Chapter 4: The “Strategic Thinking” of Imperial Japan in the Age of Western Nations

Both the movement of Japan towards ‘Westernization’ or ‘Nationalism’ both arose out of necessity to defend against existential threat to the Japanese.  The anti-West perspectives evolved into empathy towards and desire to form a defense alliance with west-dominated Asian nations who were colonized and exploited, even before the Meiji Restoration.  Such movement towards unity with and liberation of colonized Asian nation defines the quint essence of ‘Dai Asia Shugi’ (The Great Pan Asia-ism). (p.98)

It was the desire of early Meiji Restoration leaders like Takamori Saigo ( early Meiji Era statesman)  to establish a Japan-Korea-China Alliance to defend against Russia seeking to expand southward from its eastern Siberian territories; Saigo’s true intensions were not to conquer Korea, as generally misunderstood, but to form a mutual defense front against Russian encroachment. (p.100)

In July 29th, 1858 Japan signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, generally regarded as the ‘Unequal Treaty’ with the American, as it gave unfair benefits to the Americans; such as access to many ports to Japan along with; rights to extraterritoriality (subjugation of Americans to American legal system, not Japanese); permanent residency rights to Americans in Japan; rights to levy import and export tax; give US the most favored nation status, etc. This treaty became the biggest hindrance in the initial phases of modernization of Japan, and efforts to nullify this treaty became the highest priority of the Meiji Government, concomitantly alerting the Japanese leaders the urgency to become a strong nation, militarily, an agenda of highest order so that it can lead to the renouncing this treaty. (p.103)

The subjugation of Japan-along with subjugation of other Asian nations like China- into the so-called ‘Unequal Treaties’ in Asia greatly angered the Japanese populace and gave birth to a movement called ‘Dai Asia Shugi’ (The Great Pan Asia-ism) to unite the Asian nation to rise against the West, to give birth to an Asian renaissance, to create ‘One United Asia’. (p. 106)

The metaphor, ‘Yellow Peril’, emerged out after the Japan’s victory in the Russo Japanese War in 1905.  A similar metaphor, ‘White Peril’, also emerged to express the continued exploitation of Asia by the Western colonies.   Shuumei Okawa, a Japanese academic journalist who has studied Indian subjugation to colonial exploitation by the British, touted the need for the ‘Dai Asia Shugi’ (The Great Pan-Asiaism) and voiced support for Indian outcries for their independence.   Since the Meiji Restoration, the romantic ideals of Asian Unity and Asian Emancipation from the West -with Japan leading the effort- was an underlying political ideal and agenda for Japan. (p.107)

In the late 19th century England, after the industrial revolution, there were increasing debate whether to maintain the expansion of colonies or to reduce its colonial presence, and develop industrial capital through liberalization of trade; the successful independence of the United States from England and enormous expansion of ensuing of bi-lateral trades between the UK  and  the United States encouraged these trend.  Also with the effect of the French Revolution various movements to end the colonization began to appear as well.  These anti-colonization movements were further supported by increasing fiscal strains of maintaining colonies.  However, ultimately, the UK and rest of the Western nations  continued to expand its colonial control globally; In 1875 UK  acquired control of Suez Canal, n 1877 Acquired control of India, l878 Acquired Cyprus, as well as French who colonized Algeria and Vietnam, Russia and the US expanded into the  Pacific.

Similar discussions took place in Japan as well, in the early 20th century, especially during the flurry of liberalism of Taisho Period (1912-26), by Tetsutaro Miura (journalist) and Tanzan Ishibashi (former Prime Minister), who advocated total liberalization of all colonies under belief that all other colonizing nations will renounce theirs as well due to inability to morally justify their presence. Ishibashi would argued idealistically if nations like the UK and US refuses to follow the same renunciation of its colonial expansion, then an alliance with all of the rest of nations will be formed to  counter the US and UK.  Those who argued against this idealism expressed a realistic vision that if Japan were to renounce the colonies then other Western colonizer will rejoice and immediately step in and acquire the former Japanese territories.  Furthermore, this idealism would only encourage southern expansion by the Russians and westward expansion by the US, with Japan ultimately losing its sovereignty and becoming a colony itself.  (p.109)

When Japan committed itself into World War II in Pacific the most of Asia ex-Japan could not even dream of ever becoming emancipated as they were under severity of slavery and subjugation of western colonization.  It was the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1905) that sent long-waited shock waves hope and pride throughout entire Asia. (p.110)

Post Meiji Restoration regime of Japan always desired for an independent and close ally in Korea, thus invested heavily to modernize and strengthen this nation.  The pro-independence movement in Korea, supported by Japan, however was crushed by the Qing regime of China in 1884.  Until that point, one of the key supporters of the independent Korea movement of Korea was Yukichi Fukuzawa, the founding father of modern Japan education system, who idealized a modernization of China and Korea along with Japan and formation of three country alliance against the encroachment of Western colonizing powers.  Since 1884 defeat of the independence movement of Korea, Fukuzawa’s posture change dramatically to that of total abandonment. (p.114)

In post-opening of Japan an universal sentiment to counter the then omnipresent Western encroachment, which included a reevaluation of culture of the East.   Such idealism was expressed in “Dai Asia Shugi” ( The Great Pan Asia-ism), a supra-national “One Asia” concept,  that arose out of existential threat it felt.  For example, in 1784 during the Edo period in Japan, Toshiaki Honda in “Tale of Western Territories” explains the dichotomy of white race versus yellow race, Western culture versus Eastern culture, and gave a racial and cultural perspective, along with foundation for the emancipation and independence movement of Asia. Early Meiji era statesman and naval engineer, Kaishu Katsu, developed a plan to develop an allied naval defense link between Kobe, Tsushima, Pusan, Tenshin, Shanghai to counter encroachment of Western colonizers.  (p.115)

Such “Dai Asia Shugi”(Great Pan Asia-sim) was embraced not only by the Japanese, but also by Sun Yat-sen, the ‘father of modern China’ along with other independence movement leaders of various parts of Asia.  They also developed their plans around the emergence of Japan at the center of their movement.  (p.115)

“Dai Asia Shugi” (Great Pan Asia-ism) was not a plan for world conquest by Asians, but the Westerners deemed such movement “Yellow Peril” and began to sound alarms.  They defined the concept and the new order of “Asia for and by the Asians” as an aggression, as such rise of Asia and Asians was nothing but a challenge to the world order established by the white Western race. (p.116)

For modern Japan to challenge The West was totally inevitable and justifiable.  There has never been an Asian nation that did not try at least once to challenge the Western encroachment, but most failed miserably.   Only Japan was able to present a historically significant challenge.   However, that action is now defined as an “Aggression”.   The post-World War II Japanese all share this perspective created by  the ‘white’ world about the historical development of Imperial Japan.  (P. 116)

The term “Dai Asia Shugi” (Great Pan Asia-ism) spread like wild fire since about 1910.  Then the idea of various Asian nations with its unique cultural foundations, becoming emancipated with Japan in the core of the movement, began to form a spirit of “New Asian Order” and evolved into the idea of “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”.  (p. 116)

But, there were resistance to accepting such ideal, particularly from the Chinese.  With ever-present hubris, the Chinese could not think supra-nationally to think about the greater good of the Asian race, nor could they ever succumb to the leadership coming from anyone else in Asia but themselves. To the contrary, many Chinese leaders would only view such supra-national movement led by the Japanese as a conspiracy to ultimately take over China.  Such paranoid attitudes about Japan still prevails in China today.  (p. 117)

Some call “Dai Asia Shugi ” (Great Pan-Asia ism) as “Asian Monroe Doctrine”; Japan was the only independent major nation in Asia which was not already colonized like India or China.  Furthermore, Japan was the only nation powerful enough to be a challenge to the Western power.  Pre-World War II Japanese spoke about the “Dai Asia Shugi” from the perspective of moral ethical duties. However, it was sometimes viewed with caution by the Japanese government officials who were concerned about the relationship with the British and the US. (p. 117)

Many Japanese citizens since the Meiji Restoration have dedicated themselves to the redevelopment and emancipation of Asia, and invested, donated and supported various independence movement of various nations in Asia with their personal assets, chivalrous sacrifices.  Many gave their lives for these causes.   The period that expresses the fruition of these acts of chivalry was post-Russo Japan War, in the Meiji-Taisho era, in revolutionary period in China. The Japanese Government in those days was expending huge amounts of fiscal budget into China to modernize the nation and strengthen the Chinese military. Same can be said about the private citizens of Japan.  Some aided the Qing regime, some gave aid to the revolutionary groups; either way to help this nation begin its break from antiquity to enter a renaissance like Japan in the “Meiji Restoration”. The Xinhai Revolution (The Chinese Revolution, The Chinese Republican Revolution)occurred in 1911 to end the Imperial Chinese Qing regime, and  the group that aided the revolutionaries most in physically as well as in spirit were the Japanese; the elite force that played the major role in bringing the down Qing dynastic regime were trained by the Japanese army. The dynamism of “Dai Asia Shugi”  (Great Pan-Asiaism) then spread and flourished to Manchuria and the rest of Asia.  Japanese people need to understand that “Dai Asia Shugi” (Great Pan-Asiaism)  ideals rewrote the history in Asia.(p.118)

“Dai Asia Shugi” was an identity embraced by the Asians facing an existential threat from the West, to form an alliance by the Asians for Asian existence and co-prosperity.  But, because it was an ideal with Japanese or Great Imperial Japan at its nucleus, with the collapse of the Imperial Japan it disappeared from the stage of history. This does not mean that this ideal and identity has never reemerged again. In the post-World War II era, APEC, NIES, and other pan-Asiatic alliances are emerging again in East Asia with similar goals and ideals of Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (p. 119).

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