Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Oceania has Always been at war with Eastasia!

For a time, the big anti-Japanese demonstrations in the PRC managed to steer the discourse between China and Japan back to the nationalist terms that favor the Chinese.

But in Japan there seems to be a greater willingness to play the democracy card in response.

From the Asia Times, Anti-China fear and loathing in Japan

Hiroshi, a teacher in his mid-forties, explained why a lot of Japanese feel China has no right to lecture them. He pointed out, "Japan is a democratic country, its leaders are openly elected and there is press freedom. We can express our views without fear of persecution or imprisonment. None of this applies to China. There you have no genuine elections, no free speech, just an undemocratic Communist Party."

I call this the Israel defense.

A rationale for American policy in the Middle East has been that Israel, “as the region’s only democracy”, had a special claim on America’s understanding and protection.

In fact, it turned out that being on the right side of the democracy equation gained Israel a lot of slack for behavior against the Palestinians that was considered pretty reprehensible, especially by the Europeans.

It also provided a moral justification for the American neocons’ callous decision to remake the Middle East in a more democratic and Israel-friendly image through a catastrophic America-led war against Iraq.

That “embattled democracy” line is powerful stuff.

Now it looks like some people in Japan may try to draw the distinction as one between democracy and tyranny, instead of China vs. Japan.

I consider Prime Minister Koizumi an acute observer, if not eager and obliging student, of the Bush administration’s utilization of democracy rhetoric as a tool of US foreign policy. That narrative of an existential struggle between the forces of democracy and tyranny gives Japan a lot of leeway in dealing with China, and assures American support.

Although Japan has a lot of ground to make up, what with that whole conquering-of-East-Asia hangup it had a while back, playing the democracy card allows it to assume a position of moral superiority to China.

The Chinese attacks on Japanese people and property are indeed disturbing and reprehensible.

But China’s nationalistic response to Japan can be altered by changes in Japan’s behavior.

If America and Japan's beef with China is recast in the mold of global democracy vs. local tyranny, then presumably our principled abhorrence of the PRC (or crusader posturing on our part) can be satisfied only by regime change.

Don’t go there.

We don’t need to inflate our disagreements with China into a hostility that is existential and immutable. Not just because turning American support of Japan into a moral imperative reminds me of the interlocking alliances that dragged all of Europe into a spat between Serbia and the Austrian Empire.

America’s rhetoric of democracy is becoming a tool of delegitimization, demonization, polarization, confrontation with regimes that don’t match up with our foreign policy objectives or the interests of our allies and proxies, instead of an instrument of freedom.

When democracy is used as a pretext for hate and fear, we’re well within 1984 territory.

Remember, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia! That’s the ticket!