Toward peace, prosperity in AsiaTo commemorate the 95th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement Day, we need to look back on the past century of Northeast Asia. Lately, Korea-Japan ties have become extremely uncomfortable, while the territorial disputes between China and Japan are showing signs of becoming physical conflicts. Concerns grow that Korea may once again be drawn into the fierce competitions of superpowers. The rapidly developing tensions in Northeast Asia have worsened since Shinzo Abe again took office as the Japanese prime minister in late 2012.
The 186 8 Meiji Restoration was the only example of the successful westernization and modernization of an Asian country. Based on this success, Japan won consecutive victories against China and Russia in two major wars and grew into an imperialist superpower. Starting with the 1910 annexation of Korea, it launched an invasion on China. It was an unstoppable step for Japan, which succeeded in building a militarist country based on the emperor system. “The question remains whether Japan will be a watchdog for the Western way of might or a defender of the Eastern way of right,” said Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese revolutionary who founded the Republic of China, before his death in 1924. Sun’s remarks are in line with Korea’s independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun, before his execution in 1909, and the Korean Declaration of Independence of March 1, 1919.
The totalitarian dictatorships of the 20th century share one common aspect: the entire country, including the leader, becomes the captive of the system. Captivated by the excitement of militarism and dynamics of nationalism, Japan ended up launching the attack on Pearl Harbor and entered into World War II. Its crushing defeat ended the era of imperialism and gave a second chance to Japan, forcing it to restructure for the second time.
Joining Germany in democratizing in 1945, Japan managed to successfully reform and develop. Its enormous economic growth was even featured on a Time magazine cover story in the 1980s. A pacifist Constitution, democratic politics and high-speed growth were the three pillars that supported Japan, and it deserved the praise it got for successfully transforming for a second time. Japan, however, is aggressively trying to create a new national system again since Abe took office, and the results are shaking home and abroad. The international community, particularly around Asia, is concerned about Japan’s return to militarized politics based on sentimental nostalgia for its imperialist era, a superpower based on the Meiji Restoration.