The postwar foreign policy of Japan was marked by the noticeable changes. At the beginning of the twentieth century, this country came to face the new tendencies in the international order that called for the ideological adaptation. In a short time, the peaceful attempt to revive the cultural, geographical and political unity of the Asian region evolved into the policy of imperialism. In other words, the Japanese concept of Pan-Asianism initially referred to the regional unification only to become a militarist ideology later.
The policy of Pan-Asianism commonly envisages the formation of a regional alternative to the Eurocentric order. It is aimed at diminishment of the Western influence in Asia. The concept primarily focused on the formation of one Asia based on the geographical proximity, cultural commonalities, historical ties, and racial kinship of neighboring nations. As the regionalism came to dominate the Japanese foreign policy, the academic scholars struggled to relate the phenomenon to the harmonious co-existence of different civilizations. Japan’s ambitions for the exclusion of the Western involvement in the regional affairs has made its way for the emergence of the Asian Monroe Doctrine/ It is a strategy that presupposed the active involvement of China, Afghanistan, and Japan in supporting the emerging Pan-Asianist movements in the interwar period. Meanwhile Japan was planning to occupy the leading role in the regional processes due to several factors. After the World War I, the state persistently avoided the repetition of postwar devastation and considered the facilitation of regional cooperation as an efficient preventive mechanism. The rhetoric of the self-imposed duty of leadership, in its turn, was based on the country’s technological supremacy among the Asian nations. The new circumstances and fear for the future seemed to have been the main contributive factors in the formation of the Japanese assertive policy of regional domination.
Historically, the beginning of the twentieth century was marked by the emergence of Pan-Asian rhetoric. Several significant events stirred the development of regionalism in Asia. The political leaders strongly related to the historical memory of Western expansionism. Consequently, Britain’s victory in the Opium War of 1839-1842 helped to popularize an image of aggressive conquerors from the West and evoke the first calls for a civilizational conflict. The exploitation of the Western-Asian opposition became a key aspect of the Japanese rhetoric in the post war period. The idea quickly evolved into the full-scale propaganda of establishing the so called state of Koryo by means of combined efforts of Japan and Korean elites. The future state was supposed to have its own Constitution and adhere to Confucianism. The new state was supposed to embody the utopian ambitions of Japanese politicians. Meanwhile the country’s success in the 1904-1905 war with Russia, in its turn, provided it with the strong international support in advocating for the anti-western slogans. Later on, Pan-Asianism underwent several stages in its development. According to Hotta, the concept had come a long way from concentrating on the Asian commonalities to embracing the ultranationalist ideology. Japan eventually moved from the ideological propaganda to designing the system of beneficial alliances. For instance, China, India, and Japan cofounded the Asian Humanitarian Brotherhood in 1907. Under the patronage of Japan and Muslim communities, the Asian Congress, a political institution coordinating the propaganda of the racial liberation, came into existence in 1909. Meanwhile the withdrawal from the League of Nations, the occupation of Manchuria, and the bold attack on the US military base in Pearl Harbor are the vivid exemplifications of the Japanese assertive foreign policy. The historical accounts provided above help to trace the emergence of the concept as well as the subsequent incorporation of militaristic objectives into the Japanese foreign policy.
Notably, several external and internal factors explain the further dissemination and solidification of Japan’s ultranationalist policy. The Pan-Asian rhetoric had a solid ideological foundation in the state. The political intellectual claimed that the Western civilization had no material and human capacity to sustain its universal leadership after the World War II. Therefore, Japan seemed to be awarded with a historical opportunity to revive the Asian region. In combination with the post-war supremacy in the state modernization, the assertion explains Japan’s self-imposed duty of regional leadership. The idea was eagerly supported by the Japanese officials. They claimed that “a spiritual, moral, and timeless” unity of the Asian societies could help to expel the Western invaders from Asia. The political discourse reached its culmination when Japan openly announced its hostile attitude towards the Western nations. In Okawa’s words, the “progress born out of war” would eventually advance the establishment of the Japanese hegemony. The political leadership successfully manipulated the public thinking by popularization of liberation slogans. Namely, the opposition to the Western oppression was “Japan’s moral duty despite the ingratitude of the Asian peoples.” At the same time, the political success of militarist circles stirred the development of the anti-Western rhetoric. The opponent of the liberal foreign policy called for the renewal of the state’s strategy since the 1870s. Ueki Emori, in particular, promoted the formation of the Asian League while his compatriot, Okakura Tenshin, argued as follows. The establishment of the “Pan-Asian Alliance” would strengthen the overall military and economic capacity of the region. Evidently, the propagandistic efforts as well as the novelty of the international situation inspired the militaristic and liberation rhetoric in Japan. Consequently, it led to the establishment of the imperialistic foreign policy.
Despite the ideological appeal of the concept, the world community responded to the Japanese strategy of regional unification in different ways. Some of neighboring countries openly expressed their suspicion in regards to the Japanese foreign policy. Szpilman and Saaler argue that the idea of the country’s unilateral leadership in the regional affairs was much weaker among the Pan-Asian movements. China and the Western states were the primary opponents of the Japanese domination in the area. The Chinese criticism highlighted the lack of benefits of joining the Asian coalition and overly rejected the idea of Japanese expansionism. The Western powers responded with the adoption of the restrictive immigration legislation. The US government strongly believed that these measures would protect the European community from the Japanese invasion. At the same time, some of the countries expressed the overly positive attitude towards the Pan-Asian rhetoric. Indonesia, in particular, planned to join the movement in order to ensure the genuineness of Japanese intentions. The state officials saw the regional cooperation as an opportunity to challenge the idea of the Eurocentric order and change the course of the Asian history. India and Korea, on the other hand, pursued a more serf-serving agenda. The Korean supportive attitude may be attributed to the geographical proximity to Japan and desire to find the protection against the possible Western threat by the means of mutually beneficial relations with the country. India, in its turn, sought the international support for the national independence movement and, consequently, developed the close ties with the state. Evidently, the international community did not share the unilateral attitude toward the Japanese foreign policy while pursuing the individual agenda.
Meanwhile the development of the Japanese imperialistic strategy strongly suggests that the adherence to Pan-Asian is a main reason for the Japanese involvement in the Pacific War. The term refers to the Pacific theatre of the World War II, whereas the country expressed its intention to join the conflict by attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941. Notably, the militaristic rhetoric became an integral part of the state’s foreign policy years before the war. By the 1930s, Japan had shifted its focus from the regional cooperation to the establishment of its hegemony. In 1938, the state officials initiated the formation of the Agency for Development of Asia, an organization responsible for overseeing the state’s political and diplomatic relations with the members of the so called Greater East Co-Prosperity Sphere. On the domestic level, the Japanese government prepared the initiation of the large scale propaganda machine. In that view, the prominent politician Okawa promoted the establishment of the state-sponsored educational institutions, specialized in training the future generation of diplomats. The programs of massive re-education were implemented in Manchuria and southeastern Asia. The official purpose of the new institution was the cultivation of the new Asian identity that would encompass “the virtues of both modern and ancient civilizations. The real goal of these efforts was to ensure the continuation of the Japanese imperialist traditions by upbringing the patriotic state officials. Such ones would disseminate the ideas of cultural interdependence among the Asian states overseas in the future. According to the supplied evidence, Japan seemed politically and strategically inclined to enter the military conflict in the Pacific region.
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In conclusion, the close look at the history of the Japanese foreign policy allows establishing general tendencies in its development. Namely, the formation of the imperialistic strategy was a gradual process. The Opium War of 1839-1842 and the Russian-Japanese War of 1904-1905 have stimulated the emergence of the anti-Western rhetoric, aimed at facilitation of multilateral efforts for the consolidation of the Asian region. However, the changes in the international order and the Japanese domestic policy have led to the incorporation of the overly militaristic and hegemonic notions in the political discourse of the state. Therefore, the Japanese imperialism is a response to external challenges and ideological innovations.