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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #191: February 9, 2004

100 years after war with Russia, Japan rethinks its diplomacy

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"100 years after war with Russia, Japan rethinks its diplomacy"
(AFP) Daily Times (Pakistan)


Meiji Restoration occurred in 1867, where Tokugawa shogunate, a military government, gave up its powers and handed it back to the Emperor, hence the term restoration, marking the end of the era of Samurais that lasted for seven hundred years.

One of the direct causes of the restoration was the demand by the US with a threat of force for Japan to open up its ports to US ships for obtaining supplies, and trading goods. Domestic conflicts on the ways to cope with the demand became intense, and in order to avoid a full-fledged civil war, the Shogun at the time gave up, or returned, his powers to the emperor, who, or more precisely his aids, eventually decided to comply with the request as the only practical choice.

Seeing the success of the US to open up Japan from seclusion, other powers swarmed to surround Japan much like predators, each demanding its share of rights and potential wealth. Japan suddenly had to realize the international political environment, and assess its position within the framework it was hurled into.

At the time, nations and regions had two avenues of survival. One is to become industrialized and militarized to acquire and maintain productive colonies, in order to support the well-being of the homeland. And the other was to become colonized, to survive at the mercy of the parent nation by serving them. When Japan became aware of the situation, most of Africa, America, and Asia were already colonized by the mighty Europeans. China was being penetrated by the UK, France, Germany, and Russia, and the US was working hard to catch up with these powers to survive as a major power in the world. That was the days of Imperialism.

Japan, observing especially the tragedy of the colonized neighbor China, decided to work hard to avoid being colonized, which, by definition, meant to become an imperialistic state. Ironically, the first major opponent Japan had to face was China, over possession, or colonization, of Korean peninsula. Although virtually at the fringe of extinction, the Qing Dynasty in China was still huge, and was a formidable enemy for Japan to fight against. Japan won, barely, in 1895, and according to the rules and customs of the time, compensation in the form of land and money were to be negotiated between Japan and China, when the Tripartite Intervention, by France, Germany, and Russia, forced Japan to forgo a valuable area on the continent, Liaodong Bandao, to remain with the Qing dynasty. There was no realistic alternative for Japan other than to accept the demand of the most powerful states at the time, but the incident was to be remembered by the ordinary Japanese people that would brew into distrust and hatred toward Russia.

Russia marched on to extend its governance over East Asia. And in 1898, only three years after the Tripartite Intervention, Russia acquired the very Liaodong Bandao through very canny diplomatic tactics. Japan protested, and other countries denounced Russia as well. But because other countries did not want to physically confront Russia, their voices were small. It was for Japan to preserve the rights and security by facing Russia on its own, considered to be one of the most powerful nations at the time, in a seemingly futile battle, which began in February 1904, exactly a century ago. The history goes on to tell that Japan, to literally everyone's astonishment, won the war.

The article introduced above, upon acknowledging the centennial, tries to link the war with Russia a century ago to Japan's recent dispatch of Self Defense Force to Iraq. Apparently, the article adopts a historical view that winning the war with Russia a hundred years ago was the beginning of Japan's aggressions finally to end with WWII, and hints the SDF in Iraq might lead to once again a militaristic Japan.

Using a chunk of history as an analogy to present an idea is a convenient but a risky procedure. History must be studied carefully and humbly before extracting lessons out of it, and a certain level of abstinence from the lure of citing historical incidents to explain current events is indubitably warranted.

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