A military honor guard salutes the flag of China.(Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)
A military honor guard salutes the flag of China.
(Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

Rise of the Hawks

China’s ascendency is making the neighbors nervous—and spawning a resurgence of nationalism throughout Northeast Asia. 
 

Beijing’s multiplying power and intensifying belligerency are driving a surge of nationalism in Northeast Asia. Concerns among China’s neighbor nations range from the commercial—over issues like Beijing’s rapacious drive for resources—to the geopolitical—including matters like China’s aggressive offshore territorial claims and the unveiling of its first aircraft carrier.

“The sense of unhappiness with China among ordinary people in some countries has been getting more acute by the day,” said Guo Jiguang, an expert on Southeast Asian politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. As this unhappiness spreads over the continent, it is opening the way for new leaders to rise to power—leaders acutely aware of the dangers China’s rise presents, and who appear prepared to take measures to counter it.

Most notable among the Asian states swinging toward nationalism and militarism is Japan. But the Koreas are also part of the resurgence, with both the North and South now being ruled by descendants of Cold War dictators. China itself is now ruled by the son of a Communist Chinese revolutionary hero, a close comrade of Chairman Mao.

These are sobering trends, and they fall perfectly in line with forecasts the Trumpet has been making for decades.

Japan’s LDP Returns

On Dec. 16, 2012, three years after being ousted from power, Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (ldp) scored a landmark electoral comeback. The militarism and nationalism that saturated the election campaign showed the growing concern among Japan’s ruling class over China’s belligerency. It also demonstrated Tokyo’s resolve to reassert Japan’s interests by every method, including military action.

ldp leader Shinzo Abe, who became Japan’s premier on December 26, embodies the party’s hawkish agenda. The premier has vowed repeatedly to challenge Japan’s pacifist constitution and to increase its defense spending. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, helped run Japanese-occupied Manchuria and was later imprisoned for war crimes under the U.S. postwar occupation. In 1957, Kishi became Japan’s prime minister and tried to abolish the pacifist clause from the nation’s constitution. Like his grandfather, Abe seeks constitutional revisions to “normalize” and strengthen Japan’s military. He wishes to bring an end to what he has called “Japan’s self-torturing history”—the handwringing over Tokyo’s egregious war crimes. Abe now holds a supermajority power that allows him to override any upper house vetoes of his legislation.

Japan has long been moving toward a quiet “normalization” of its military, but is now likely to make the change official and deeper. “In many ways, the Japanese have been making that change anyway,” Stratfor’s North Asia analyst Rodger Baker said. “The Japanese military has advanced weapons systems, it’s got advanced training, it’s got better interoperability. In many ways, [changing the constitution is] really just removing that last little fiction, rather than a fundamental alteration of Japanese military capabilities” (Dec. 21, 2012).

Under Abe, Tokyo has already made changes that transcend symbolism. In the second week of January, Japan’s Defense Ministry announced an increase of more than ¥100 billion (us$1.1 billion) to its military budget and announced plans to request an additional ¥180.5 billion (us$2.1 billion) from a government stimulus package.

The United States welcomes Japan’s military expansion because it wants to contain China’s mushrooming influence without expending too much of its own resources. For this reason, the Obama administration has encouraged Japan to expand its military and to take a sturdier stance against Beijing. This tougher stance against China will accelerate under Abe.

Though Abe’s nationalistic notions are saluted by Washington, they worry Japan’s neighbors, who vividly remember Tokyo’s savage rampage across Asia 70 years ago. When Abe announced that he wants to expand Japan’s military power, the China Daily called him a “warmonger with dangerous designs.”

Today’s Japan looks eerily like 1930s Japan, when the country was walloped by a steep decrease in world trade and stumbled into political and economic malaise. The militaristic regime in power tried to remedy the crisis by waging wars for raw materials and markets. Japan’s 1931 invasion of Manchuria, and later of China as a whole, was a part of this attempt. Japan employed shockingly brutal methods to conduct its occupation of other nations.

The world has changed considerably since the Pacific War ended in 1945 when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Among the most significant changes has been China’s ascendance on the global stage.

China’s Task

“China’s … projection of newfound power is putting pressure on all the other countries in the region,” said Barbara Demick, the Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. This gets to the heart of why Japan is marching toward militarism. It is possible Abe may not stay in power for long, but the tide of Japanese nationalism and militarism that swept his party to victory is swelling quickly. And the swell is almost entirely because Japan fears China’s rise. Explaining why the Japanese military needed the additional funds, the Defense Ministry spokesman gave a thinly veiled answer: “[T]o prepare for the changing security environment surrounding Japan.”

In November, the Chinese Communist Party (ccp) installed Xi Jinping as general secretary. It is potentially significant that Xi, like the other three new Asian leaders, has nationalist bloodlines. There is an “almost nationalistic drive in all these countries,” Baker said. “[W]hether it’s through election, through the rejection of the existing parties, or just through the way in which the parties are shaping and organizing themselves.”

In 2012, political scandals damaged the party’s public image, but the system survived, and the ccp now faces the daunting task of managing the great social and economic change underway throughout China. The change makes Beijing insecure, and its anxiety is evident in the Chinese military’s intensifying belligerence over China’s claims in the South and East China seas, and Southeast Asia.

The Korean peninsula, stuck between Japan’s military normalization and China’s intensifying belligerency, could move toward greater rapprochement, particularly since North Korea would like to gradually reduce its dependence on Beijing’s support.

In the meantime, the Philippines and Vietnam—China’s most outspoken opponents in Southeast Asia—will keep pushing for increased integration among members of asean, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The Failure of Globalization

In his assessment, Baker said Asia’s surging nationalism indicates the failure of globalization in the region: “There is a long history with all of these candidates with family lineages that goes back into regional politics. And at a time where people have been focusing for the past few decades on this concept of globalization and the breaking down of barriers, I think one of the things that we’re seeing in Northeast Asia is the reflection that geopolitics matters—that history matters—and that the national interests are very strong in each of these countries. And they’re seeing a shift in the way in which they can balance with each other.”

For decades, militarism and nationalism were viewed as outmoded and backward ideologies in places like Japan. But with each passing month, China is more hell-bent on dominating Asia and forcibly expanding its territory. U.S. leaders remain largely oblivious to the potential dangers, but Asian policymakers view it as a major shift that demands major adjustments in their foreign policies.

Nationalism is a self-perpetuating ideology, perhaps more so in Asia than any other continent. When one country takes a step in a nationalist direction, its neighbors rapidly follow suit. Despite an increase in political and economic cooperation, Asian nations tend to view each other as rivals. More and more citizens of the nations around China believe war should be undertaken if that is what is required to stop Beijing. Their increasing concern prompts them to elect governments willing to draw a line in the sand that they won’t allow China to cross.

Nationalism and militarism are on the rise throughout Asia. Although the countries’ swings to the right are at present designed to protect themselves from other Asian nations, all of the intra-Asian tensions will soon be trumped by concern about a common enemy.

Future Unity

Daniel 11:40-41 speak of a showdown “at the time of the end” between “the king of the north”—a German-led European empire—and “the king of the south,” a radical Islamist empire led by Iran. This prophecy explains that this European entity will enter into “the glorious land”—Israel—and overthrow many countries. But the great military success of this European power will not go unchecked!

The pivotal prophecy continues in verse 44: “… [T]idings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him .…” After destroying the king of the south power, the European empire will be troubled by what is happening to its east and north—that is, in Asia!

The moves toward nationalism underway in Japan, China and throughout Northeast Asia are largely the result of disputes among Asian states, and, above all, because of fear of China’s rise. But all of these intra-Asian hostilities will soon be set aside so they can form a bloc to meet this colossal European force.

Asia’s swing toward nationalism points to a dark time on the horizon, but the Bible makes plain that the clash between Europe and Asia will be interrupted by the most spectacular event in history: Jesus Christ will return to put an end to the conflict between East and West, and between all other peoples on Earth! He will usher in an era of divine rulership that will bring about peace and prosperity for all mankind.