Saturday, April 16, 2005

Everyone in The Pacific Hates Each Other

There have been protests recently in China against Japan over a few small islands that may or may not have oil and gas under the water. There are a couple of stories here.

The first is that the Chinese government resolutely policies their people and use brute force quickly any time there are street protests. Why is this? Because they are a dictatorship and they know that any mob of people, organized for one purpose, can quickly turn on them and become a protest against the dictatorship that runs China. At first, they sanctioned these anti-Japan protests, but then they started cracking down on them when the crowds became larger and showed too much enthusiasm.

There was an old joke that used to go "In the US, you can challenge the policies of the government, and in Russia you can also protest the policies of the US government". The not-so-funny joke was basically that the only reliable card that protestors world-wide (particularly in the Arab world) can gather about is the US (or Israel).

We saw what happened in 1991 when the Chinese brought in troops to smash the unarmed student protestors - in China it is a big deal to murder unarmed students and even today Tiananmen Square is an extremely sensitive topic for the Chinese government.

The last straw of a dictatorship is nationalism, and it is a very powerful card. The people in China may hate their government and its agents, controls and corruption, but the government can bet that there is something they hate even more - Japan. Note that the government allowed these protests (don't try protesting about anything else, mind you) which probably says something about their relative hold on power.

The second thread on this is that everyone in the Pacific, and while we are at it most people in the world, hate their neighbors. I know that in the "social studies" classes we took in middle school it said that everyone loves everyone and the US is the cause of the world's troubles, but it isn't the truth, obviously.

Let's look at the neighborly state of things in the Pacific, broadly defined:

  • Japan - the Chinese, Koreans and Taiwanese all hate Japan. The nominal reason is that Japan occupied Korea for about 50 years and committed huge atrocities in China in WW2 during their invasion and occupation. While true, this type of behavior didn't stop people from reconciling in Europe. People hate Japan because they are a very successful nation, wealthy and economically powerful with strong companies and excellent technical skills. Note that Japan accomplishes all of this without any natural resources whatsoever and virtually no immigration, which is a significant fact.
  • China - China hates everyone. They want to take over and crush Taiwan, their wayward brothers that left the mainland after the 1949 civil war and takeover by the dictators in China (I don't refer to them as communists any more because they barely make a pretense at communism). Taiwan is a very successful state, like Japan, mainly because instead of engaging in idiotic schemes like collectivization of farms and the "Great Leap Forward" where no one went to school for a decade (those that didn't starve or die in labor camps), Taiwan allowed capitalism to thrive and tapped into the amazing economic potential of the ethnic Chinese far earlier and thus built a very powerful economy. Virtually everything you buy as far as computers was built in Taiwan, another country without any natural resources at all to speak of. China also hates India, and fought brutal border wars with her. About the only people China likes are the North Koreans, that most insane and crazy of dictatorships that they supported in the Korean war against the US in the 1950's and still prop up even today. And don't forget that China and Russia eye each other warily, with the Chinese gaining in power while the Russians lose theirs, both sides trying to control the "Stans" in that part of the world
  • Korea - South Korea and North Korea are locked in a bitter standoff, and about the only thing that binds these two countries is a hatred of Japan
  • Don't forget India and Pakistan, 2 nuclear armed and barely governed countries that hate each other, have fought three "hot" wars and a long running "cold" war, and are always just an assassination or random event away from coming to blows again. Like in China, these badly governed places turn to nationalism when their failings as a government become too big to hide to their people
  • Singapore is disliked by most everyone, especially Malaysia, because they are well governed and very successful, due primarily to ethnic Chinese who create successful businesses around the world, which leads to...
  • Indonesia, where a civil war is usually in the cards with an Islamic majority of tribes against the successful Chinese businesspeople. Indonesia is barely a country outside of the major cities and a few tourist areas, despite what it says on the map, and in their defense it is hard to manage a country that consists of a million islands and nationalities

But wait - aren't all of the world's troubles caused by the US and our "cowboy diplomacy"? I'm sure some twisted conspiracy could link the US to all of these events, but it is obviously false. These countries are not all governed well, and the well governed and successful countries (Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea) that generally (although not always) allow their citizens the right to vote and certainly allow them their economic freedom and have done so for decades are more successful and the lumbering dictatorships or just plain barely governed countries point to them for political points every so often.

The upside to all this is the remarkable economic capabilities of capitalism and how it can awaken hope and a better standard of living. Hopefully this dilutes these international hatreds over time. It happened in Europe, more or less, but we need to watch it in the Pacific.

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