East Asian nationalism

Some professional firebrands and other ignoramuses are still calling mainland China "communist", after three decades of clearly anti-communist reforms and after they created an economy with extreme income inequality and worker exploitation for profit.
We should shed the remains of such simplistic Cold War ideas.

Modern China's policy is first and foremost nationalistic, with socialism or communism merely serving as a fig leaf for the party, as it needs fig leaves to support its claim for its political power monopoly. They may sooner or later develop some more democratic elements, but I would rather expect them to develop them inside the party than with a true multi-party system.

China's nationalism isn't unique; (South) Koreans are also very nationalistic, as is Japan. Both West-aligned countries exhibit a nationalism if not jingoism that's disrespectful enough of lesser people that it wouldn't be acceptable in most of Europe any more (which means a lot, since Europeans tolerate quite a lot nationalism, especially from small and thus rather harmless European countries).

China's nationalism is more complicated, up to a whole notion of China being the centre of the world and other countries being peripheral. Nowadays only the United States and Israel come close to perceiving themselves as similarly destined to be central to the world.

I presume policies for keeping peace and protecting mainland sovereignty in East Asia depend a lot on understanding these nationalisms, and on taking them into account in strategies.

The failure to understand nationalism or even to misunderstand nationalism for communism has been revealed in the needlessly ruinous Vietnam War, which was essentially a war of national unification with communist ideology being both important and secondary.

East Asian nationalism can still be called "nationalism" just as European nationalism, but it's very different (actually, Europe was very heterogeneous in its nationalism as well). Westerners don't necessarily understand them even after we understood that nationalism is an important driving force.

Sinology, Japanology and Koreanology should be considered more relevant than operational research on how F-22 fighters can fight over Taiwan (or rather cannot) when it comes to "defence" or "security" policy in East Asia. We don't need to discuss fashion or pop music, but history, philosophy, politics, organisations and the origin of borders and claims deserve a lot of attention.

I suppose the quality of think tanks, political campaigns, policies and opinions about East Asian security affairs will correlate with how much input Asian studies have fed into them, and how well these inputs were received.
A serious "pivot to Asia" should first and foremost include a generous allocation of money into academic Asian studies institutes and a high valuation of Asian studies graduates in public offices and political consulting. It should not be about the quantity of aircraft carriers, the range of carrier-borne drones and the like.

related: 2009-09 Relevant Chinese history



  1. Good post on the subject.


  2. "after three decades of clearly anti-communist reforms and after they created an economy with extreme income inequality and worker exploitation for profit."

    Is income equality greater now than during the great famines?
    The "communist" regimes NEVER had income equality

    1. Income inequality is greater now both in extremes and in distribution. The old Maoist elites were not so much enjoying higher incomes than they were enjoying privileges.

      Besides, it's logically irrelevant how income inequality was back then; I decribed what they created. The Status quo as of now is relevant.