cultural geography of the Pacific Rim countries. It has sources.
In recent years, the importance of South East Asia has been increasing steadily. Thanks in large part to the rapid economic advancement of the region, which began with Japan, moved to Korea and Taiwan, and is currently being seen in China, this is an area which Western countries are showing an increasing interest in. As a result, it is interesting to examine the relationships between countries in the region, as well as the changing way in which America views the nations in the region, and the evolution of the relationship between America and the nations in the region.
Traditionally, the major power in the region has been Japan. Due to its economic might, Japan has been the major contributor to both the development of the region, and a major voice in local and global politics. In recent years, China has also been taking more of an active role in both economic and political arenas, which has meant that the power structure of the area has been subject to some change. Furthermore, many of the smaller nations, such as Taiwan and Korea, also have major contributions in the sociopolitical structure of the area, due to their historic interaction with the major nations and each other.
The recent economic rise of China has had a growing impact on Japanese perceptions and expectations for the future. A 1995 poll found that 16 per cent of the Japanese people already regarded China to be the strongest economic power in the world, while a further 66 per cent predicted that China would be the strongest economic power by 2015. At the same time, many Japanese people have doubts about China’s prospective political stability, and how this might affect Japan (Shuja, 2000). When these perceptions are combined with the historic relationship between the two nations, and their current interaction, this does suggest that the next few years will be very interesting in terms of the evolution of Sino-Japanese relations.
Recent Sino-Japanese cooperation on regional affairs seems aimed at promoting Japan’s bid for a role as regional leader. Tokyo has expressed its interest in becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council in order to upgrade its international standing to a level commensurate with its economic status (Shuja, 2000). This is a privilege China already enjoys, and therefore could be a valuable ally to the Japanese in lobbying for a similar position for themselves.
To aid this ambition, Japan has been using its economic might to help China in its development as an economic power. This began with Japan resuming official development assistance (ODA) to China in 1990 (Shuja, 2000). Other reasons for helping China in this manner could be to help avoid China suffering from long-term isolation and resulting instability and the desire by Japan to encourage a healthy interdependence between the two countries. This would be very lucrative to Japan as a close relationship with China would enable it to partake of that nation’s economic growth.
The rapid growth of the Chinese economy over recent years has also reinforced the importance of Sino-Japanese economic relations as the specter of trading blocs looms in the wake of the strengthening of the European Union and the development of similar blocs in the Americas. Increasingly, the economy of southern China has become more integrated with those of Hong Kong and Taiwan as overseas Chinese capital returns to China with the gradual opening up of Chinese markets. Given the large investments by Japanese corporations in companies operating in these regions, this has led to rapidly growing economic interdependence between Japan and China. China is now Japan’s second most important export market after the United States, and Japan has surpassed Hong Kong as the most important market for Chinese exports. Japan is also the fourth-largest investor in China after Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States respectively, and the most important provider of official economic assistance to China in the form of the ODA grant (Shuja, 2000).
Beijing can take advantage of Japan’s strong presence in international financial institutions and use Tokyo as a mediator in supporting Chinese interests in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO). It appears to suggest Beijing’s efforts to receive every possible kind of help from Japan and the West in its modernization goals. It is reasonable to conclude that economic gain, rather than political influence, has become the main motive behind China’s recent friendlier attitudes towards Japan (Shuja, 2000).
Fortunately, the interests of China and Japan appear complementary in many areas. While China is a permanent United Nations Security Council member, it is a developing country economically. At the same time, although Japan is not a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, it is a major player in the WTO’s multilateral trade negotiations, and a member of the G-7 group of industrialized nations. As a result, the two nations could use each other to each realize their own individual ambitions (Shuja, 2000).
However, the legacy of World War II continues to have repercussions on the bilateral relationship. The resentment felt against Japan among ordinary Chinese citizens is still very strong, even though relations between the two countries are currently amicable. Many Japanese tourists to China realize that Japan and the Japanese are not very well liked in China, despite the extensive technical and financial assistance they provide to the country. In addition, some Japanese find business with China and the Chinese people to be more difficult due to their nationality. While often outside the realm of government control, these misgivings could still be a source of diplomatic tension. Hence, historical legacies may put a damper on the Sino-Japanese partnership (Shuja, 2000).
Having examined the relationship between the two major powers in the area, it would also be useful to examine the relationships between these nations and other nations in the area, as well as those other nations themselves. To begin with, I will examine Japan’s relationship with Korea. Japan has always regarded Korea as critical to its own security; it fought two wars, with China and Russia, to secure control over the peninsula in the early years of the twentieth century. The Koreans have not appreciated Japanese interest in the Peninsula.
The era of Japanese colonial domination has left deep-seated bitterness toward the former colonial oppressor. The feeling is also reciprocated in Japan. Public opinion polls in both nations consistently indicate their peoples’ mutual dislike. South Koreans rank Japan as one of the countries they like least, second only to North Korea, while the Japanese rank South Korea third on their list of most-disliked nations, behind only North Korea and Russia. Koreans believe that the Japanese look down upon the Korean people and their culture, citing Japanese treatment of their own ethnic Korean population as indicative of that contempt (Shuja, 1999).
The security interests of Korea and Japan are also not identical. South Korea is primarily concerned with the threat posed to them by the North. South Koreans do not see Russia as a direct threat, but only as a secondary adversary due to its association with North Korea. Indeed, in the absence of a threat from Russia, it is more likely that South Korean security concerns would focus on Japan rather than Russia. Japan, on the other hand, perceived the U.S.S.R. As a primary direct threat and in the post Cold War era still continues to regard Russia with suspicion as a potential future threat. North Korea is not seen as a real independent threat to Japan.
Today, South Korea and Japan are bound together by geography, economics, and mutual ties to the United States while Japanese trade, investment, and technology are vital to the economy of South Korea. In turn, U.S. forces based in Japan are critical to South Korean security. For all this, Japan and Korea remain uneasy associates rather than true allies. The same cannot be said, however, for the relationship between China and Taiwan. The government in Taiwan was initially made up of Chinese nationalists who fled there from the Communist revolution. The initial mandate for the administration of Taiwan was to return to mainland China and regain control of the nation from the Communists.
However, this ambition was gradually replaced by a focus on the island itself, particularly on the economic development of Taiwan. Taiwanese government has been democratically elected, and foremost on recent manifestos has been the issue of greater autonomy, or even complete independence, from the mainland. Recent years have seen native Taiwanese elements take control of the politics of the island, and the descendants of immigrants to the island from mainland China also consider themselves to be Taiwanese (Yu, 2001). On the other hand, China continues its rhetoric of threatening reunification through force.
Due to the threat thus posed to it by China, Taiwan has been forced into a closer relationship with Japan. The United States is important to both nations’ defense, and…