Jun 18, 2013

    Nationalism holds back East Asia gains

    The Korea Herald/Asia News Network

    CHINA'S increasing assertiveness and Japan's sense of insecurity would further spur nationalism in North-east Asia, hampering the region from achieving huge potential gains from mutual cooperation, a renowned foreign-policy analyst said.

    In a recent interview with The Korea Herald, Mr Nayan Chanda, the director of publications of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, called for countries to craft effective policies of information and education to ease antagonism.

    "In addition to tasks of achieving equitable and sustainable economic growth, a major challenge for the region is to contain nationalism from becoming virulent," he said on the sidelines of the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity last month.

    With the revolution in communication technology, especially with the Internet, "nationalist outpourings" on territorial and social issues have a strong influence over governments, the veteran journalist noted.

    The process of new Chinese President Xi Jinping seeking to strengthen the legitimacy of his leadership could fuel a nationalist sentiment in a country where its people's pride has been buoyed by its growing economic and military clout, Mr Chanda said.

    "He (Mr Xi) can assert China's rights. That's something the Chinese population would like to see. And, by asserting to the US China's rights, Mr Xi is also looking to get public approval of his leadership," he said.

    As for Japan's rightward political shift, Mr Chanda said there was a "strong undercurrent of insecurity" in the country, calling the shift an apparent reaction to the perceived sense of its decline.

    "The population is becoming older, and the young population is shrinking very fast and so…(Japan is) economically shrinking," he said.

    "On the other hand, you have China rising. Its military is becoming very strong. China's challenging Japan more."

    As for North Korea, Mr Chanda said it would not give up nuclear weapons unless its "paranoia" about security dissipates.

    He also pointed out that, in the triangular relationship between South Korea, China and North Korea, the weakest party was Pyongyang, considering that the impoverished state had no other cards to play than its nuclear arms.

    "You do not expect a small, poor country to spend a huge amount of resources developing nuclear weapons, only to bargain your way. It doesn't make sense. They are truly paranoid," he said.

    As Seoul and Beijing seek to deepen their political and economic relationships, Pyongyang might not be able to continue its expectation that Beijing would always stand by its side.

    But China faces a dilemma over its wayward ally, North Korea - how to encourage economic reform while still maintaining a socialist regime aligned with Chinese national interests, Mr Chanda said.

    Amid deepening economic interdependence in a globalised era, China might no longer view the triangular relationship between South Korea, the United States and Japan with a rigid zero-sum mentality, he said.

    "Countries are dependent on each other. So, the question is, are the US-Japan-South Korea relations harmful to China? Positive or neutral? I would say positive," he said.

    "If not, South Korea would not be in alliance with the US. The South would attempt to develop its own nuclear weapon.

    "That's something the Chinese don't want. China doesn't want both North and South Korea to have nuclear weapons."