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December 11, 2012

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Not really sure shifting allegiances based on realpolitik and balance of power considerations really remove the whiff of 1914. But we can hope.

Korea is a post-colonial society whose extremely brutal former colonial master is still right there, just a short hop away. So, Nipponophobia is still a core element of Korean nationalism, and likely will be for a long time to come. It's a bloody shirt that's always lying close at hand, waiting for someone or other to wave it.

That said, nationalist hysteria is usually (not always!) a question of internal politics. This can make it relatively opaque to outsiders; it looks to us like Korea is going nuts, when in fact there's usually (not always! but usually) a more complex game going on involving various impulses in Korean politics and society.

Anyway: the rise of China is generating new defensive arrangements all across the region. For example, Indian-Japanese relations have grown steadily stronger and tighter over the last decade. The two countries quietly signed a security pact in 2008. They’ve conducted joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. Their trade has more than tripled since 2001 (albeit from a low base), and Japan is funding several massive Indian infrastructure projects with cheap loans.

Similarly, Japanese-Vietnamese relations have been growing ever warmer and closer; Japan is Vietnam’s largest investor and largest donor, and there are regular friendly high-level meetings of prime ministers and Party chairmen and such. The two countries don’t have a formal security pact (yet), but have agreed upon a “strategic partnership for peace and prosperity in Asia”. Their first joint military exercises ever are scheduled for 2013 — because it’s going to be “Vietnam-Japan Friendship Year”, don’t you know.

Of course, neither Vietnam nor India has particularly bitter memories of Japanese colonization or occupation. Still: the Philippine response is consistent with what's been going on across the region for a little while now.


Doug M.

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