Thursday, August 31, 2017
China and Japan, Should the West Care?
read it here). Any of these articles, taken on their own, put forward a compelling case. However, it is when World War II enters the conversation, which is absolutely inevitable when dealing with Japan as *everything* revolves around World War II, that we start to have problems at least so far as the U.S. and the West are concerned.
To illustrate this, I point to an interview, also in Japan Forward, by YouTube personality Yoko Mada with Hidetoshi Ishii, “a Japanese expert on the politics and history of Asia” who has very definite ideas on what needs to happen in the region (see it or read it here). First of all, for those on the left or even moderate right anywhere in the western world, any Japanese talk of a “Greater Asia” is inevitably going to cause blowback over memories of Imperial Japan’s “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” and the “Greater East Asian War” (which is what Japan calls World War II, look for Hitler and Mussolini far under the bus). They bring up something I have written about before (here, a plug for me this time) which is the claim that Imperial Japan was really the “good guys” in World War II, in fact the *only* “good guys” (Adolf & Benito still under that bus) as Japan was fighting a righteous war for ‘Freedom’ to liberate Asia from the wicked, western, colonial powers, because colonialism is a western thing, it is racist, it is wrong, it is evil and before you even ask, no, Korea doesn’t count, because it’s not colonialism if Japan does it. Silly. It is also noteworthy that, in the interview, a great emphasis is placed on Hong Kong (the former British Crown Colony now languishing under mainland rule) and that everyone in Japan, and America and the western world should back the cause of Hong Kong independence from China.
In the old days, prior to World War II, things were very different. Countries such as Great Britain, France, The Netherlands, Portugal and the United States had an interest in Asia because they had colonies there which were important parts of their economies. If you go back prior to World War I, Germany did as well (and to a much lesser extent, a few others too). This is not the case anymore obviously. The British started giving up their Asian colonies almost as soon as the war was over. The Dutch had to give up the East Indies in 1949, the French were forced out of Indochina in 1955, Portugal lost Goa to India in 1961 and handed over Macau in 1999, the United States had agreed to Filipino independence before World War II, delivered it in 1946 and was evicted from Subic Bay in 1992. All of this, according to the “Japan fought World War II to end western colonialism” narrative, is ultimately thanks to Japan and, as such, runs contrary to the Japanese argument that the western powers today have any real, vital, national interest in what happens in the region. Why should, for example, the British ultimately care if Hong Kong remains a part of China or becomes independent when Hong Kong stopped being a British concern in 1997? And, again, based on the point that the same country arguing that Britain should be concerned is also arguing that they ultimately deserve the “credit” for Britain losing her Asian colonies in the first place.
This is not unique to Japan, it is only that Japan, because of the war, casts itself more broadly, taking “credit” for the end of the other empires touching East Asia. However, since the Chinese military buildup, The Philippines has now said some U.S. troops can come back to Subic Bay after all and even Vietnam, which bases so much of its current identity on anti-Americanism, has decided that the United States isn’t really all *that* bad and now allows American warships to visit Vietnamese ports. If they were in a position to help them at all, I don’t doubt they would take the same attitude toward the French. From the point of view of western civilization, how is any of this not seen as a case of trying to have your cake and eat it too? In other words, why should western powers protect eastern powers for nothing in return? The strength and potential threat of China is supposed to justify everything and yet, the west, thanks mostly to allowing China into the World Trade Organization and other similar acts, is economically invested in maintaining good relations with China. Whether a good decision or not (and I think it was not), this is nonetheless a fact.
Personally, I would have preferred Japan and the Allies never went to war at all or would have preferred the Japanese to have attacked the Soviet Union rather than the British and Dutch in Southeast Asia. I prefer the days when the Empire of Japan was still around and one of the club. I would have also liked to see a revived Qing Empire in China as part of that club as well. In any confrontation between Communist China and the State of Japan, my own sympathies are certainly going to be with the Japanese and, in the event of such a calamity, my friends know I would do anything to help them. When taken up to the level of countries, however, national interest is the determining factor and since the end of the colonial period, commerce is the only way the west is involved with the East Asia. The Chinese army is not threatening to invade Europe or North America and if the Australians considered such a thing remotely possible, they would probably have taken care to maintain a navy that would actually pose a challenge.
Given the current state of affairs, it could well be argued that China poses an existential threat to Japan, not only because of their military strength but because of the degree to which anti-Japanese hatred is used as a unifying force in China. What is more difficult to argue is that China poses an existential threat to America or western civilization in general. Most of the west is frankly unable to do anything even if it should and, as for the United States, the most potent threat posed by China is the possibility of China’s new currency system replacing the dollar as the international reserve currency. That, however, is something that will not and cannot be stopped by American bases in Japan, American troops in South Korea or by the elimination of artificial islands in the South China Sea. Western civilization is under threat, of that I am in no doubt. However, that China is such a threat seems dubious, though I am open to arguments on the subject. With no real stake in the region, since the end of western colonialism, it seems more like the west is being called upon to, once again, take the side of others in a fight that is not theirs.