By Saori E., MA Media & Strategic Communication
COVID-19 is rampant in the world today. The virus, which originated in Wuhang, China, is being successfully contained in China. However, its neighboring country, Japan, is struggling to prevent people from getting infected with the new virus partly because of the government’s different ways of controlling their message compared to China. The reality and government’s message should always be balanced out to mitigate issues.
Effects of COVID-19 in Japan
On March 14, the President of Japan, Abe, enacted the Special Measures Act, which allowed him to issue an Emergency Declaration. Once the Emergency Declaration is issued, it would enable the government to regulate public behavior by law.
In Japan’s case, the government aims to build a stronger economic environment through the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Because of this, the president hesitated to undertake the process for an emergency declaration. This declaration would hinder industries involved in Olympic preparation which were supposed to host the Olympics this summer, and lead to the delay of the preparation. However, since the Tokyo Olympics is likely to be postponed to 2021 in any event, the government decided to issue this declaration.
Comparison of The Governmental Reaction To COVID-19
The governments of China and Japan have reacted differently to the Coronavirus with their measures reflecting each country’s priorities, those which ended as a success and failure respectively. China maintained the balance of reality and message by controlling the reality itself to fit with their ideal message, whereas Japan did not change their message even when the reality changed.
The Chinese government’s major priority was to prevent their people from causing panic resulting in the government losing trust and to maintain the national stability. Their reaction to the COVID-19 was forceful, which manipulated the reality to balance out with the message that the government was willing to spread to their people. The way China took control of the reality was as follows:
- No restrictions on people from travelling around the world during the Lunar New Year holiday
- Management of major social media such as Wechat and Weibo to prohibit people from spreading false news
Since the rise of COVID-19 was right before the Lunar New Year holiday, the government did not restrict people from going to other countries because they did not want sudden restriction of travelling to cause panic for people going overseas. Such an action by the government could lead to the rise of a negative impression towards the government by Chinese citizens.
Additionally, the Chinese constitution clearly states that although people have rights of freedom of expression on online networks, the government can infringe upon this in order to maintain the safety of the people; this enables the government to encroach into people’s privacy more than other countries. This allowed them to warn their people that they will be punished if they spread false information.
This focus on the organization of people was due to the China’s priority of maintaining the people’s trust in the government. The fact that the government was able to manage people’s movements resulted in the decrease in infection. The match of the reality and message supported the government’s original priority which is to prevent people from causing panic.
The Japanese government’s major message for the people has always been based on their focus on fiscal reconstruction, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was their major priority for that. They did not change this way of messaging even when COVID-19 went rampant, and as a result, the changing reality undermined the government’s message. The policies that Japan issued along with their message to maintain Japan’s economic level and not controlling the reality is shown as of below.
- No restrictions for Chinese tourists visiting Japan during Lunar New Year holidays.
- No legal penalty for spreading false information online
The Abe cabinet has been focusing on the fiscal reconstruction from the beginning of their tenure, and in order to do so, he has been trying to build a stronger relationship with China. Because of this, Japan could not restrict the Chinese tourists from coming to Japan during the Luna New Year holidays even if they knew the risk of accepting people from China with regard to COVID-19. Rejecting people from China at the end of January would not have given a good impression for the Chinese government.
The Japanese government was focusing too much on economic aspects and did not restrict online information. This caused false information to spread, and the government was not able to deliver their message effectively. Because of the flooding information online, various realities were created and Japan was not able to clearly deliver its message to the people.
Even when the reality was changing, Japan kept on sending out messages based on their focus on economic aspects, which led to the unbalance of reality and messaging, resulting not only to the loss of control in COVID-19 but also the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics itself.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not express the views of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or the George Washington University.