India became independent on August 15, 194 while China on April 1, 1950. Sino-Indian relations have since witnessed ups and downs from bonhomie, hindi-chinee bhai bhai (Indian-Chinese brotherhood) to being at daggers drawn. The last coffin in the relations is India’s cartographic aggression of amending maps to show Chinese territories as Indian.
Genesis of boundary dispute
McMahon Line: Upon independence, British legacy was a boundary dispute with China in the east in the form of McMahon Line “by treaty, custom or both’, exacerbated by India’s claim of disputed Kashmir state’s accession on October 26, 1947 (historian Alastair Lamb doubts authenticity of the `instrument of accession’).
India’s prime minister pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru was adamant that `India’s boundaries with China were clear and not a matter off further argument’(Notes, Memoranda and Agreement Signed between the Government of India and China, White Paper II, 1957 (new Delhi, Ministry of external Affairs, government of India, 1959), p. 49, 52-57). China shrugged off India’s point of view.
Both countries accused each other of border violations. India alleged People’s Liberation Army often trespassed Hoti, Damzen, Shipki Pass, Lapthal and Sangcha Malla by 1954. To create a nation-wide furor, Nehru told Indian parliament on August 25, 1959 that a Chinese detachment encroached into Indian Territory of Longiu in the Subansiri frontier Division at a place south of Migyitunand opened fire. Inlate1950s,
The 1962 War
Nehru and Zhou En Lai met in New Delhi from April 19 to 25 1960 to defuse the situation. But, it was in vain. The boundary dispute led to October 1962 War. In the short war, China occupied Aksai Chin, an uninhabited area of Ladakh in disputed Kashmir state, close to Azad Kashi area. After occupying Aksai Chin, China built its Highway219 to connect to its eastern province of Xinjiang.
Why Sino-Indian bonhomie ended
The 1962 War was upshot of Indi’s Forward Policy, propounded by Indian’s General BM Kaul, and reluctantly followed by Nehru. According to this policy, India provocatively deployed troops and established b order outposts along India-China boundary. To justify deployment, India alleged China had built seven roads inside the Indian territory of Ladakh, several roads being close to India’s border in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, six in Sikkim and Bhutan borders, and eight in the North East Frontier Agency. It was further alleged that China had established seven new posts in Ladakh, 14 in the Central Sector of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, 12 across Sikkim and Chumb Valley, and three across NEFA.
Contours of Disputed border
Sino-Indian boundary is divided into three sectors, eastern western and the middle. The border dispute relates only to the western and eastern sectors. Western sector covers 4000 kilometers. Half of this boundary separates disputed Kashmir from China’s north-western province, province Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region. In the undefined northern part of the frontier, India claims an area equivalent in size to Switzerland under China is actually part of Indian Territory of Ladakh. Besides, Indian claims a Chinese controlled territory that was debatably ceded to China by Pakistan in the northern sector. Furthermore, Shakasgam Valley was claimed by India but later happened to be shown as Chinese territory in China Pakistan Boundary Agreement of 1963.
China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh
China claims an Indian controlled area three times bigger, including most of Arunachal Pradesh. China never ratified McMahon Line.
Since inclusion of Tibet in China, Arunachal Pradesh is a buffer between Tibet an India’s north-eastern region. Arunachal Pradesh used to be defined by India as North Eastern Frontier Agency during 1980 to 1954. It was converted into a state in 1955.
The McMahon Line was drawn in 1914 under Simla Accord initiated by plenipotentiaries of the British India, Tibet, and pre-Communist China. The People’s Republic of China never ratified the agreement as it regarded Tibet as inalienable part of Chinese territory.
China disputes Indian claim that Tawang region is a part of Indian Territory, showed as such in McMahon Line. China says Taiwan had historically been a part of Tibet. By corollary it is a part of China.
The Sino-Indian dispute began from Taiwan region. In view of India’s hardline position, China began to claim whole state of Arunachal Pradesh as its territory.
The myth of McMahon Line
Indian leader’s pugnacious statements about dual-front war have once again brought the McMahon Line into limelight. In its boundary dispute with China, India stresses sacrosanctity of the so-called McMahon Line. Let us look at this mythical Line. As in the Western Sector, the boundary between India and Tibet in the Eastern Sector from Bhutan to Burma also was not delimited. However, in 1873, the British drew an administrative line short of the Tibetan foothills, called the inner line. This line was not an international boundary. The British then drew another line, the’ Outer Line’. This line encompassed the external territorial frontier along the foothills, where they rose abruptly from plains for the steep climb to Tibetan plateau.
The British did not extend their authority to Assam Himalaya (North Eastern Frontier Agency), though they considered it strategically important. The McMahon Line followed the crest of Himalayas. But, it did not create a real water-shed boundary line. Circumscribing several rivers, including Brahmaputra (Tsangpo), the line moved along the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, getting broken along ridges, before entering the Brahmaputra Valley. Following signing of the Lhasa Convention as a result of Young Husband Mission in 1904, China realised precariousness of her suzerainty in Tibet. The British also felt that, after occupation of Lhasa by Manchu government in 1910, Chinese incursions into the tribal areas would pose threat to Assam (India). Lord Minto, the then Viceroy of India, therefore, proposed that the so-called Outer Line be extended to include all tribal areas except Tawang Tract. His, successor Lord Hardinge too favoured a strategic boundary between China plus Tibet and the tribal territory. While the British were brooding over various strategies, the Chinese took the initiative to establish themselves at Tsangpo Valley and headwaters of several rivers flowing into Assam.
The clever Englishman then noticed that confrontation with China would not serve her strategic interests. It would, be better to accept Tibet as a buffer state between China and colonial India. To achieve this objective, the Englishman organised a tripartite conference ‘of delegates from Tibet, China and British at Simla in 1913 under the Chairmanship of Henry McMahon, the Foreign Secretary to the Government of India. The aim of the conference was to draw ‘Inner’ and ‘Outer’ Zones in Tibet and deter the Chinese from administering the outer Tibet. Since, the Chinese delegate did not agree to this’ proposal, the conference broke down. In April 1914, McMahon somehow managed to get the draft treaty initialled by the Chinese delegate Ivan Chen. Later, McMahon and the Tibetan representative signed a joint declaration to the effect that the redrafted convention would be binding on both their governments. Maxwell in his book India’s China War further brings out that the map accompanying the draft convention showed the proposed division of Tibet into ‘Inner’ and ‘Outer’ Zones. The frontier of Tibet was marked in red colour and the proposed boundary between the two Tibetan Zones in blue colour. But the red line, which for greater part of its length showed the boundary between Tibet and China, curved round its southern extension to show what would have been boundary between India and Tibet.
In that sector it followed the alignment on which McMahon had agreed with the Tibetans. The proceedings of the agreement were made public in 1935 and the Survey of India began to mark the lines on their maps. After the Second World War, the McMahon Line got revived. Posts happened to be established in the two regions through routes, Walong and Dirang Dzong, which connected India with Tibet. Though India does not have a cogent case on the boundary issue, let us elucidate India’s point of view vis-à-vis China’s. India believes: (a) in the Eastern Sector, the McMahon Line is respected by China in the actual observance even though name of this line is anathema to the Chinese as a “hangover from the era of colonialism”. The two countries have divergent perceptions about two vital places.
These are Thag La (Chodong) and Migyuton (Long ju). ThagLa lies towards east of Bhutan and adjoins it. Long ju lies on another border route to the east of it. (b) In the Central Sector, that is, the alignment west of Nepal and reaching the Ladakh area of the IRK, the disputes concern the alignment of postures at Bara Roti (Wu Je). Here both sides have agreed before 1962 to respect the status quo and not to maintain any military presence. (c) It is in Ladakh, that the two sides have a major difference over the alignment. The main points of the Chinese view are: (a) there were only four points of dispute on the line of actual control. Regarding area in Ladakh under dispute, China had declared in 1963 that she would vacate the area in which India had set up 43 military posts prior-to the War of 1962. However, the border adjoining Baltistan and the Dardic States being under Pakistan’s control, India should first settle the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. (b) The Aksai Chin road is vital to China, because it links Western Tibet to Sinkiang. This road was built by the Chinese from Shigatse in Tibet to Yechen in Sinkiang covers a distance of 2,000 miles at a height varying from 11,000 ft to 16,000 ft through Aksai Chin. In Aksai Chin the road passes through Shabidulla (once the outpost of the State of Jammu and Kashmir) and ends at Kokyar where Sinkiang begins (Even though the journey is difficult and arduous, the Chinese use it in preference to the Keriya route which passes East of Aksai Chin and also links Rhutog in western Tibet to Khotan in Sinkiang.
The Aksai Chin road, together with the highway from Kashgar to the Khunjerab Pass and onwards into Pakistan, forms part of the lines of communication in the two remote non-Han autonomous republics, namely Tibet and Sinkiang). (c) Part of India’s border with the Sinkiang autonomous region is under Pakistan’s control since 1947. So, again, India should first settle the dispute with Pakistan first (As per Pakistan’s and Azad Kashmir’s governments’ agreement, the Northern Areas are under administrative control of Pakistan. (Facsimile of the agreement is given in Yousaf Saraf‘s Kashmiris Fight for Freedom). The Northern Areas include Gilgit, Hunza, and Baltistan, except the frontier from Siachen Glacier in the West to the Karakoram Pass and Aksai Chin. (The areas are of importance to upper Ladakh as the two rivers, the Shyok and Mibra have their origin here in Rumo and Siachin Glaciers respectively. The two rivers join and then fall into the Indus River and serve the water needs of the whole area of Ladakh North of Indus.) (d) The provisional agreement between China and Pakistan in respect of the area west of Siachin Glacier in March 1963 gives the area of Shaksgam, which abuts on the Siachin to China. Some areas of Tapndumbash, Pamir and Raksam have been given by China to Pakistan.) (e) The 1963 agreement between Pak and China covers the border right up to the Karakoram Pass. These areas will need tripartite negotiations when political conditions become favourable. Conspicuously, China’s position regarding McMahon is tenable under international law. As for India, it maintains a variable position.
India’s equivocal China policy
The hallmark of India’s foreign policy towards her neighbours is equivocation. India’s China policy is ostensibly based on Panchsheel principles that are mutual respect, non-aggression, non-interference and peaceful existence. But, it is actually based on Chanakya’s mandala principle which states ‘all neighbouring countries are actual or potential enemies’.
The duality of India’s foreign policy is reflected in her relations with China. Atal Behari Vajpayee, then Indian prime minister, is extolled as `architect of India’s China policy’. During his visit (June 2003) to China, he admitted China’s suzerainty over Tibet. Even in a written statement before the Lok Sabha, he said, ‘On Tibet, I would like to assure this House that there is no change in our decades old policy. We have never doubted that the Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China”. But, in a subsequent press conference, he clarified that there was no cataclysmic change in the status quo and India’s views on disputes with China.
After the visit, the Indian delegation told newsmen that ‘the Chinese draft wanted India to use the word “inalienable” for both Tibet and Taiwan being part of its territory, but India did not go the whole hog with this phraseology. Frontline dated July 18, 2003 reported, ‘Indian officials were at pains to point out that they had used the term “People’s Republic of China”, and not China- the PRC being an entity that came into existence in 1949’.
“What was the status quo? Kiran Kumar Thaplyal and Shiva Nandan Misra in – Select Battles in Indian History: From Earliest Times to 2000 A.D, (Volume II, page 632), point out ‘India gave major concession to China by giving up military, communications, and postal rights. It also withdrew military detachments from Yatung and Gyantse. By this treaty (1954) India indirectly recognized Chinese sovereignty (as against suzerainty) over Tibet referring to the latter as Tibet region of China’.
India’s intrusions into the Chinese territory are a stark contradiction of her status quo concerning the Chinese territory adjoining her so-called state of ‘Arunachal Pradesh’. The after math of the India-China War, also, was acceptance of Chinese point of view by India.
The vicissitudes of India – China Relations (1950 – 1962) reflect that India unquestioningly accepted China’s control of Tibet. India’s policy on Tibet during the British rule was to secure Tibet as a buffer state between India and China (fear of red China and the then USSR).
Yet, to China’s chagrin, India spurred Tibetans to expe1 the Chinese mission from Lhasa in the middle of 1949. This event forced the Republic of China in January 1950 to claim Tibet as part of China. Induction of Chinese army into that region in October 1950 vapourised the Englishman-conceived buffer between India and China.
India made muffled protests and then, according to military historians, ‘meekly acquiesced’ to China’s forward policy. In November 1950, when EI Salvador requested that Tibetans plea be heard by the United Nation, the Indian delegate did not support it. United States and Britain could not exploit the issue as India, China’s immediate neighbour, did not vote for Salvadorian proposal.
India acquiesced to construction of strategic roads, linking China with Tibet, during Nehru’s ‘Hindi-Cheeni Bhai Bhai’ era. The Chinese had constructed two roads for taking heavy load across Tibet to areas close to the so-called McMahon line. Simultaneously they surveyed the entire Aksai Chin.
In 1956, China constructed a road through Aksai Chin area from hills near Yarkand to Gartok. Johnson line had earlier shown this area as part of Kashmir, but India made no protest. In 1950, the Chinese rushed supplies through this very route to Western Tibet.
In 1958, China claimed Aksai Chin” as part of China. Now, India woke up from Rip Von Winkle’s slumber and made a counter-claim to possession of Aksai Chin.
The Indian claim was untenable under principles of international law which favoured the party in prior occupation. India had no case as it had never surveyed the area or sent her patrols into that area. As such, India did not invoke jurisdiction of International Court of Justice.
However, as an afterthought to create corroborative evidence, India sent two Indian patrols to investigate the road in July 1958. One of the patrols sent in the Southern sector came back safe while the other patrol sent in the northern sector was captured by the Chinese.
When India protested to China, the Chinese retorted that they had captured the patrol as it had, in violation of the ‘Panchsheel’ principles, trespassed their territory. When India agitated the boundary issue, the Chinese replied that the boundary between the two countries had never been delimited. About the McMahon line, the Chinese maintained that the Simla convention was signed only by the British and the Tibetan representatives and the Chinese government had not ratified the treaty.
China never accepted the Indian point of view that ‘the McMahon line was legalised by Simla convention. As such, ‘the boundary claimed by India both in the Western and the Eastern Sectors was based on geography, tradition as well as specific international agreement between India and China’. India however stuck to her schizophrenic contention on the boundary line in the eastell1 sector and her claim ‘to territory between McMahon line and the foot-hills’. As for Aksai Chin, the Chinese maps published in 1958 showed this area as part of their territory.
In March 1959, Dalai Lama fled to India, and was given asylum along with his followers. The New China News Agency accused India of ‘expansionist aims in Tibet’. Indian border post of Assam Rifles at Longju was evicted by the Chinese by force. In the Western Sector, the Indian government decided to set up posts north east of Leh.
India sent patrols to Lanak Pass. One of these patrols of about seventy men encountered the Chinese at Kongka Pass. On 20 October the Chinese and Indian patrols clashed. The flight of the Dalai Lama into India in 1960 and clashes between rival patrols led to a border war between India and China in 1962.
Duplicity in India’s foreign policy is the greatest obstruction to peaceful resolution of her disputes with her neighbours. She never tangibly objected to Chinese control of Tibet or construction of communication links in the area. Never invoked intervention by UNO on this matter. Yet, she sheltered Dalai Lama, and sent patrols into Chinese territory, leading 0 India-China War. India considers Kashmir issue to be a bilateral dispute. Yet she does not like to sit eye-ball-to-eyeball with Pakistan on dialogue table. She boasts of friendly relations with Bangladesh. But, simultaneously accuses the latter of providing sanctuaries to Indian ‘terrorists’ and ‘insurgents’ in BD territory. About Bhutan, the Indian strategic analysts say, if India does not annex it, China will.
Inference: It is high time India said no to her whimsical behaviour. How long will India cling to the Barbie doll of animosity towards her neighbours? It is not Chanakya’s mandala principle, but reason, which India should follow.
Pro-Communism warping Hong Kong
The latest turmoil in the Covid-ridden strata of mainland China is not servile to any pandemic, however, the issue has been one of the most queer and rare kinds, enough to be classified as one of the endemic issues in the global affairs. The tension at helm is the chaos following the announcement of a “New Security Law” by the Chinese regime which is being eyed as one of the monumental events of this decade; slicing off a sliver of attention from the deadly Corona virus that continues to exponentiate around the world in its second wave and sporadic variants.
The law that set out by the Chinese lawmakers back on 22nd May 2020, threatens the liberties of subversion and sedition enjoyed by the citizens of Hong Kong under a constitution. Simplistically named “Basic Law”, it aims to tame the country scaffolded by the “One country, Two systems” framework since the power handover by the former colony to China back in 1997. This act came around amidst strained economic relations between the two superpowers of the world; China and USA, each passing the baton in the blame game of who sustains the blood-crown of the catastrophe impending on the world courtesy of the lethal virus that engulfs every periphery in each continent on the globe. The matters seem complex at sight and a glimpse to the historical timeline of how riddled the relations were could hint at how strained they could reach.
The colony, known as ‘Hong Kong’ today, had been the battle ground, figuratively, to the major competitors of the 20th century: The Great Britain and China. The British dominated the colony for more than 150 years, tracing back to the late 19th century; leasing the territory for the span to morph it into the modernised metropolis marking it as the hub we know today. In 1997, an agreement was reached via an accord, ‘The Sino-British Joint Declaration‘ between the two sides. The treaty allowed Hong Kong a semi-autonomous status, that is, relaying self-sufficiency in all the national domains except in defence and foreign affairs. The allotted autonomy arches under the sovereignty of China until year 2047, henceforward melding into the mainland China as harkened by the Chinese hegemony over decades.
Despite of the granted protection of Hong Kong’s own legislation, borders and freedom of speech, the liberties have been trampled on by the Chinese government over the last couple of decades. A similar law abolishing the right to sedition was initiated in 2003 yet mass protests calling out up and about 50,000 citizens impeded the efforts that went futile and drastically ended up being shunned for good. The Communist party under the wings of Chinese president Xi Jinping have expounded further in tightening their talons on the city since 2012 as efforts were made to corrode the educational system of the country via meddling with the curriculum, biasing the foundation to hail Chinese communism. These acts were proactive reactions to the advances of the United States forging relations with the city. China even tried to manipulate the elections in 2014, tampering with the selection their Chief Executive leading to a 3-month long protest known as the ‘Umbrella movement’ and ultimate downfall of Hong Kong’s autonomous political system.
The security law falls in tandem to the events of 2019; the legislation allowing the convicts from Hong Kong to be extradited in China causing a rave of fear of a massive tactical crackdown of the Anti-communist activists of Hong Kong, sighting it just as ruse to underwhelm the right of sedition of the people of Hong Kong. The Law passed by the parliament notions to only one thing; The ultimate end to Hong Kong. The lawmakers in China, hailing from the National People’s Congress (NPC), sight this move as extricating a threat to the national security and stability of the country while many of the pro-activists in Hong Kong deem the law as betrayal, accusing China of walking back on its promise of high-degree autonomy and freedom of speech, marking it as the final straw, the last struggle before the country could override the laws in the city and indirectly, transition from the entity holding the right to veto the laws to now gripping the law altogether.
Despite of the speculated protests to spark like the history dictates, many of the sage minds predict either a relatively dormant demonstrations or none at all, having a tint of finality in the statement shote the protests are “high stake in risk and repression”. The recent arrest of the leading activists of Hong Kong standing up to voice their disdain to the separatist efforts of China further solidify the notion. Despite of a global condemnation to the new law, the efforts of China resume to subdue any opposition in Honk Kong no matter how sparse. Foreseeing no way out for Hong Kong this time; the Covid-19 paralysis the United States in its own crisis and the legislature inclining towards the Chinese pressure, a complete erasure of Hong Kong is sighted and could not be restrained- for better or for worse.
The Belligerent Chinese Diplomacy and Its Failure
The Chinese media has recently reported of Xi Jinping writing a letter to George Schultz the former chairman of Starbucks, the US coffee giant. In the letter, he has requested Schultz to play a positive role in advancing the US-China relations. While head of a major state writing letter to big corporate heads is not a common but not an unusual development either, this letter from Jinping should be seen in a relevant context. It indicates a certain amount of desperation and difficulty of China in its dealings with the US.
It suggests that after months of aggressive posturing and verbal duels against Trump, the State Department and Pentagon, China is now cosying up to the new Joe Biden administration. Further, it also means the recent Chinese aggressive posturing, wolf diplomacy has failed to bring in the desired results and that the Xi Jinping-led CCP is under more pressure now to soft-pedal the recent acrimonious ties between the two.
The year 2020 had been a very disappointing and calamitous year for the world. And Corona pandemic could well be cited as the most important reason. While the world as a whole has struggled to fight this unknown enemy individually as well as collectively, one country that has been in the limelight, for all the wrong reasons, been China.
Foreign policy and diplomacy is all about protecting and promoting the perceived national interests of a country. While achieving its objectives, the country tries to create and maintain a favourable image in the international community. The Chinese diplomatic endeavour since the ascension of Xi Jinping has been starkly opposite. From the most likely origin of Corona virus, to rebuking leaders, diplomats and media of other countries, China has been trying to create a new diplomatic norm, a new normal where none of the countries would dare criticising China, through political discourse, media or any other way while silently acceding to its territorial expansionary designs.
There have been unusually vitriolic reactions by Chinese diplomats against seemingly innocuous comments or actions by governments, politicians, diplomats or media in various countries. A very rational request by the Australian government to initiate investigations by the international community into the genesis of Corona virus, made China so furious that apart from making crude undiplomatic comments, it even created a virtual political, diplomatic and trade war against the country. Critical comment by certain politicians in Brazil and Japan, led Chinese diplomats to publicly issue personalised attacks against them.
The Chinese ambassador to Sweden has went on to lambast the country’s media in most rustic manner. No wonder, in the last two years, he has been summoned to the Swedish foreign ministry an unprecedented 40 times and there have been demands from native politicians for his expulsion. In India, a country that is being seen as the closest political and military rival by China but is scared of admitting it publicly, the diplomats have kept on reminding the government and media not to play the so-called Tibet card or must adhere to One-China policy by not getting close to Taiwan, have repeatedly been ignored by the government as well as the media.
No wonder, a recent Pew Research study has revealed that globally China has lost a huge amount of goodwill. A significantly very high majority of natives in nine of the advanced economies like the US, UK, Germany, Australia, South Korea, Sweden, Netherlands think negatively of China. Australia (81%), UK (74%), Sweden (85%), Netherlands (73%) show a very high increase in the negative perception against China, very recently and that has affected their politico-commercial relations too.
With the US, the Trump administration acting aggressively in the backdrop of the November Presidential elections, the Chinese actions of challenging the lone superpower has not helped the country anyway. On the contrary, US has become more supportive of Taiwan, politically as well as militarily, making it even more difficult or virtually impossible to China to even think of occupying the territory forcibly in near future. India that had maintained a cautious approach towards Taiwan till recently, have started enhancing political and commercial relations with the country.
In Asia, its aggressive military designs against India’s northern borders has had a very rude awakening for China. Used to a timid Indian approach since 1950s under Nehru, it never expected the aggressive Indian response that even put its own military positions in Moldo and other strategic positions vulnerable. To further undermine political and military calculations, its adversaries in South China seas like Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines today are in advance negotiations with India to secure sophisticated missiles and armaments.
A very significant strategic development in the form of QUAD has taken the preliminary shape and that whenever gets in a concrete form, could well portend an ominous future for China, politically and militarily. The belligerent Chinese behaviour, especially since the onset of Corona virus has brought India, Australia, the US and Japan very close. With talks of Vietnam, Philippines and others in south-east Asia joining it later, the future of a QUAD could well be a security nightmare for China.
In the economic realm, India has reacted sharply too. Being a huge market for Chinese cheap goods and scores of apps till recently, India has not only banished hundreds of apps but has also been working on a mechanism to regulate, control and even stop imports in a number of segments from China. A big share of enormous infrastructural contracts in telecommunications, roads, ports, airports and railways in India too, have become difficult for Chinese companies. And taking a leaf out of India, the US and other countries too, are making it difficult for Chinese organisations to secure big contracts in their respective countries.
Over the next few years, China is going to lose a huge chunk of its popular and big market in India while territorially too, it has failed to make any significant gains. Strategically what China wished to see was countries like Japan, India, Australia, Vietnam, US all having disputes with it dealing individually rather than getting together and forming a coordinated and collective political, economic and strategic response against it. And the very opposite has happened. There have been greater and collective political, military and economic coordination amongst all these countries today and most of the strategies are aimed against one country, China.
All these developments including Xi’s letter to Schultz, indicate one point very certainly that Chinese belligerence has backfired hugely. It needs to reorient its diplomacy and political behaviour significantly and if it fails to do so, its position in the emerging post-Covid geopolitical order could be anything but that of an emerging superpower.
The Problem of Uncontrolled Nationalism: The Case of Japan before the WWII
Authors: Chan Kung and Yu(Tony) Pan*
Throughout the modern history of the world, Japan is undoubtedly an interesting country: it went from the edge of becoming a colony to one of few independent countries in Asia before World War II, and after the Great War, Japan even became a great power. From a broader level, Japan’s success at that time showed that Asians were not inherently inferior to Westerners. Unfortunately, Japan which was supposed to be the leader of Asia to a bright future, chose the path fascism and imperialism. Eventually, Japan became the source of the Pacific War.
It is undeniable that from the Meiji Restoration until the early Showa period (the end of World War II), Japan adapted an expansionary policy, which brought deep suffering to its neighboring countries and ultimately dragged itself into the abyss of destruction. When World War II ended, nearly 70 years of development achievements were utterly wiped out by the war.
In this context, an important question we need to ponder is: What led Japan to embark on an expansionary and self-destructive path? At what point in time did Japan’s policymakers start to lose its mind? What can future generations of nations learn from Japan’s tragic experience to prevent the same fate from happening again? As a country that has been entangled with Japan for generations and has a complicated relationship with Japan, these issues are of even greater relevance to Chinese researchers today.
Fortunately, there is actually a fair amount of scholarly research on the subject, and there exist four main explanations. The first is the “international structure theory” most commonly used by IR scholars (especially the realists), and the second, more common among Western scholars, is the “weak democratic government theory. The third is the “Pan-Asianism,” which focuses on the constructivist perspective. Finally, there is the political economy explanation of expansionary policies.
At the first glance, it seems that each of these explanations has its own rationale. Of the four, the view that the navy and the military were increasingly extreme in their struggle for policy dominance is the most possible explanation. However, it seems that each of the four existing explanations can, in fact, be incorporated into a new one, namely, that Japan’s self-destructive expansionary policies prior to World War II were the material manifestation of an uncontrolled nationalism. More specifically, these four explanations answer why the Showa government was unable to control the nationalist forces in the country. On the other hand, however, the question of whether nationalism would necessarily expand without outside interference and lead to expansionist policies was left unexplained.
Because of the natural characteristics of nationalism, it seems to us that there is a natural tendency for nationalism to expand in the course of its development. The main reasons for this phenomenon are not complicated. First of all, nationalism is a group ideology, which means that nationalists have a common goal at the macro level, but the boundaries of national interest are not consistently defined by different individuals. On this basis, because of the unreliability of group rationality, nationalism as a groupthink is prone to overstretch in the course of its development. Moreover, when such currents are not rationally controlled and end up holding state policy hostage, the state tends to follow a self-destructive path of expansionism. Pre-World War II Japan is a classic case in point.
It should be noted that the positive effects of nationalism is not being denied here, but it is crucial that a country’s policymaking process should not be ultimately being a hostage to nationalist forces. The question then, is how to prevent nationalism from spiraling out of control. From an empirical point of view, there are two different directions to prevent nationalism from getting out of control at the macro level: first, to eliminate “group irrationality” in nationalism; Second, to establish a corresponding gatekeeper between nationalism and state policymaking.
The first direction is essential to improve the thinking capacity and cultural literacy of society as a whole. This is a radical way to solve the above problems, and the improvement of the education system is the most crucial part of it. However, for reasons that are easy to understand, this approach often takes too long to implement, and the process is not really controllable. As a result, this approach, while very important, is often insufficient for policymakers.
The second approach, on the other hand, is a short-term solution (relatively speaking). To use the common metaphor of treating a bodily disease, a gatekeeper-kind-of-approach is not to eradicate the disease but rather to prevent it from damaging health amid acceptance of its existence. There are two other ways to establish gatekeepers: one is to establish a mature political system that uses institutional factors to insulate people from the negative effects of nationalism. This is also the more popular approach in developed Western countries. It should be noted that this approach has proven itself to be effective, most notably in the case of the United States, which also has two populist leaders, as opposed to Brazil, where institutional constraints and the resulting establishment have been significantly more effective in containing the negative effects of nationalism on the policy.
The alternative is to rely on a small number of political authorities within society to isolate the scourge of nationalism through the elite’s prestige and quality. Again, this is also an approach that has worked before. The best example is the significant role played by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the “reform and opening-up” process.
So, which is more effective, institutions or authority? This is not a question that can be easily answered. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, and because every country and society is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
First of all, the main advantage of institutional gatekeepers is that once established, the containment is apparent and fairly solid; however, the disadvantage is that institutions may take a long time to develop and may come at a cost (e.g., the French Revolution). An authoritative gatekeeper’s advantage is its high degree of operability, while the disadvantage is the unsustainability and instability of the individual factor. On this basis, the realization of either approach needs to be linked to local realities; in other words, neither is necessarily successful. However, despite the different possibilities of approaches and paths, one issue is certain: in this day and age, uncontrolled nationalism is still a problem that threatens national interests, and this issue must be given sufficient attention and focus by policymakers.
Lastly, for contemporary China, the case of Showa Japan has another area of critical research value: how to deal with the current international order? History has shown that almost every attempt to challenge the existing international order independently has often ended in self-destruction. Successful transformations of the international structure tend to be incremental. In the case of pre-World War II Japan, the immediate effect of nationalism was to push the Japanese government to place itself on the opposite side of the prevailing international order. Today’s China has certainly not come that far. In fact, as Professor Wang Jisi says: “In those days, Japan was an ‘institution’ in the international order, while China was rejected and discriminated against by the West as an ‘other.’ Today, Japan is still ‘within the system’ of the international order, while China has risen to become the world’s second-largest economy and its military power is not what it used to be, but there is still the question of how China views the existing international order and how to deal with its relationship with the existing international order. ” In dealing with this problem, preventing the negative effects of nationalism on state policy is undoubtedly an important aspect.
*Mr. Yu(Tony) Pan serves as the associate research fellow and the research assistant of Mr. Chan Kung, Founder, Chairman, and the Chief Researcher of ANBOUND. He obtained his master’s degree at George Washington University, the Elliott School of International Affairs; and his bachelor’s degree in University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. Mr. Pan has published pieces in various platform domestically and internationally. He currently focuses on Asian Security, geopolitics in Indo-Pacific region and the U.S.-Sino Relations.
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