Fear of Japanese Nationalistic Revival Unfounded: public opinion and government prudence dictate otherwise

There is a fear, both in East Asia and the world at large, that rising Japanese nationalism will lead to an inexorable decline in relations and eventually conflict between that country and China.

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These fears are, of course, predicated on the history of ultra-nationalism in Japan which gradually increased in the first part of the 20th century into a rabid racism and superiority complex. This laid the foundations for the aggressive expansionism of the Japanese Imperial Army into China in the 1930s and against USA and the rest of East Asia in the 1940s.

However this perception of a ‘shift to the right’ does not hold much ground. Firstly, the Japanese public remains firmly against Japan taking a more assertive military stance. In a recent poll, 64% of respondents were against revising Article 9 of the constitution, which prohibits Japan from taking any offensive military action. 82% of people wanted to maintain Japan’s three non-nuclear principles of refusing to manufacture, possess or store nuclear weapons. 77% were against exporting Japanese military technology abroad.

Anti-nuclear sentiment is strong in Japan
Anti-nuclear sentiment is strong in Japan

Perhaps, interestingly, 65% of respondents believed that the administration of Shinzo Abe would cause tensions in East Asia (particularly in relation to China) to rise. Related to this are the 63% who believed a territorial dispute was the most likely cause of conflict and 55% who saw China as the mainĀ state threat to Japanese security.

The territorial dispute between Japan and China in the East China Sea has intensified during Abe’s premiership and does seem a potential flashpoint for regional security. Yet despite respondents fearing the growing tensions over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, the majority still do not desire a revision of the military and constitutional status quo in Japan.

Aligned with public opinion are the ‘Big Business’ interests of Japanese corporations, who depend on a stable relationship with China to maintain the economic equilibrium. Abe is not stupid; he has staved off an ultra-nationalist revival by making symbolic gestures (such as visiting the Yasukuni Shrine and mobilising the Japanese coastguard in the East China Sea) whilst urging restraint and dialogue.

If anything, Chinese nationalism is the concern. Part of the CCP’s agenda is to stir up a hatred of the ‘other’; this is perpetuated by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has shown in its recent confrontation with Vietnam in the South China Sea that national interests will not be subordinated for any concession.

China, rather than Japan, threatens to escalate conflict in East Asia
China, rather than Japan, threatens to escalate conflict in East Asia

Ultimately, despite Japan’s history of destructive nationalism, there is cause for optimism. Whilst tensions may be rising in the East China Sea, there is no reason to believe that this will end in conflict. Firstly, China and Japan are too economically interdependent; second, Japan’s public are clearly against a resuscitation of military aggression; thirdly, despite his seemingly nationalist outlook, Shinzo Abe will not allow it. He has engineered a position of dominance for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which the interlude of Democratic Party (DPJ) rule threatened to render impossible.

Whatever the case, a repeat of the ’30s and ’40s is not on the cards.

Poll Data

http://mansfieldfdn.org/program/research-education-and-communication/asian-opinion-poll-database/listofpolls/2014-polls/asahi-shimbun-special-public-opinion-poll-040714/

50 Years of Pointless Bloodshed: Farc vows to fight on

In May 1964, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) was established by a group of Marxist rebels intent on creating a communist state in South America. In the intervening half-century some 220,000 people have been killed in the armed struggle between the criminal/terrorist group and government forces.

Manuel Marulanda (Sureshot) was one of Farc's founders and died in 2008 without ever being caught
Manuel Marulanda (Sureshot) was one of the Farc’s founders and died in 2008 without ever being caught

Like many left-wing guerrilla groupsĀ that formed with a strong ideological premise, the Farc has descended into a militant criminal gang, operating in the realm of narco-trafficking, political assassination and abduction more characteristic of the big Colombian drug cartels or the Mafia.

Whilst some progress has been made in the ongoing Havana peace talks between representatives of the Colombian government and the Farc (including agreements on land reform, political participation and the drug trade), a lasting concord appears unlikely. Quite simply, the Farc cannot be trusted. The organisation is no longer a coherent body and militant criminals acting under the Farc banner will quickly discredit any move towards reconciliation.

After sustained efforts by the Colombian government - with US support - Farc's national coordination has been irreparably damaged
After sustained efforts by the Colombian government – with US support – the Farc’s national coordination has been irreparably damaged

The failure to completely eradicate the Farc (which had seen its numbers decline from approximately 20,000 to 7,500 in the first decade of this century) is part of the reason President Juan Manuel Santos has lost the first round of his re-election campaign to right-wing candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

Zuluaga, quite reasonably, sees the peace talks in Havana as a delaying tactic by the Farc, allowing it to rebuild whilst simultaneously drawing concessions from the government.

Because of Colombia’s geography – vast swathes of forest and rural highlands – wiping out every last vestige of the Farc is likely to prove extremely difficult. Just as the Maoist Shining Path group in Peru causes periodic instability, the Farc is likely to continue do the same thing. Indeed, its nominal leader, ‘Timochenko’, has promised just that:

We promised to win and will win…after 50 years of incorruptible battle, we will continue to fight as long as it takes if the oligarchy insists on impeding peace.

Farc maintains most of its territorial control - and popular support - in remote rural villages
The Farc maintains most of its territorial control – and popular support – in remote rural villages

Timochenko dreams of an ‘effective peace’ and refuses unconditional surrender. What concessions he really expects from a country terrorised by his group’s activities for half-a-century is hard to fathom. And the notion that the Farc would willingly uphold any signed agreement, given its history, seems faintly ludicrous.

1979-2014: the expansion and decline of the EU

In 1979, the first elections to the European Parliament were held. 410 Members (MEPs) were elected in the first true international election. At the time there were only members of the European Community (the forerunner of the European Union):

  • France
  • West Germany
  • Italy
  • UK
  • Ireland
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • Denmark
  • Luxembourg
The first session of the European Parliament, 1979
The first session of the European Parliament, 1979

The general turnout across the EC was poor (averaging 63%) perhaps reflecting a lack of ‘Europeaness’, as if EC citizens still thought of themselves only in terms of nationality rather than as members of a common institution.

That said, other countries across the continent were queuing up to join the EC, seeing the benefits of economic integration in a Cold War world. Even by 1999, however, the now-EU had only 15 member states.

Fast-forward to today’s elections, and 751 seats in the European Parliament are up for grabs, spread across 28 member states. The enthusiasm provoked by this remarkable expansion of the EU – helped by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the declining influence of Russia – is tempered by the widespread anti-EU sentiment across the continent.

Agitation for an EU exit is strong in the UK
Agitation for an EU exit is strong in the UK

Since 1979, more and more power has been devolved from individual nations to Brussels, allowing the EU an overbearing influence on domestic policy. Additionally, the economic recovery on the continent since the 2008 financial crisis has been ponderous at best, with many countries (particularly along the Mediterranean) still suffering from austerity budgets, job losses and sluggish growth.

Just as significantly, in 1999 the Amsterdam Treaty was signed, effectively abolishing border controls between EU member states. This has fuelled resentment in many countries where immigration levels have become unsustainable.

This changed European climate means that many parties contesting today’s election are running on anti-EU or reform-EU ticket, rather than promising further integration, or even espousing any political ideology.

The devolution of power (and money) to the EU is alarming, and the open borders arrangement in an expanding community is a farce. With many immigrants unwilling or unable to integrate in their host countries, ethnic and racial tensions are stirring. In a bid for greater homogeneity and unity, the EU has exacerbated existing divisions, creating others.

At the same time, there has been no concerted effort towards a regional economic revival, with stimulus packages and austerity measures instead applied in an ad hoc fashion to country’s in need.

There may, then, be one thing in common between the 1979 and 2014 European Parliament elections: a low turnout. The EU’s resistance to reform makes the effort of voting (even for anti-EU parties) seem a futile gesture.

Declining public opinion towards the EU is encapsulated in this graphic
Declining public opinion towards the EU is encapsulated in this graphic