Nationalism in North-East Asia

For years, nationalism has been pointed out as a blocker for economic and political cooperation of North-East Asia; China, Japan and Korea to be specific. Nationalism here mostly refers to ethnic nationalism, in which ethnicity decides people’s national identity. This is one of the main reasons behind different and conflicting interpretations of history which often become political problems.

China’s ethnocentrism is based on Sinocentrism which first arose in the Warring States period (B.C. 770~B.C.221) when the movement to unite the Chinese continent started. Sinocentrism believes that Han Chinese is superior to any other ethnic groups and that they are the center of the world. This leads to denial of ancient civilizations that were not established by Han Chinese and devaluation of cultures of other countries. One of the conflicts rooted from this belief is the historical dispute between Korea and China regarding China’s Northeast Project that redefines Asian history. Han Chinese currently take up about 91.5% of Chinese population and their oppression on other ethnic minority groups with regards to their culture and religion has brought about resistance such as self-immolation protests by Tibetans and Urumqi bombings in 2009 and 2014.

In the early 20th century, when Japanese imperialism started, Japan tried to justify its invasion and colonization of other countries. All schools in Japanese colonies (including China and Korea) taught students the colonial view of history that it is inevitable for Japan to rule over other Asian countries as they are uncivilized and are experiencing growth stagnation. Against the oppression policies of Japan, Korea developed and solidified nationalism, as a movement to preserve Korean culture, language and people. Furthermore, Japan’s persecution such as Kanto Massacre and Nanjing Massacre of civilians done by Japanese soldiers during the colonial era formed a long-lasting anti-Japanese sentiment in China and Korea.

Nationalism which stems from complex historical and ideological problems often turned into economic retaliation of one nation over another. Japanese politicians’ visit to Yasukuni Shrine which tribute Japanese soldiers and war criminals during the age of imperialism cause boycott of Japanese product in Korea. Upon the territorial dispute surrounding Senkaku islands(Diaoyu islands), which was occupied by Japan during the imperialism, there was an anti-Japanese riot in China blaming Japan about its cruelty during the colonization and Chinese government limited trades with Japan.

The tension would continue unless the three countries have objective views over historical problems and settle them down by moving away from nationalism.

Written by Ahrim Kim