Nationalism Rises in Northeast Asia

Northeast AsiaSince the end of 20th century Northeast Asia has emerged as a central force in the globalization of the world. But the specter of rising nationalism in the area now threatens to undo the gains that global interdependence has brought to the region and to the world. “The most important strategic choice the Chinese made was to embrace the economic globalization rather than detach themselves from it,” wrote the leading Chinese reformer and economist Zheng Bijian in his seminal article for Foreign Affairs, “China’s Peaceful Rise”, in October 2005, a reference to the reform program launched in late 1970s by Deng Xiaoping. The speed, intensity and breadth of that embrace have transformed the planet (…..) In South Korea there is legacy of China’s role in Korean War and support, even if ambivalent, of the regime in Pyongyang. Japan and Korea worry more about China’s future goals. This anxiety, it must be stressed, is not a Northeast Asian monopoly. Countries in Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, also worry about China’s apparent nationalist territorial expansion, and India looks upon China’s ambitions suspiciously. The China’s “peaceful rise” would appear to be a distant, forlorn dream. Reality is more brutal and ugly. Nationalism is a powerful Chinese political force. From the viewpoint of global economic interdependence, it is the 3 economic juggernauts and their collective impact on global economy through the global supply chain that matters most. Today it must be recognized that while the embrace of globalization have generated great prosperity for all 3 countries, in stark contrast to North Korea which still rejects globalization and interdependence, by no means has it ensured trust, let alone peace. While history does not repeat itself and comparisons are, by definition, odious, it is difficult not to draw parallels between Northeast Asia in the early 21st century and Europe in the first half of the 20th. It’s probably the case that if the economy seriously deteriorated, as it did in 1930s, that this would exacerbate nationalist tensions between Northeast Asian powers, but it is not at all obvious that if economic situation were to considerably improve, especially in Japan, that this would diffuse the nationalist tensions. Economics alone, it seems, cannot trump emotions. Whereas Chinese, Japanese and Korean tourists once flocked to one another’s countries, there has been recently a significant decrease in traffic. Furthermore, while the “pop-scene,” encompassing Canto-pop, Mando-pop, J-pop and K-pop, created increasingly united Northeast Asian regional musical space, nationalist backlashes have also arisen; Japanese NHK popular new year song festival has this year eliminated Korean singers. That is ominous. As the forces of xenophobia are irrational, it is difficult to know what measures need to be taken beyond banal platitudes. Perhaps the first step is for the international community to recognize the perilousness of Northeast Asian geopolitics. If the fuse goes off on Northeast Asia powder keg, consequences will be immediate, global, dramatic. If, on other hand, global governance would improve, so might governance in Northeast Asia.



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

4 Responses to Nationalism Rises in Northeast Asia

  1. (…..) Liz: Many Chinese analysts are expressing their concern that the U.S. pivot or rebalancing is emboldening actors in the region, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan, to take provocative actions in territorial disputes. Is there any cause for such concern? What role should the United States play as these conflicts continue to develop? Dan: I would put Japan in its own category—it is a very strong country with a very strong armed forces. It will stand up for itself. The more dangerous scenarios is what might ensue if Japan loses its confidence in the U.S. alliance. That could be very destabilizing. Japan is in a separate category for another reason: Chinese have been fed a steady diet of anti-Japanese education for quite a long time. In that sense, the Party has boxed itself in; it cannot ever be seen as backing down from Japan. The U.S. should show no split at all between itself and Japan, and it should encourage the Chinese to change its anti-Japan propaganda. If Japan feels secure in the alliance, it will be more constructive when it comes to disputes with China. Vietnam also has a history of standing up for itself when it comes to China (and the United States), and it will continue to do so. The question for Washington is whether or not we want to influence that process. I think the answer is yes. We have a better chance to avoid conflict if our friends old and new do not feel that they are standing up to China by themselves. The Philippines, frankly, is too weak to do any harm to China. We have an interest in the Philippines prospering as a democratic ally. We also have an interest in it being able to defend its own territory in accordance with hundreds of years of maritime international law.

    All of these countries have experienced the horrors of war and imperialism. They want, as we do, an Asia that can grow and prosper without coercion and intimidation. Our job for the foreseeable future is to provide Asia with the breathing space to continue in that endeavor.

  2. HERE is my prediction about China: The new paramount leader, Xi Jinping, will spearhead a resurgence of economic reform, and probably some political easing as well. Mao’s body will be hauled out of Tiananmen Square on his watch, and Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning writer, will be released from prison. These won’t happen immediately — Xi won’t even be named president until March — and I may be wrong entirely. But my hunch on this return to China, my old home, is that change is coming (…..)

    Xi is also more nationalistic than President Hu, and I worry that a confrontation with Japan over disputed islands could escalate out of control — in which case all bets are off.

    Still, the pre-eminent story of our time is the rise of China. For the last decade it has been hobbled by the failed leadership of President Hu. I’m betting that in the coming 10 years of Xi’s reign, China will come alive again.

  3. (…..) So my take is that both Japan and China have mishandled the situation — and so has the US as well. The United States officially doesn’t take a position on who owns the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, but it seems clear to me that it de facto sides with Japan. Washington says that under the US-Japan Security Treaty, it must help Japan defend not only its own territory but also lands “administered” by Japan. And since the islands are administered by Japan, the US says it would join militarily with Japan in any conflict. Presumably the US thought this would intimidate China and reduce the risk of a conflict, but if so it misjudged: China has sent more ships and planes into the area since. And the US shouldn’t be taking sides in this dispute, especially when in reality I don’t see any American President going on TV and saying: “The US is now going to deploy naval vessels and risk nuclear war with China over a few uninhabited rocks in the Pacific that you’ve never heard of.” Effectively, the US managed to further escalate the crisis rather than deescalate it. One good sign is that China has said recently that it will refer the issue of its continental shelf in the area to the UN — that diffuses the conflict, brings in multilateral actors, and lowers the temperature a bit. It would be great if China and Japan agreed to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice, but I don’t see that happening. There are rumors that China will finally clarify its sea claims this year, which would help its position. In the South China Sea, China has a dashed line around nearly the whole sea, but it has always refused to explain what exactly it claims. Is it sovereignty over the entire South China Sea? Is it the islands within the sea? Last year, the Foreign Ministry took a helpful step forward by explaining that it claimed not the waters but the land within the dashed line. But when I asked a Chinese general about that, he responded: “That’s the Foreign Ministry position. That’s not China’s position.” (PLA generals have often been particularly vociferous in their claims and sometimes anti-American, and I thought it was a good sign on this trip that three different generals all said that they couldn’t see me — I had the sense that they had been reined in to avoid further mishaps. Which is quite appropriate) (…..)

  4. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: I always smile when I read American journalists, like Mr. Kristof and Friedman of the NYT, giving free advice to the rest of the world on how to conduct their affairs. In this case, the conflict between China and Japan on the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute. The irony is that Mr. Kristof is member of the elite of a country that built an empire, taking half of its territory from Spain by force. As one friend at Foggy Bottom always reminds me : The US never returned occupied territory. The only exception, perhaps, is Jimmy Carter returning the Panama Canal to its legitimate owners. The lesson here is simple.

    Members of the US elite are never in a position to give unbiased and fair advice to the rest of the world. The US is the first one to break any international law when its strategic interest is at stake. As the old American saying goes: Do as I say not what I do. Japan and China will eventually resolve the Diaoyu/Senkaku conflict. The question is: Will the conflict be resolved by diplomatic means or the old US fashioned way?


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