September 22, 2008

NATIONALISM UBER ALLES:

So Far, It Just Isn't Looking Like Asia's Century (Joshua Kurlantzick, September 7, 2008, Washington Post)

The problem: Calls to nationalism and an obsession with sovereignty are drowning out calls for cooperation. The passage of time since World War II, when nationalism led to catastrophe, has allowed politicians to wield it more freely for short-term gain. "The Chinese are ignorant, so they are overjoyed," Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara quipped after China launched a manned spaceship in 2003. "That [spacecraft] was an outdated one. If Japan wanted to do it, we could do it in one year."

This sort of nationalism isn't the stuff of a few firebrands. Across the continent, populist politicians have scrubbed school textbooks, whether to minimize Japan's atrocities in South Korea and China during World War II or to erase the memory of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia -- perhaps because Prime Minister Hun Sen was an officer in the genocidal regime before he turned against it. Traveling to Cambodia, I meet teenagers who know practically nothing about what happened in their country in the 1970s. China, too, has whitewashed the memory of the Tiananmen Square crackdown of June 4, 1989. When a "Frontline" documentary crew went to Beijing University a few years ago and showed students the iconic 1989 photograph of the man who stopped a tank in its tracks, no one recognized it.

Politicians aren't the only ones embracing nationalism. In 2002, when Thailand was still recovering from its financial meltdown, government-backed filmmakers produced "The Legend of Suriyothai" to restore their country's wounded pride. One of the most expensive pictures in Thai history, it told the story of an ancient Thai queen who died fighting Burmese invaders -- and compounded Thais' hostility toward Burma, their neighbor to the west.

The Internet has further empowered Asian nationalists, allowing them to air their vitriol unchecked. On Chinese online bulletin boards such as the "Strong Nation Forum," which is run by the People's Daily, respondents compete for the most aggressive stance and ridicule Chinese leaders for compromising on issues such as relations with neighboring countries or Tibet or Taiwan. In Japan, the blogosphere helped spark sales of the manga comic book "Hating the Korean Wave." And in Indonesia, online writers helped fuel anger at neighboring Malaysia for the use of a supposedly Indonesian jingle in a tourism campaign and for the mistreatment of an Indonesian karate referee. These are petty grievances, but the Internet amplifies even the smallest outbursts, and reactions can be fierce. Just last week, Vietnam's foreign ministry called in China's ambassador to protest the appearance on Chinese Web sites of "invasion plans" that purported to detail the occupation of Vietnam by the People's Liberation Army.

Whenever I visit Asia, I meet young people who detest neighbors they barely know. "The Thais, all they care about is money. Nothing else," one Burmese acquaintance told me in Rangoon, despite the fact that he'd never actually been to Thailand. In one study taken last year by a leading Japanese nongovernmental organization, two-thirds of the Chinese polled said they had either a "very bad" or "relatively bad" impression of Japan.


There's some folks badly in need of an Abrahamism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 22, 2008 7:33 AM
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