipe at the United States, stating that “some major countries outside the region deliberately exaggerate ideological differences, weave various exclusive small circles, and try to replace cooperation with confrontation and unity with division.”

The racialized comments might have been brushed aside in Seoul and Tokyo, given their troubled relationship with Beijing and close military partnership with Washington. 

Both countries’ partnerships with the U.S. center on countering China’s rising influence and the security threat posed by North Korea. Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. have conducted several trilateral military operations, and the U.S. stations more than 80,000 military personnel between the two countries.

“Both have made it clear they feel safer with the US around, and have no interest in abandoning their alliances to instead rely on Beijing’s goodwill,” said Joel Atkinson, a professor of international politics at Hankuk University in Seoul.

Japan and South Korea moved to mend their troubled relationship with each other earlier this year after North Korea fired two long-range ballistic missiles into the sea between the two American allies. The two countries have also released joint statements emphasizing their major security interests in the Taiwan Strait, drawing ire from China.

Experts criticized Wang’s statement, noting the major differences China has between the two countries and the fact that Japanese and South Koreans regularly become American citizens.

“The irony of … Wang Yi telling Japanese and Koreans ‘you can never become an American,’ is that Japanese and Koreans become Americans every day,” wrote Jeff M. Smith, director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, “They’re part of the fabric of America. What they can’t become is Chinese. Tone deaf.”


Bonnie Glaser, Asia Director of the George Marshall Fund of the United States, tweeted, “This message will not land well with Japan and South Korea. Does Wang Yi really think that national interests are less important than appearance?”

One person from South Korea responded to Wang on Twitter by tweeting, “If aliens invade, we will join hands with the aliens and attack you.”

According to the Associated Press, Wang brushed over several historical differences between the three Asian countries that exacerbate tensions to this day, including China’s involvement in the Korean War and Japan’s harsh occupation of China during World War II.

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