Monday, May 16, 2005

Chinese Nationalism, the Iron Curtain of the Pacific

(My little cousin just recently wrote an essay for her History Class titles:" Chinese Nationalism, the Iron Curtain of the Pacific." I am posting it here because I thought it is very good, especially coming from a High School junior. Needless to say, I am very proud of her. Her blog is here. And if someone accuse me of nepotism; I am guilt as charge)
The new century has been dubbed the Pacific century by economists and Asian optimists alike, yet, whose job will it be to lead the Pacific in the way America led the Atlantic? Many gravitate towards China, being one of the top economic powers with a fast growing economy as well as a powerful military. However, the great expectations for China might be misguided as The Economist article “China and the Key to Asian Peace” illustrates. It is how China uses both her economic and military influences in the Pacific that will largely determine if a China-led Pacific will exist.
There are many trials China must go through to prove that she is ready. The Economist focused on two more current ones in its essay, North Korean Nuclear proliferation and China unification. It is true that how China resolve these two issues will largely determine if they are ready to acquire the mantle of Pacific leadership.

However, China has a much darker enemy among her ranks and it is a problem that is not so easily extinguish and repair. That is China own nationalist pride. In the end it is how this pride affects China rationale and decision making that will not only separate the Pacific but separate China from being the leader of the Pacific.
Nevertheless, before one can go into the true dangers of Nationalism to China, a clear understanding of Nationalism must be achieved. What is Nationalism and why is it dangerous? To get at the root of that question one must eliminate what it is not, and that is patriotism. While patriotism is the love of and devotion to one own country, Nationalism goes beyond that. It is “an ethno-political ideology that sustains the concept of a nation-identity for an exclusive group of people.. The 'glory and wellbeing' of one's own nation as a fundamental ethos” (Nationalism). In summary, patriotism is a simple love of ones country, like the way one would love America and would defend America when it is necessary. On the other hand nationalism is much more bounding tying those who follow it to a sense of false pride and superiority to others.
There in lay the true danger of Nationalism. An emphasis on the interest of one own nation and an inherent belief that one own nation, culture or ethnicity is superior to others. Many countries suffered from this condition and still do; Europe was racked with it in the previous century. The most famous being Nazi Germany during World War II. Her disregard for the rest of Europe coupled with her intense belief of Aryan superiority spearheaded one of the bloodiest war in human history. Mistakes such as nationalism perhaps could exist in the past, but now in a time when every nation are tied together by the strings of globalization and international relations, there is no room for the superiority and self serving attitude of nationalism.
Yet, at least one country still holds steadfast to its nationalist view, China. This can be clearly seen not through what China says but what China does. Such as the way China dealed with Taiwan in her policies. Although the global community views Taiwan as a legitimate country in her own right with ideology and government. To this day China does not. Taiwan is often seen as nothing more then a renegade province. The reason can not be stated any clearer then in The Economist's article “China and the Key to Asian Peace.” In which the author states that “a China where nationalism has largely replaced communist ideology as the party’s rationale for clinging to power has no patience for Taiwan’s developing democracy – the first in 5,000 years of Chinese history – or wishes of its people”. Taiwan holds no true benefit to China and both countries exist in two completely different nature of government, yet, because Taiwan belonged to China for the pass centuries, Chinese pride cannot allow such a separation. However, would China risk going to war for something as trivial as that of a state separated decades ago? Evidently so when earlier this year China passed an Anti-Succession law against Taiwan. Even though Taiwan has been de facto independent for decades now, it has never made a formal declaration of independence. With the new Anti-Succession law, however, China threatens to go to war if Taiwan “officially” succeed.
This law however not only points out the massively low level of rational in China when nationalism is involved but a clear sign of how damaging China’s pride can be for international relationships as well. Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, stated that “we also want to show to the Chinese side [through massive Taiwanese protest] that we are angry over the Chinese action and we want to let the Chinese side know that the law has dealt a severe blow to the prospect of peaceful negotiations in between Taiwan and China” and not only in between Taiwan and China but China and the global community because many nations do not accept China’s disregard for peace due to pride over lost territory (“Thousands”).

However, the previous Taiwanese protest brings to mind another protest, one more current and this time it was China’s turn. The event in question has been dubbed the “Japanese Textbook Scandal.” When the Japanese government approved a set of textbooks that downplay what the Japanese Military did during the war, where the Nanjing massacre was referred to as an “incident.” And instead of 300,000 people died, it became “many people”. As a result thousands of Chinese have begun protesting, boycotting, and vandalizing Japanese properties in China, such as embassies and business. The Chinese governments have done little to nothing to protect Japanese investment in China which clearly displays China own stance on the issue. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao even made a statement in which he reprimanded Japan, saying “Japan needs to face up to history squarely” (qtd. in Hiatt).
Mr. Jiabao’s statement is truly commendable because what can be more noble then the proper treatment of history? However, is that all there is on the Premier’s mind? To put the event in context, one must see how the two societies “face up to history.” Fred Hiatt, the writer of “China’s Selective Memory”, puts the issue in perspective. “Many textbooks receive ministry approval in Tokyo, and no school is forced to use any particular one. Issues of war guilt or innocence, and of proper historiography, are debated endlessly and openly in Japanese newspapers” (Hiatt). Compare this to the strict control that the Communist Regime of China has on history. In which “there is only one acceptable version of history, at least at any given time; history often changes, but only when the Communist Party decides to change it”, even the event of Tiananmen Square can be omitted (Hiatt).
It is clear then that the anti-Japanese reaction from China’s government is not about “facing up to history squarely.” But if it isn’t, then what is it? The answer can be found in the UN or more specifically the UN Security Council. The most powerful organ of the UN, the Security Council has the power to make decisions which member governments must carry out under the United Nations Charter. Currently there are five permanent UN Security Council seat are the United States, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, the Republic of France, and the People Republic of China. However, soon the possibility of Japan along with Germany, India, Brazil, and Nigeria obtaining permanent seats in the UN Security Council is very high.
The matter of the Japanese textbook incident is not a matter of history but its politic; China does not want Japan to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. China does not want the balance in the Pacific to be changed, to hold on to her current political superiority. Although with another nation from the Pacific on the Security Council might prove beneficial to the Pacific as a whole. In the way the European Union is for Europe, the advantage of a Union within the Pacific is unfathomable. However, as The Economist special reports states, “such entities require at least some willingness to share sovereignty, which China for the moment will not consider” (“So hard”).

To consider would be going against their own nationalist based policies. But that is the dangers of nationalism, where it wreaks the most havoc. In a global community where foreign relations reign supreme, the doctrine one follows with foreign policy must be a pragmatic one not one of pride. Thus it is true that it is not impossible for China to lead the Pacific, however, that probability remains unclear especially when their pride is so excessive. To be able to lead the Pacific, China must have a good relationship with other nations of the Pacific. Until china can take a bite of the humble pie, a China-led pacific is just a dream. Unless China wants to lead through war and bloodshed, then that would be no different from Europe of pass centuries and a dream of the Pacific would become a nightmare.

5 Comments:

Blogger THIRDWAVEDAVE said...

A very well thoughtout piece, sir. I find the situation in the pacific region an interesting one. I always keep an eye out for developments as it will no doubt be a challenge for the U.S to maintain its influence there.

10:32 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

I came across a nice quote while re-reading Randall Gould's great China memoir China in the Sun the other day. Gould was a veteran member of the old China press corps before the war.

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Blogger summermobile said...

The Economist focused on two more current ones in its essay, North Korean Nuclear proliferation and China unification. It is true that how China resolve these two issues will largely determine if they are ready to acquire the mantle of Pacific leadership.

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