Last year, China sent out invitations to countries from all around the world to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the world’s biggest financial institution since the establishment of the American dominated World Bank. Despite U.S. protestations, 42 countries applied to become founding members, with 30 accepted by the deadline. The interest of the United Kingdom, France, and Germany in the bank; which are often considered to be the closest U.S. allies stunned the American leadership. But there was one country which stood by the United States, through this humiliating phase: it was the Pacific island nation of Japan. It was hard to imagine that a country which fought against the United States in the Second World War, whose more than 226,000 citizens were killed due to atomic bombing by the U.S., would side with the United States amidst a virtual rout its influence. Why is Japan siding with the United States? Is this support specific, or does it illustrate the broad Westernisation of Japan? And perhaps the most important question: How has Westernisation permeated so deeply in the Japanese society? Let’s analyse…
Before discussing the Western influence on Japanese culture and society, we need to discuss the geopolitical alignment of Japan towards the West in general and the United States in particular. All of us know that Japan was aligned against the United States in World War II. So why and how did the Japanese change boats so quickly?
In the early to mid-19th century, the rising Western imperialist powers led by Britain, were seeking to open markets in East Asia. And it was the United States, in the person of Commodore Matthew Perry, who forced the ‘opening’ of Japan in 1854 — setting in motion a series of striking developments that propelled Japan into a major industrial and imperial power. Though the US had an excellent relationship with Japan, it wanted an even better relationship with China, the sole Asian power standing. The Sino–American relationship developed in such a way that emotional bonds were created. In the late 19th century as the rapacious European imperialist powers and Japan were extending ‘spheres of influence’ in China, the US Secretary of State John Hay issued the ‘open door policy’. Though not as altruistic as it sounds, the intention could be seen as an attempt to prevent a European ‘scramble for China’ that occurred in Africa.
The most popular and effective diplomat for the United States’ China agenda did not come for the Department of State, but from the Shilin House. It was the Chinese First Lady, Soong May-ling, a Christian with native fluency in English, who soon became the symbol of the closer Sino-American relationship. However, all of the bonhomie soon ended.
A popular Communist revolution, led by Mao Zedong in October 1949, seized control of Beijing and estabilished the People’s Republic of China. The ‘loss’ of China when it ‘fell’ to communism was a huge shock and resulted in a 180-degree shift in US strategy in the Pacific and occupation policy in Japan. Overnight yesterday’s enemy became today’s ally and vice-versa. It is as if in Europe immediately after World War II Britain had become America’s enemy and Germany its chief ally.
With the fall of China, the American occupiers in Japan brought about a number of important social and political reforms, including the promulgation of a new liberal constitution in 1950. Many Japanese war criminals prosecuted in the 1946 International Military Tribunals for the Far East were freed so that they might administratively contribute to Japan’s reconstruction. Washington wanted its Pacific ally, in light of the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, to be strong. Much was done, including massive technology transfer, to achieve that end. This explains why in many ways the US-Japan relationship appears to have “cheated destiny”.
As the years passed by, the Chinese became more aggressive and Japan further shifted in the Western sphere of influence. This resulted in the opening of the American markets to Japanese exports, the devaluation of the Yen, massive transfer of technology (ToT), and the military protection granted to Japan by the US. To a considerable extent contemporary Japan is ‘made in the USA’.
Probably no country on earth changed culturally in such a pronounced manner in so short a time as Japan did. No nation has been more ready to consider new teaching and yet none has been more tenacious of its own tradition. For a period of time, Japan was isolated in Asia as many Asian countries wanted the Japanese to ‘repent’ their actions in the Second World War and to realise that they are on the wrong side of history. During this extraordinarily tough time, the only true partner Japan could fall back upon was the US and the West.
As for the US, it was more than welcoming to accept Japan in its list of “Americanized” nations. It had successfully estabilished Japan as a ‘role-model’ for Asian countries: a perfect example of the benefits of the Western ideals. It had finally got a firm stronghold in Asia in the form of an economic superpower which itself insisted being associated with America. As Japan’s economic progress illustrates, the Westernization of Japan is a big win for both, Japan and the United States.
Theirs is a civilization of deprivation; ours of finely balanced satisfaction ever teetering on the brink of excess.”
― Iain M. Banks,
Note:- All the opinions stated in the above article are the author’s own.
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