Blogs: The Skeptics

A Nixon Strategy to Break the Russia-China Axis

What Will Assad Do Next?

China: The New Imperial Japan?

The Skeptics

A second structural variable is the prevailing international economic order as well as the local conditions of given states, here Japan and China. In the 1930s, the international economic order was collapsing and vital resources were ceasing to be effectively distributed through free trade. Since Japan was a small island nation mostly devoid of natural resources with a rapidly expanding population, the collapse of the economic order threatened its national well-being. American embargoes enacted in response to Japanese expansion further exacerbated this fear. If Japan could not trade for necessary resources, such as oil, how was it to acquire them? Further expansion into China and Southeast Asia was then the answer.

Today, the economic order, though challenged by the 2008 financial crisis, is not on the verge of collapsing. Neither is China a small island economy devoid of natural resources. China successfully imports raw materials from Australia, oil from the Middle East and Africa, and soybeans and cotton from the United States (to name just a few resources). The Chinese understand that the international economic order facilitated their rise, and Xi Jinping’s commitment to develop the economic potential of other nations, through such initiatives as One Belt One Road, expresses confidence in this order.

Domestic Political Factors

In the 1930s, Japan was run by “government by assassination”: those who acted against the military’s wishes would be eliminated. Japan’s first major foray into Manchuria in 1931 was directed by local army officers without the consent of the prime minister. Following reforms, the army and navy ministers could bring down a cabinet by resigning, effectively preventing civilian control of the government. As a result, no one leader was able to effectively govern Japan, and strategic and policy decisions were often made “in the field” by unqualified mid-ranking officers. In contrast, the central proposition of the Chinese government since Mao is that “the Party controls the gun.” Unauthorized military adventures—such as Japan’s expansion into Manchuria—are not plausible in contemporary China.

Motives for Expansion

From 1895–1941, Japan spent forty-five years expanding its territories, acquiring colonies, and conquering other peoples in the Pacific, China, Manchuria, Mongolia, Russia and Southeast Asia. In contrast, neither China’s leaders nor its military have expressed any interest whatsoever in annexing territory to which the nation has no historical claim. As Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell, two leading scholars of China, have observed:

All of China’s remaining unrealized territorial claims—the island of Taiwan, 45,000 square miles of territory in three parcels disputed with India, smaller border claims with other neighbors, and several sets of islands in the East and South China seas—are based on this history of one-time possession or exploration. In Beijing’s official rhetoric, maps, and history books, we see no signs of preparations to lodge claims to additional irridenta. In this sense, China is not an “expansionist” power with elastic territorial claims. Its claims appear fixed.

By contrast, Japanese expansion seemed limitless because the island nation had no natural stopping point. Every continental territory it acquired seemed to require a new buffer state to protect it; and after every conquest, one faction or another would advocate conquering somewhere else—e.g., the Army the Soviet Union, or the Navy Southeast Asia. There is no evidence whatsoever that the same expansionist urge defines Chinese policy today. Indeed, the fact that China has participated in no major war since 1979 and that historically China has not sought to expand into neighboring nation-states reinforces this.

International Society

In the 1930s, international society was the weakest it had been since the outbreak of the First World War. The United States was not a member of the League of Nations, leaving that institution relatively impotent. The USSR, which did join the league in 1934, was still excluded from international society, and until the last days of European peace was seen as a greater menace than even Nazi Germany. In 1933, Japan left the League of Nations in response to the league’s condemnation of its occupation of Manchuria, and in January 1936 it withdrew from the Washington System. Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia and the bloody civil war in Spain had made a mockery of international order, and Hitler, Stalin and the Japanese all desired to exploit the breakdown of order.

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What Trump Should Understand about China and North Korea

The Skeptics

A second structural variable is the prevailing international economic order as well as the local conditions of given states, here Japan and China. In the 1930s, the international economic order was collapsing and vital resources were ceasing to be effectively distributed through free trade. Since Japan was a small island nation mostly devoid of natural resources with a rapidly expanding population, the collapse of the economic order threatened its national well-being. American embargoes enacted in response to Japanese expansion further exacerbated this fear. If Japan could not trade for necessary resources, such as oil, how was it to acquire them? Further expansion into China and Southeast Asia was then the answer.

Today, the economic order, though challenged by the 2008 financial crisis, is not on the verge of collapsing. Neither is China a small island economy devoid of natural resources. China successfully imports raw materials from Australia, oil from the Middle East and Africa, and soybeans and cotton from the United States (to name just a few resources). The Chinese understand that the international economic order facilitated their rise, and Xi Jinping’s commitment to develop the economic potential of other nations, through such initiatives as One Belt One Road, expresses confidence in this order.

Domestic Political Factors

In the 1930s, Japan was run by “government by assassination”: those who acted against the military’s wishes would be eliminated. Japan’s first major foray into Manchuria in 1931 was directed by local army officers without the consent of the prime minister. Following reforms, the army and navy ministers could bring down a cabinet by resigning, effectively preventing civilian control of the government. As a result, no one leader was able to effectively govern Japan, and strategic and policy decisions were often made “in the field” by unqualified mid-ranking officers. In contrast, the central proposition of the Chinese government since Mao is that “the Party controls the gun.” Unauthorized military adventures—such as Japan’s expansion into Manchuria—are not plausible in contemporary China.

Motives for Expansion

From 1895–1941, Japan spent forty-five years expanding its territories, acquiring colonies, and conquering other peoples in the Pacific, China, Manchuria, Mongolia, Russia and Southeast Asia. In contrast, neither China’s leaders nor its military have expressed any interest whatsoever in annexing territory to which the nation has no historical claim. As Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell, two leading scholars of China, have observed:

All of China’s remaining unrealized territorial claims—the island of Taiwan, 45,000 square miles of territory in three parcels disputed with India, smaller border claims with other neighbors, and several sets of islands in the East and South China seas—are based on this history of one-time possession or exploration. In Beijing’s official rhetoric, maps, and history books, we see no signs of preparations to lodge claims to additional irridenta. In this sense, China is not an “expansionist” power with elastic territorial claims. Its claims appear fixed.

By contrast, Japanese expansion seemed limitless because the island nation had no natural stopping point. Every continental territory it acquired seemed to require a new buffer state to protect it; and after every conquest, one faction or another would advocate conquering somewhere else—e.g., the Army the Soviet Union, or the Navy Southeast Asia. There is no evidence whatsoever that the same expansionist urge defines Chinese policy today. Indeed, the fact that China has participated in no major war since 1979 and that historically China has not sought to expand into neighboring nation-states reinforces this.

International Society

In the 1930s, international society was the weakest it had been since the outbreak of the First World War. The United States was not a member of the League of Nations, leaving that institution relatively impotent. The USSR, which did join the league in 1934, was still excluded from international society, and until the last days of European peace was seen as a greater menace than even Nazi Germany. In 1933, Japan left the League of Nations in response to the league’s condemnation of its occupation of Manchuria, and in January 1936 it withdrew from the Washington System. Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia and the bloody civil war in Spain had made a mockery of international order, and Hitler, Stalin and the Japanese all desired to exploit the breakdown of order.

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Newsflash: Russia Is Not the Soviet Union

The Skeptics

A second structural variable is the prevailing international economic order as well as the local conditions of given states, here Japan and China. In the 1930s, the international economic order was collapsing and vital resources were ceasing to be effectively distributed through free trade. Since Japan was a small island nation mostly devoid of natural resources with a rapidly expanding population, the collapse of the economic order threatened its national well-being. American embargoes enacted in response to Japanese expansion further exacerbated this fear. If Japan could not trade for necessary resources, such as oil, how was it to acquire them? Further expansion into China and Southeast Asia was then the answer.

Today, the economic order, though challenged by the 2008 financial crisis, is not on the verge of collapsing. Neither is China a small island economy devoid of natural resources. China successfully imports raw materials from Australia, oil from the Middle East and Africa, and soybeans and cotton from the United States (to name just a few resources). The Chinese understand that the international economic order facilitated their rise, and Xi Jinping’s commitment to develop the economic potential of other nations, through such initiatives as One Belt One Road, expresses confidence in this order.

Domestic Political Factors

In the 1930s, Japan was run by “government by assassination”: those who acted against the military’s wishes would be eliminated. Japan’s first major foray into Manchuria in 1931 was directed by local army officers without the consent of the prime minister. Following reforms, the army and navy ministers could bring down a cabinet by resigning, effectively preventing civilian control of the government. As a result, no one leader was able to effectively govern Japan, and strategic and policy decisions were often made “in the field” by unqualified mid-ranking officers. In contrast, the central proposition of the Chinese government since Mao is that “the Party controls the gun.” Unauthorized military adventures—such as Japan’s expansion into Manchuria—are not plausible in contemporary China.

Motives for Expansion

From 1895–1941, Japan spent forty-five years expanding its territories, acquiring colonies, and conquering other peoples in the Pacific, China, Manchuria, Mongolia, Russia and Southeast Asia. In contrast, neither China’s leaders nor its military have expressed any interest whatsoever in annexing territory to which the nation has no historical claim. As Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell, two leading scholars of China, have observed:

All of China’s remaining unrealized territorial claims—the island of Taiwan, 45,000 square miles of territory in three parcels disputed with India, smaller border claims with other neighbors, and several sets of islands in the East and South China seas—are based on this history of one-time possession or exploration. In Beijing’s official rhetoric, maps, and history books, we see no signs of preparations to lodge claims to additional irridenta. In this sense, China is not an “expansionist” power with elastic territorial claims. Its claims appear fixed.

By contrast, Japanese expansion seemed limitless because the island nation had no natural stopping point. Every continental territory it acquired seemed to require a new buffer state to protect it; and after every conquest, one faction or another would advocate conquering somewhere else—e.g., the Army the Soviet Union, or the Navy Southeast Asia. There is no evidence whatsoever that the same expansionist urge defines Chinese policy today. Indeed, the fact that China has participated in no major war since 1979 and that historically China has not sought to expand into neighboring nation-states reinforces this.

International Society

In the 1930s, international society was the weakest it had been since the outbreak of the First World War. The United States was not a member of the League of Nations, leaving that institution relatively impotent. The USSR, which did join the league in 1934, was still excluded from international society, and until the last days of European peace was seen as a greater menace than even Nazi Germany. In 1933, Japan left the League of Nations in response to the league’s condemnation of its occupation of Manchuria, and in January 1936 it withdrew from the Washington System. Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia and the bloody civil war in Spain had made a mockery of international order, and Hitler, Stalin and the Japanese all desired to exploit the breakdown of order.

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