Prior to WWI Japan invaded Korea and Taiwan (Formosa), making those lands a part of a Japanese Empire, and, during the war, Japan allied herself with America, France, and Britain – so that she could capture German-held islands in the Pacific. Then, in the nineteen twenties and thirties, extremist military officers belonging to sinister secret societies used intimidation and a wave of assassinations to pretty much take over the country. This led to the occupation of Manchuria in 1931, which, during most of its history, had been a part of China; in fact, the last dynasty of Chinese Emperors were Manchurians. Then, in 1937, the Japanese invaded China proper, taking advantage of that nation’s disunity and turmoil – the nationalist Kuomintang and the communists were at war, and regional warlords still controlled parts of China. Japan was trying to create a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” a euphemism for Japanese control of the resources of the region. In 1940 Japan joined Germany and Italy, the Axis Powers, by signing the Tripartite Pact.
Eventually, Japan conquered the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Malaysia, and Burma, and occupied some more Pacific islands before being driven out by Allied forces and finally defeated by economic blockade, fire bombing, and two atomic bombs. During this entire period the Japanese descended into a barbarism that had not been typical of them before, bombing civilians, abusing and murdering prisoners (during WWI the Japanese had treated German prisoners very humanely), raping women, and murdering unarmed civilians. The Nanking Massacre has certainly not been forgotten by the Chinese, nor the use of biological warfare agents on Chinese civilians, or the monstrous experiments on civilians, including children, infected by those agents. Chinese civilians (again including children) were vivisected without anesthetics.
The Japanese, unlike the Germans, have never admitted any wrong doing or shown any sign of guilt or repentance, and the Chinese were particularly angered when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yosukuni Shrine in Tokyo, a memorial to Japanese war dead – including war criminals. But, even though Chinese anger is justified, they are being somewhat hypocritical, because China may be attempting their own version of a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.”
After a long and bloody civil war, Mao’s communists defeated Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang, driving them into exile in Taiwan and turning China into a communist dictatorship. Millions of opponents of the regime were murdered, and millions more starved due to economic bungling. Today, China is nominally communist, but its economic system really is very similar to the crony capitalism we “enjoy” here in the US. Today, forced abortions are a regular policy, and Christians and other religious dissidents, especially the Falun Gong, are brutally persecuted. And China is aggressive, even expansionist, and has quarreled and even warred with almost all the neighboring countries.
China was long allied with communist Russia, and Stalin had helped the Chinese Communists come to power, but after his death relations went downhill, and territorial disputes led to a small scale border war between the two communist giants in 1969; the bloodiest battle was in March near Zhenbo Island on the Ussun River. Tensions remained high long after the fighting stopped.
The border with India, surveyed by the British in colonial times, was another unsettled issue. Both sides sincerely believed that certain border areas belonged to them. By 1962 India had stationed troops north of the old McMahon Line, which China considered to be the border, so, in that year, the Chinese attacked and drove the Indians back. Battles continued during the rest of the year, and there were scattered clashes as late as 1967. Neither side ever declared war; diplomatic relations were maintained; air and naval forces were never used. The Chinese treated prisoners humanely and sent them home when the fighting stopped, and even buried Indian war dead with full military honors. China has also quarreled with Bhutan over border issues, but there has (so far) been no armed conflict.
During the French Indochina War and the Vietnam War, China supported the communist Viet Minh and then North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. But, again, there were border disputes, and China supported the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Khmer Rouge, China, in 1979, invaded Vietnam. Before they finally withdrew, both sides suffered heavy casualties, and both sides claimed victory. Border skirmishes between China and her former ally continued as late as 1984.
More recently, China has continued to threaten its neighbors around the potentially oil rich China Sea. They claim the Senkaku Islands – and so does Japan. China and the Philippines both claim ownership of the Scarborough Shoal, and China and Vietnam both claim the Spratly Islands; China, in 2011, even sent a warship there, although no shots were fired. China also has territorial disputes with Malaysia and Brunei, and still claims all of Taiwan as part of China. However, conquering Taiwan (unless China uses nuclear weapons) would be extremely difficult and very costly in lives and treasure; China would have to mount a very large scale amphibious assault over a considerable distance against a powerful Taiwanese military.
So is China the new Japan, the new imperial power threatening the peace of Asia? Her leaders show an unsettling willingness to threaten almost all her neighbors and even use force. But, so far, China’s aims seem limited to border areas and a few potentially oil rich islands. But then, Imperial Japan never had ambitions of conquering the whole world (nor, for that matter, neither did Hitler), but merely wished to dominate all of Asia. If China attempts to do the same, we need to ask ourselves if it would really be a threat to our national interests worth a bloody war that might well lead to a global nuclear holocaust. Perhaps a saner course of action would be to arm Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines (and maybe even our former enemy, Vietnam). In any case, China bears watching.
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