The western countries have a misconception that if they do not grace an international event, it loses importance. It’s a hangover from the colonial era. But then, the vanity has limits, too – provided, there is serious money involved. How the western countries fell over each other to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank [AIIB] as ‘founding members’ is legion. They instinctively saw AIIB as a free ride on Chinese money and no amount of American persuasion could keep them away from the honey pot. Britain and Germany hold very little equity in the AIIB in comparison with India, but are keen on the commercial spin off from the investment projects.
Alas, there is no money in China’s celebrations over the 70th anniversary of World War II. And there is no David Cameron at the ceremony in Beijing on September 3. The western media insists it’s a ‘snub’. Whereas, China says it didn’t press the invite but left to the invitees to suit themselves. At any rate, why should any country ‘snub’ China for celebrating a magnificent victory over fascism? There wasn’t any Holocaust in the Asian theatre, but the marauding Japanese army was no less horrific in war crimes than Nazi Germany.
China wasn’t the aggressor in World War II. It didn’t spill Anglo-Saxon blood. China’s participation took the form of its liberation struggle against Japanese imperialism.
No doubt, the impact of World War II on the Asian region was historical. Fundamentally, the war galvanized the national movements across the region. Asia could shake off the colonial yoke, finally.
But in geopolitical terms, the single biggest beneficiary turned out to be the United States. The war on Japan – and the deliberate use of atomic weapons – enabled the US to eventually get embedded in the Asian region. Today, it claims to be an ‘Asian power’.
On the other hand, the biggest loser was Imperial Britain, since its decline as a second rate power really began when it found that clinging on to the Indian colony was no longer sustainable. Of course, India’s independence in 1947 is attributable to World War II.
All the same, if the expected line-up in Beijing next week is interesting, it is for three reasons. First, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s presence in Beijing on September 2-4 affirms beyond doubt that the quasi-alliance between the two big powers is only getting stronger by the day and world politics and the international system will be profoundly affected by the Sino-Russian strategic partnership.
Second, the absence of the western countries at the celebrations underscores that they are a long way from accepting China as a strategic partner – and, furthermore, that if push comes to shove, blood will prove thicker than water and the Europeans will dutifully line up behind the US in any confrontation with China. Germany or Britain cannot do without the Chinese market to ensure that their economies remain resilient, but they see China inherently as an adversarial power in the world order. Their disquiet over China’s rise is compounded by the acute awareness of the West’s decline after a long history of global dominance since the Industrial Revolution.
Third, the presence of South Korean President Park Geun-hye as well as the absence of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and North Korean leader Kim Jong UN will make a significant template of the emergent realignments in the politics of the Far East. China and South Korea have drawn together as strong economic partners, while Park’s presence in Beijing will underscore the two countries’ shared concerns over the rise of militarism in Japan under Abe. Significantly, setting aside speculations, Park decided to attend the military parade as well. (See my blog Soldiers and diplomats march on China’s Tian’anmen.)
As for Abe, he understands that the gala event in Beijing next week carries the message that China has inexorably begun outstripping Japan in its comprehensive national power and it is virtually impossible to reverse the tide. The consequent adjustment that Japan needs to make is going to be extremely painful, because it never before in modern history had to live under the shadow of China’s superior power.
Indeed, Kim’s absence simply proclaims one thing – China and North Korea are no longer ‘as close as lips to teeth’. It calls attention to the changing character of the relationship between the two neighbors, which involves the complicated transition from one of alliance to a tangled partnership. The shared ideological affinity and close personal equations at the leadership level have given way. Pared to the bone, what remains is China’s own security calculus and its pursuit of pragmatic cooperation to leverage Pyongyang’s policies.