by Eric Margolis
NEW YORK - Anyone who believes westerners have a monopoly on racism, bigotry, or bad-neighborliness, should have a good, hard look at the Far East.
Surprisingly, it's a rarity to meet an Asian who speaks another Asian language, overseas Chinese excepted. When a Japanese meets a Chinese, he uses English. So, too, when a Korean does business in Thailand or Taiwan. Without the lingua franca of English, monyglot Asians would be unable to communicate with one another.
As this column has pointed out for years, Asians harbor remarkably intense antipathy for their neighbors. Japanese consider Koreans a lower species of humanity. Koreans have a volcanic hatred for Japanese. Both respect Chinese culture, but look down on modern Chinese as backwards and inept.
Chinese despise Vietnamese. Vietnamese hate darker-skinned Cambodians. Cambodians hate Burmese. Burmese- and just about all other Asians -hate Indians. In racially sensitive Asia, the lighter one's skin, the higher one's status. You'll rarely see dark-skinned Chinese or Japanese in senior government ranks.
East Asians tend to see whites are rather less intelligent than themselves, and emitters of strong, sour body odor. Asians stereotype blacks as unintelligent, oversexed, and given to crime.
What could better illustrate Asia's vitriolic national/racial prejudices than the amazing fact that last week, President Jiang Zemin became the FIRST Chinese head of state in 1,000 years to visit neighboring Japan. Yet even this historic event was overshadowed by the still festering dispute over World War II between Japan and China.
Beijing demanded Japan deliver a written apology for invading and occupying part of China from 1937-45, a war in which China claims to have suffered 20 million dead. Japanese officials have repeatedly apologized in recent years, but Beijing still insists on a written mea culpa from the Japanese. Japan's deeply colorless prime minister, Keizo Obuchi, would only issue an oral apology. The Chinese went into a well-publicized huff, almost ruining the Sino- Nipponese summit.
While it's true Japan treated many of its neighbors - notably China, the Philippines and Korea - with cruelty and ferocity, as it did thousands of unfortunate Allied POW's- Japan was hardly alone in acting beastly.
Dutch colonial troops slaughtered nearly 50,000 Indonesians in 1948 alone. Imperial Britain savaged India and Burma. A century ago, Britain went to war against China to force opium upon its people, producing 20 million addicts. France mercilessly crushed rebellions in Tonkin, and sat back while over one million Vietnamese starved after World War II. America waged a brutal war against Muslim Moros of the Philippines.
And don't forget Chairman Mao, darling of western liberals. The Great Helmsman's marxist experiments killed 30 million Chinese peasants. That's 50% more Chinese than the Japanese killed in World War II.
Or that Japan suffered terribly from the ruthless bombing and nuclear attacks that razed its cities and killed huge numbers of civilians. Asians live in glass houses. The Rape of Nanking, where Japanese forces massacred 120,000 Chinese, was a frightful crime. So was the hideous fire-bombings of Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Kobe.
Chinese, of course, have a right to be angry at Japan, but few today remember the war, and, as the century ends, it's high time to entomb past hatreds.
However, China's demands for continuing Japanese apologies are much more about current geopolitics than past wrongs. China is skilfully using war guilt to keep Japan on the defensive. Every time Tokyo makes a hesitant attempt to begin acting like the great power it should be, China beats the drums about the war. Koreans and Philippines happily join the chorus, knowing that Japanese guilt - like German guilt - is a big cash machine.
As US military influence in Asia recedes, and Russia founders, China is well aware the sole impediment to its domination of East Asia is Japan. Chinese geopolitical analysts consider Japan a long-term, determined, highly dangerous enemy. So China's strategy is to keep Japan militarily impotent, and on the diplomatic and moral defensive.
However, the US has been pressing Japan to openly announce military and logistical support of US forces in South Korea in the event North Korea attacks. Defenseless against Chinese or North Korean missiles, Japan is finally considering building an anti-missile defensive shield. Both issues have roused Beijing's ire, producing the usual accusations of `resurgent Japanese militarism.'
Chinese well understand Japanese mentality. They are literally trying to browbeat Japan into a state of constant submission. Japanese still wallow in tribal humiliation over their crushing wartime defeat. Japan's foreign and military policies are those of a beaten, guilt-plagued nation that must remain forever on best behavior, and atone for past wrongs. Any Japanese leaders who suggest it's time to remove the hair shirt of national guilt are immediately branded warmongering fascists.
Each time Japan must apologize for World War II, it loses much face among fellow Asians, many who relish watching the fiercely proud Japanese having to genuflect to their `inferior' neighbors. By forcing Japan to kow-tow, China reasserts its self-appointed role as Asia's premier power.
It is the Confucian way. Young must pay respect to the old; woman to man; lowborn to the high; vanquished to victor; Japan's Shogun to the visiting Emperor of China.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
[The First Opium War, in which the Qing unsuccessfully sought to resist
British demands to allow the import of Indian-grown opium, led to the treaty
of Nanjing. This was the first of the so-called unequal treaties and
resulted in the imposition of reparations, the loss of Hong Kong, and the
creation of four treaty ports in which the British enjoyed special
concessisions. ... the Second Opium War (1857-60), which culminated in the
ransacking of the Summer Palace in Beijing by British and French troops and
the resulting Treaty of Tianjin and the Beijing Conventions. These
established a whole string of new treaty ports in which Western citizens
were granted extra-territoriality, the right to foreign military bases was
conceded; missionaries were given freedom to travel in the interior; and
further reparations were imposed. (p86)--Martin Jacques, "When
China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a
New Global Order," Penguin Press HC, The (November 12, 2009)]