Saturday, 22 September 2012

Japan must return to Asia (PO)

By M D Nalapat

After three centuries of defeat, the first major victory of an Asian power against a country which considered itself European was in 1905,when Admiral Togo Heihachiro sank the bulk of the Czarist (Russian) fleet off Tsushima. Across the continent, from Turkey to India to Vietnam, people who for centuries had been drained of their wealth and future by European powers rejoiced. In the victory of Japan, they saw a future where they themselves would get liberated. As indeed they were, including by armed conflict. A half-century after Tsushima, a cohort of ill-armed Vietnamese soldiers led by Marshal Vo Nguyen Giap defeated the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu, thereby emulating the Japanese defeat of the British, French and Dutch forces throughout South-east Asia. The Japanese wave was stopped only at the border of India, when largely Indian troops battled them to a standstill, only to continue to be treated as ninth-class and non-citizens by the very British crown whose fortunes they had rescued Despite the immense sacrifices made by Indian soldiers - over two million of them - during World War II, it was the French (with their much smaller contribution to the war effort) that Churchill indulged, placing Paris on the UN Security Council while refusing to give India any except the meanest role in the UNO. In the view of the Prime Minister who is celebrated in NATO capitals as being the “defender of democracy”, only those of a particular skin tone had the right to the benefits of democracy. The rest had to remain content as helots to the Master Race. Incidentally, this view of Winston Churchill was not different from that of Adolf Hitler, except that to the latter, much of Europe were helots as well.

To the racists in the chancelleries of London, Paris and elsewhere in Europe, it was a shock when Japanese troops swiftly overcame opposition from those who for centuries had cut through Asia with ease. Although the record of Japan in the countries it occupied was vile - none more so than in China, where unspeakable atrocities were committed - yet it must be acknowledged that the successes of Tokyo inspired freedom fighters throughout Asia, including in India, where Congress leader Subhas Chandra Bose decided to take help from Germany and Japan to fight the British. In retrospect, this was an unwise decision, as it drained away support for the Congress Party within the UK,thereby making it inevitable that Whitehall would accept the Jinnah-Churchill plan of dividing India. Although it is Pakistan that has got all the attention, the reality remains that Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Maldives and Afghanistan were also part of the British Raj,and that had the leaders of the subcontinent been more united and with a broader strategic vision, they would have held out for a united subcontinent that would immediately have emerged as a global force.

As it turned out, a divided subcontinent was created out of the departure of the British, thereby reversing one of the legacies of the Raj, which was to unify the ancient Subcontinent of India, which before the British took over, was a seething congeries of warring states Japan is one among the ancient civilisations of the world. The Japanese people are the inheritors of a grand tradition and noble culture. Which is why it has been a shock to see the way the culture of the country changed after its defeat in 1945. Since then, the establishment in Japan has tried to behave as though the country were located between Belgium and France, rather than in the eastern corner of Asia. It is comic to see the way some in that country wear tails and top hats, trying to pass off as Englishmen. Not surprisingly, several young women in Japan dye their hair in all sorts of colours, and are most happy when told that they look as though they were European. To be called that is the biggest compliment that can be paid to many.

Japanese, a people who seem to have turned their backs towards Asia even as they turn admiring faces towards Europe. That the peoples of Europe have given the world much of what is known as modern civilisation is a fact. The entire planet owes much to the immense brainpower of Europe. However, as Rudyard Kipling put it in somewhat more elegant prose, Asia is Asia and Europe is Europe. And historically, it is Asia that has been in the lead for most ofhistory, and will do so again It is time for Japan to re-enter Asia, and to turn its gaze towards its own continent. This means that Tokyo must strengthen its ties with countries such as India, while ensuring that it remains friendly to China and to Korea. A Japan re-integrated in Asia will provide the spark plug needed to ignite the continent, given the immense industry and skillsets of the Japanese people.

This time around, the focus has to be on avoiding war, rather than seeking out conflict. After having seen the collapse of European domination over the globe as a consequence of two world wars (in 1914-19 and 1939-45), Asia must accept the inevitability of peace. Tensions, such as those between Beijing and Tokyo, need to be damped down in the overall interest. Asian institutions need to get created, so as to follow the trajectory of Europe, which over the past sixty-seven years has avoided all except a few localised conflicts. The people of Japan need to look back at their own traditions and into their own roots, and accept that Japan must return to Asia.

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