China's Soft Power and Its Impact on Japan's Interests: Unravelling Influence Operations

Influence Operations

In recent years, China's overseas influence operations have garnered significant attention, raising concerns about their impact on other nations. Unlike conventional soft power approaches, aimed at building positive attraction, China has been employing a concept known as "sharp power" to create a strategic environment favourable to its interests. This article explores China's influence operations in Japan, focusing on the use of information manipulation to affect public opinion. By examining real facts and historical context, we aim to shed light on the current state of Chinese influence in Japan and its potential impact on the country's interests.

Historical Context:

China's influence operations in Japan date back to the mid-1950s when it adopted a "people-to-people diplomacy" approach to influence Japan's public opinion through private sector exchanges. Despite this long history, Japan's national interests and strong democratic values have served as buffers against the encroachment of "sharp" power.

The Landscape of Influence Operations:

China's efforts to shape political debates and discourse in other countries have seen exponential growth, with media influence operations playing a central role in this strategy. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been actively working to cultivate pro-China sentiment and manipulate domestic political landscapes across the Asia-Pacific region. However, despite the CCP's endeavours, Japan has appeared to remain relatively immune to Chinese media influence operations. In addition, Japan has detected Chinese attempts at disinformation and recently declared that it would redouble its efforts to combat the spread of fake news.

Japanese Media Consumption Trends:

One critical factor contributing to Japan's resistance against Chinese influence operations lies in its unique media consumption trends. Unlike many other nations, most Japanese citizens do not rely on social media as a primary news source. Instead, they prefer obtaining news from internet sites and television, particularly through news aggregator platforms like Yahoo! News. Chinese actors have recognized this pattern and strategically leveraged camouflaged Japan-linked news sites to disseminate pro-China content through multiple aggregators, reaching a wide audience.

Examples of Influence Operations:

One prominent example is "SearChina," a Japanese-language news site with a focus on China-related topics. While seemingly innocuous, the site has been found to correlate China-related news with positive terms, subtly supporting pro-China narratives. Similarly, "Record China," an online news site based in Tokyo, covers social and cultural subjects but intersperses explicit political messaging that aligns with the CCP's agenda. These sites manage to reach a broad readership through prominent Japanese aggregators, although they might not overtly promote CCP propaganda.

Japan's Resilience:

Despite these attempts, Chinese influence operations have struggled to gain significant traction in Japan. Various factors have contributed to this resilience. The Japanese people, while acknowledging the importance of Japan-China relations, have maintained a low level of affinity toward China, especially since the Senkaku Islands territorial dispute. This lack of division in public opinion regarding Japan's China policy indicates that Beijing's influence operations have not had a profound effect in Japan.


China's soft power influence operations have been expanding rapidly across the Asia-Pacific region.

Unlike China, which has stepped up its information operations and warfare against Japan and Japanese interests, Japan is only now beginning to comprehend the Chinese threat and to take action.

As an example, the Japanese ministry of foreign affairs (MOFA) stated that they will step up measures to counter false information regarding the planned release of treated and diluted water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the ocean.

As Japan remains vigilant against foreign interference, understanding the tactics employed by influence operations becomes vital for preserving the country's stability and safeguarding its multi-faceted national interests - local, regional, and international.

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