Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Historical Perspective on China and Japan

Interesting letter to the editor in Wednesday's Financial Times:

Japan has been in the cold before, by the same rationale

Published: March 4 2009 02:00 | Last updated: March 4 2009 02:00

From Prof Arthur Waldron.

Sir, Japan’s allies have left it in the cold before (“A diplomatic feint that looks set to leave Japan in the cold”, Philip Stephens February 27), most notably after the Washington Conference of 1921-22, which saw the security treaty with Britain, fundamental to Japan, discarded, with a fine-sounding set of multilateral guarantees as substitute. The rationale then, as now, was the need to yield before the inevitable rise of China.

What happened? China entered an unexpected period of turbulence that threatened Japanese interests. Tokyo drifted for a while trying to work within the multilateral framework, but when it proved useless found a new compass in dictatorship at home and pre-emptive attack abroad, against China and eventually the US.

History does not repeat itself but it has lessons. One is never to sell short Japan, least of all as a power. Another is that all long positions on China should be carefully hedged.

Arthur Waldron,
Bryn Mawr, PA, US
Lauder Professor of International Relations,
University of Pennsylvania

The image above, of one of the Kongo Rikishi guardian statues at the Kofukuji temple in Nara, Japan, was pilfered from a Geocities site of what appears to be (judging by the flag) an Argentinian karate club.

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