Japan and South Korea underwent leadership changes this week, which means all four of North Asia’s major powers now have different leaders in office since this time last year. As these nations undergo leadership transitions, they’re also jockeying for position in a shifting world order, which places China in a dominant role.
Japan’s new premier is the grandson of a World War ii minister who helped run Japanese-occupied Manchuria, and who later tried to abolish the pacifist clause in Japan’s constitution. China is now ruled by the son of a Communist Chinese revolutionary hero—who was a close comrade of Chairman Mao. And both Koreas are now in the hands of descendants of Cold War dictators.
Although a few different factors are accelerating the resurgence of nationalism and militarism throughout Northeast Asia, it is primarily spawned by China’s intensifying assertiveness as it tries to expand its regional dominance.
On December 16, 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 indicate growing concern among Japan’s ruling class regarding China’s belligerency. It also demonstrates Tokyo’s resolve to reassert Japan’s interests by every method, including military action.
ldp leader Shinzo Abe—who became Japan’s premier on Wednesday—embodies the party’s hawkish agenda. Abe has repeatedly pledged to challenge Japan’s pacifist constitution and to increase its defense spending. Abe’s grandfather, Nobushuke Kishi, was imprisoned for war crimes under the U.S. postwar occupation, but never charged. In 1957, Kishi became Japan’s prime minister and tried to remove the pacifist clause from the nation’s constitution. Like his grandfather, Abe envisions 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”—or recognition of Tokyo’s egregious war crimes. Abe now holds a super majority 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” (December 21).
The United States welcomes Japan’s moves toward military expansion because Washington 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 strength and to take a sturdier stance against Beijing. This tougher stance against China will be accelerated under Abe.
Abe’s nationalistic notions are welcomed by Washington, but they are generating worry among Japan’s neighbors who vividly remember Tokyo’s savage rampage across Asia 70 years ago. For example, 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 it did back in the 1930s 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, and Japan employed shockingly brutal methods to conduct its occupation of other nations.
The world has changed considerably since the Pacific War came to an end 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 … 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.
In November, the Chinese Communist Party installed Xi Jinping as general secretary in the midst of a vigorous campaign to assert China’s rule over the South China and East China seas. It is potentially significant that Xi, like the other three new Asian leaders, has nationalist bloodlines. There is a “very nationalistic drive in each of 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.”
Baker also 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 hellbent 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, and perhaps more so in Asia than anywhere else. When one country lurches toward nationalism, its neighbors rapidly follow suit. Despite an increase in political and economic cooperation, Asian nations tend to view each other strictly as rivals. More and more of the citizens of these countries believe war should be undertaken if that is what is required to stop China. Rising levels of concern prompt these citizens to elect governments that are willing to draw a line in the sand that they will not allow China to cross.
Nationalism and militarism are on the rise throughout Asia. And 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 a collective Asian concern about a common enemy.
Daniel 11:40-41 speak of a showdown in this end time between “the king of the north”—a German-led European empire—and “the king of the south,” a radical Middle Eastern empire led by Iran. This prophecy explains that this European entity will enter into “the glorious land”—called Israel today—and overthrow many countries. But the amazing military success of this European power will not go unchecked! The pivotal prophecy continues in verse 44, saying that “tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him .…” After destroying the Middle Eastern 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 throughout northeast Asia are largely the result of disputes among Asian states, and, above all, because of fear of China’s rise. But these intra-Asian hostilities will soon be set aside so these players can form an allied bloc to meet this colossal European force. Asia’s swing toward nationalism points to dark times on the horizon, but the Bible makes plain that the clash between Europe and Asia will be interrupted by the most spectacular event in the history of the universe: the return of Jesus Christ, and the beginning of an age of peace for the nations of Asia, for Europe, and for the whole of mankind.
To understand more, read Russia and China in Prophecy. ▪