For close to one hundred years, imperial Japan indisputably ruled East Asia, and at the heart of the Japanese power lied its imperial conquest over Chinese Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula. Well aware of its territorial weakness against China, at the turn of 20th century, the Japanese elite introduced the concept of a “line of advantage,” an idea that would help to justify Japan’s foreign policy of the emerging East-Asian power. Outlining this policy, Japanese intellectuals set the stage through a vexing premise in which Japan would supposedly be vulnerable to aggressive Western imperialism unless it extended territorial control beyond its borders which would help to repel foreign incursions and strengthen the Japanese economy. Emphasis was especially placed on Japan’s “preeminent interests” in the Korean Peninsula, once famously described as a “dagger pointed at the heart of Japan.”
Not surprisingly, Japan’s crusades and its subsequence conquest over the Liadong Peninsula in Manchuria during the first Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895) ultimately crowned Japan as the world’s first Eastern, modern imperial power. But the Japanese successes were not confined solely to the Sea of Japan and also to the South China Sea; the country’s war with Russia (1904-1905) proved that a Western power could be defeated by an Eastern state. The aftermath of these two wars left Japan the dominant power in the Far East, with a sphere of influence extending over southern Manchuria and Korea, which was formally annexed as part of the Japanese Empire in 1910. Japan had also gained half of Sakhalin Island from Russia.
Western powers which never deviated from the law of the jungle and from the victor’s justice credo, hastily moved to enter an alliance with the Japanese Empire. An alliance between Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and The United Kingdom was created under the banner of Eight-Nations-Alliance of which its sole aim was to insure a pacified China, totally submissive to foreign dominations. The alliance was nothing but an alliance of convenience fore-grounded in a shallow equilibrium in which only the extraction of China’s riches could protect its continuum.
Controlling China, a country so vast in both human and natural resources, was something of strategic importance to European colonial powers with imperial ambitions; and from a geostrategic standpoint, it was even more important to Japan which stood to gain the most, for it had the military might as a strategic deterrence to safeguard not only its domestic interests but also—and more importantly—its colonial and international interests. Japan’s newly acquired prestige among its new Western friends helped strengthen the ascendance of fascism and absolutism espoused by the Japanese elite.
China has learned its lesson
This quick historical account is important to understand the new pride in China and the fury behind Chinese patriotism, despite the reactionary nature of the country’s leadership and its dubiousness with regard to socialism. China’s growing international clout and its new acquired prestige in superpower relations is something that has awesomely pushed the country to crimson splendor. A country’s history should always serve as reference points to future glory. China understood too well this logic, which it intends to fully put into application now as the world’s second economic power house. But behind this global wealth lies an ever-growing military-industrial complex with a unique mission to insure global dominance through this century and beyond. It is China’s clout backed by Brazil, India, and many other developing countries that has rendered the G-8 summits almost meaningless. The G-20 gathering is now the new forum in which important world affairs are being discussed.
Even though, the global slowdown will exacerbate China’s internal contradictions, it will certainly deepen or sharpen frictions with its rivals. “The flip side to China’s economic rise is the relative decline in the position of Japan and the United States. Neither power will accept its relegation to an inferior status willingly or peacefully. China’s huge demand for energy and raw materials is already bringing it into competition with existing powers on every continent,” wrote Peter Symonds on the WS website.
Peter went on to assess how the Japanese press not only gave token coverage to the China’s new status, but also how it barely noted that the country had slipped behind China. However, one can rest assured the matter is being heavily discussed among the decision makers in Tokyo. In the late 1980s, Japan was the miracle economy. It was even predicted to bypass the United States. Before the stock market and property bubbles imploded in the early 1990s, property value in Tokyo was said to be worth more than all of California. But after two decades of economic stagnation and a seemingly unstoppable downward spiral, Japan has clearly lost the initiative.
What makes matters worse for Japan is that it is heavily “dependent on an expanding China as its top export market and source of imports.” Other problems lie behind several outstanding maritime territorial disputes between the tow countries. “China’s military expansion, including the building of a blue water navy to protect its vital shipping routes, is regarded as a security threat by Japan, which maintains its alliance with the US and has been quietly building its own military capacities.” The change in East Asian military balances in favor of Beijing threaten both the US and Japan, which explains why the Japanese government joined the Obama administration last week in criticizing China’s “lack of transparency” about the growth of its military.
These comments were quickly followed by the release of the latest Pentagon report claiming that China’s defense budget was larger than previously acknowledged, and that its military expansion was “a major factor in changing East Asian military balances.” This claims also shed light over the US recent joint naval exercises with South Korea in the Yellow Sea despite Beijing’s objections. For years, Washington has been siding with South East Asian countries in their rival claims to China’s in the South China Sea. But this new economic realignment in East Asia seems to be forcing the Western powers, the US is chief among them, into a dangerous collision course. But all strategic analyses seem to indicate that Chinese global influence is here to stay. The question is: How long will it remain this way?