Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party scored a landslide victory in general elections earlier this month, and Shinzo Abe was elected prime minister by the lower house of parliament on Wednesday. Meanwhile Park Geun-hye won the presidential election in South Korea on Dec. 19.
These two events mark a clear turn to the right in East Asia’s political climate. The political background behind these changes is connected to the militarism in China and North Korea: It was on the one hand because the people in both countries feel that they need a strong government to protect their security, and on the other, a response to the US’ return to Asia.
Earlier this month, I took part in a conference in Tokyo on the promotion of democracy in Asia. The conference also marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and India. It showed that current strategic thinking in both government and opposition in Japan is that the democratic forces in Asia should unite to counterbalance the military threats posed by authoritarian governments.
Tibetans, Uighurs, Mongolians from Inner Mongolia, North Koreans, Vietnamese and the minorities in Myanmar still live under dictatorial rule, so why did Taiwan participate in the aforementioned conference?
It seems the organizers think Taiwan remains under the threat of annexation by the autocratic Chinese government and that Taiwanese democracy remains seriously flawed as the specter of authoritarianism still looms.
Regardless of any criticism launched at the administration of US President Barack Obama, I am strongly in favor of his shift toward Asia.
In particular, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has worked hard to promote this policy, and after Obama’s re-election, he promptly visited Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand as part of an attempt to stop China’s influence continuing to spread south. The question is whether the pro-Chinese John Kerry, recently nominated by Obama as Clinton’s successor, will abandon this policy once he takes over the post.
After giving a lecture on China under Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) at a Taiwan studies forum in Tokyo on Dec. 9, I jokingly told my Taiwanese and Japanese friends that my wife and I had returned to Asia from the US before Obama did.
At the time, this was not a pronounced awareness, it was more of a feeling that Taiwan was in crisis and a disagreement with then-US president George W. Bush’s decision to concentrate his military forces in the Middle East, appease China and North Korea and ignore Taiwan’s strategic position.
If we look around the world today, it is clear that China is the biggest autocracy. It is also the support behind North Korea and many other smaller dictatorships.
North Korea has been able to obtain nuclear weapons and missiles because the US believes China will be able to control it and that the two will not start to cooperate in an attempt to achieve their own ends. North Korea’s recent test firing of a rocket just serves to further drive this point home.
Still the international media continue to report that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un intends to implement reform and opening up.
When the Japanese economy took off in the past, there was no talk about any “Japanese threat” because Japan is a democracy.
However, China is constantly clamoring for war and sending its fleet out to demonstrate its power. This is a cause for fear in many countries and explains why Asian countries are welcoming the US’ return to Asia.
Western countries are not opposed to China’s rise, but they do oppose any moves toward fascist militarism that threatens regional stability and world peace.
The US’ pivot to Asia is not only a matter of the return of military force.
Even more important is the strategic confrontation between democracies and autocracies. This is not only a matter of military confrontation, it is also a matter of confrontation between ideologies, an attempt to bring about reform in China and make it accept universal values to avoid war.
Over the past year, Western countries have helped the Chinese Communist Party defeat Bo Xilai’s (薄熙來) attempt to take China down the road toward fascism. Next year, the US should use its supervision of illegal funds to help China combat corruption and ferret out the most corrupt and reactionary privileged groups in order to eliminate the opposition to reform.
This is the kind of interference in domestic politics that would not meet with disapproval from the Chinese public, and would help defeat radical Chinese nationalism.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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