Day By Day

Friday, April 29, 2005

China Rising -- The nationalist threat

H.D.S. Greenway has a nice piece in the Boston Globe on the recent anti-Japanese demonstrations in China. He puts the long-term rivalry between China and Japan in a historical context and concludes:

The excuse was that the Japanese have never properly apologized for World War II atrocities, that Japanese textbooks offer only a white wash, and that Japanese politicians regularly visit Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine for war dead, which also honors convicted war criminals.

Perhaps the Chinese leaders felt that digging up the past could serve the future, for Beijing has no desire to see Japan succeed in its campaign to become one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

But the deeper reason is that China is hell bent to become the alpha male of the Pacific pack, and seeks to redress its loss of status in the humiliations that followed its defeats of the last century.

He's right, of course. China is indeed "hell bent" on achieving regional hegemony. And doing so involves the exclusion of American interests from Asia. This is the great coming conflict and already its contours are beginning to emerge.

Read it here.


There is another excellent article in the Weekly Standard by Tom Donnelly on the rise of Chinese nationalism. He notes that its anti-Japanese form is a natural outgrowth of the history of the past century -- humiliation in the Sino-Japanese war, atrocities during WWII etc.; and serves as a useful outlet for China's internal tensions, but there's more involved here.

Chinese nationalism sees many devils other than the Japanese. Indeed, beginning with the Opium War of the 1840, there began what Sinologists call a "victimization narrative," essentially a chronicle of Western exploitation of--and contribution to--Chinese military and political weakness. Naturally, this victimization narrative contrasts Chinese nationalism with Western imperialism, and often--with the Boxer Uprising of 1900 taken as the mythic prototype--calls forth a peasant movement in response. This also serves to link the narrative of modern Chinese history with the dynastic cycles of the more distant past. Thus the late Qing period is described as China's "century of humiliations," with the strong implication being that this pattern has been broken by the rise of the Communist party to power and now, with China's emergence as a regional and global power.

To today's Chinese nationalists, the United States stands as the ultimate Western hegemon and practitioner of, in the government's favorite phrase, "power politics" aimed at blocking Beijing's rightful place in the international order. However, in this view, the narrative of the 21st century will have quite a different outcome than that of the 19th century: In their 1996 screed Surpassing the USA, authors Xi Yongjun and Ma Zaithun declare that "China's rise is the sign for America's fall." This is the strong belief of the so-called "fourth generation" of Chinese Communist party leaders, the generation of Hu Jintao, who, "because of the education they have received, in their subconscious the West, and the U.S. in particular, has always been our enemy, oppressing us, invading our motherland; and even killing our countrymen."

The article goes on to trace the viciously racist elements in mainland Chinese nationalism, and contrasts it with other, less virulent forms that have emerged from time to time within Chinese communities.

Read it here.

Donnelly's piece, like the earlier article, is in the form of a warning -- one that Americans cannot afford to dismiss. The US media and business communities seem to be "hell bent" on exploiting Chinese markets and are willing to ignore the dangers to be found there. Similarly, much of Europe and the previous administration in Washington viewed China through rose-colored lenses. Fortunately, though, there is every evidence that the Bush administration is quite aware of the danger represented by Chinese resurgence and is beginning to organize a proper response to it.

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