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In the late nineteenth century, Asian intellectuals led by Japanese people started to discuss the idea of creating Pan-Asianism. The aim of this ideology was to unite different Asian nations and cultures under the guidance of Japan leadership to resist Western influence in the region. Pan-Asianism should have cultivated the spirit of brotherhood among Asians inspiring them to help each other develop and realize national potential. The idea was peaceful initially. Later, militarism overtook in Japanese politics leading to justification of Japan’s imperialism in Asia. Thus, Pan-Asianism became a Japanese tool of fighting Western imperialism in Asia.
The concept of Pan-Asianism defines political ideology of bringing and promoting brotherhood among Asian nations with the ultimate aim to create a common united front to face the outside world. Pan-Asianism was the late nineteenth-century idea of the Japanese intellectuals, including Okakura Tenshin, who wanted to unite Asia against Western growing influence in the region. Japanese Empire defined Pan-Asianism as the unity of Asian nations against the Western influence and dominance in Asia. The unity of Asia against Europe symbolized the rejection of colonization. It consisted of Japan, Korea, China, and India. However, last two nations remained under Western influence being unable to make a meaningful contribution towards the unity of the Asians.
The Empire of Japan established the alliance of Asians against foreign dominance. As a result, Japan became highly important in driving Pan-Asianism. However, the leader of the union was not chosen through a democratic process because Japan believed that it was necessary to lead the alliance and to advance the expansionist policies while facing the threat from the West. They were willing to sustain their personal interest in the region. Continuous encroachment of European power was a significant threat to Japanese welfare due to its strong economic and political influence in Asia.
Idea and Rhetoric of Pan-Asianism Developed in Japan
Hotta argues that the victory of Japan in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 strengthened the urge to unite Asia in order to encounter Western imperialism in the areas. The international system had become lawless. It meant that each nation had to follow the policy of self-help in the face of foreign intrusion. However, the majority of Asian states were not powerful to counter Western imperialism, thus, they should have joined the for defending their common interest. Japan as a leading power in the region should have guided other Asian countries in rejecting the domination of foreign nations.
Moreover, Japanese fear of Western dominance in Asia contributed to the idea of Pan-Asianism as a mean of rejecting Western influence in the region. The United States of America, Great Britain, France, German, and Spain had made a strong presence in China, India, and other surrounding nations. Those international policies threatened Japanese self-preservation. Increasing military, economic, and diplomatic influences of the Western powers in Asia questioned Japan’s dominance in the region. As a result, Japan decided to fight that encroachment through the means that were at its disposal. Pan-Asianism became a tool to counter-intrusion and to salvage Japan.
Being self-appointed, Japan was eager to unite Asian states against the West due to its desire to control Asia. The economic, diplomatic, and security interests were the key driving factors behind Japan’s support for Asian unity. To achieve the main objectives, the leaders used Pan-Asianism rhetoric to justify their expansionist policies in Asia. The fight against European imperialism became the propaganda of Japan against the Western interest in Asia. In this respect, Japanese military activities in neighboring countries were regarded as the way of defending Asians from European colonization. At the same time, military conquest was prestigious. Moreover, it was a sign of the state’s power and fame. In the view of growing economic, security, social, and strategic threats from Western powers activities in Asia, the Japanese Empire believed that it was prudent to rally Asians against the West. Pan-Asianism presented Japan with an excellent opportunity to reject Western penetration and influence in Asia. Consequently, the rhetoric of Pan-Asianism became the domineering factor in Japanese foreign policy.
The Response in Asia to Pan-Asianism
The response of Asian nations to Pan-Asianism was mixed. Some countries, such as Korea, welcomed positively the idea of Asian unity. Unfortunately, they later became the victims of Japanese imperialism. However, other states, such as China, were reluctant to join the unity course. The Chinese understood Pan-Asianism as a tool to justify Japanese expansionism in Asia. The lack of power and the overlap of the national interests hindered the development of union and influenced negatively the spirit of bringing all Asian countries under one united leadership against the West.
Indian scholars showed a positive response to the ideas of Pan-Asianism. In fact, they examined the unity of Asians and how beneficial it would be to them. However, the Indian government would not do much because European powers started to control the country and put it under colonial rule. Therefore, the drive to forge Asian brotherhood rested heavily on the Japanese Empire, which was remarkable strong to champion a general course for Asian nations.
The Chinese, who had supported Pan-Asianism, later rejected it due to the Japanese intention to advance its military expansionist policies. Koreas suffered from the adverse effects of ideology because the Empire of Japan annexed Korea. The Japanese Empire distorted the original ideas of Pan-Asianism to further its imperialist influence. Asian unity transformed from peaceful to violent, hence leading to low enthusiasm for the further unification. Indians, Chinese, and Koreans opposed Japanese expansionism at the expense of their independence.
Relationship between Pan-Asianism and the Pacific War
The Pacific War started as a result of Japanese military expansionism in Asia disguised as Pan-Asianism. Having increased the military activities, Japan annexed Manchuria from China and attacked the Western powers in the region. Pan-Asianism was used by Japan to advance military colonization of Asia by Asians. The Japanese perceived their actions as the defense of the great Asian nation from foreign control. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Japan faced stiff competition and security threat from Britain, France, and the United States. Military expansion was the highest during the Second World War.
The Japanese victory over Russians in 1905 made Asian nations believe in Japan’s ability to lead them against the Western encroachment. Pan-Asianism ideology became more popular. However, the Japanese used it to justify their military imperialism across Asia. The result of that development was the Pacific War that engaged Japan into fierce armed battle with the Western powers and their allies. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 was the result of strong motivation to control Asia. Thus, Pan-Asianism portrayed Japanese military expansionism in the region. The annexation of Manchuria created animosity between Japan and China and also let European force join the side of China.
In the height of warfare in Asia and Pacific, Pan-Asianism dominated Japan foreign policy. Puppet regime of Manchukuo served its interests, which were veiled by unity for Asian nations. The declaration to build “New East Asian Order” boosted the desire of Japan to fight the Western influence in Asia. As a result, the Japanese Empire engaged in brutal military activities to achieve its goal. The Western interests in the region were at risk as the state of lawlessness reigned and the Japanese expanded their territory.
Japanese Empire military activities influenced the interests of the Western powers. Great Britain and the United States became enemies of Japan. That rivalry started continuous animosity between the powers. Moreover, Russia engaged in open warfare with Japan over the control of Asia. Therefore, the Pan-Asianism ideology became a threat to economic, military, and diplomatic interests of the region. Consequently, the war was inevitable because Japanese aggression led to counter attacks by foreign forces.
Moreover, the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty of the 19th century was extremely necessary to further the Pan-Asianism rhetoric. However, the ideology was changed according to the nationalistic interest of the Japanese Empire. Indeed, nations that opposed Japan were subjected to military force and surrender. The rapid expansion of Japan fueled fear among Western diplomats, who thought that Japanese imperialism would jeopardize their interests in the region. Before the beginning of World War II, the relationships between Japan and Western powers were unstable.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was planned in order to secure Asia from the influence and control of the West. Unexpected military assault on the United States installation led to a deadly retaliation that collapsed Japan in 1945. Japan surrendered. That event was one of the most humiliating in Japanese history. Therefore, the Pacific War resulted from the ideas of Pan-Asianism, which were supposed to enforce Japanese imperialism in Asia.
The Pacific War is a phenomenon created by Western encroachment in Asia and Japanese attempt to counter it. Pan-Asianism belonged to a propaganda tool of the latter against the former. Military battles were inevitable due to the chaotic nature of the international system. Japan had to advance a foreign policy that would safeguard its interests against the ever-increasing Western threat. The attempt to unite Asian nations was regarded as the best alternative to rejecting colonization and subject Asia to foreign dominance. However, the aggressive military policies of the Japanese Empire damaged relations between Asian countries, such as China and Korea.
Pan-Asianism began as a peaceful idea championed by Asian intellectuals to unite nations. However, Japanese military regime distorted the original views of Pan-Asianism. The Empire of Japan was willing to take control over other nations in Asia. The aim of unity was changed from the creation of a self-sustaining system to a rise against the Western influence in the region under the leadership of Japan. As a result, the ideology resulted in the outbreak of the Pacific War. An intention to boost its importance in the region caused many problems to Japan. It was hit by nuclear bombs in 1945. Thus, Pan-Asianism turned from a peaceful ideology to propaganda that backed Japanese imperialism in Asia and promoted war against the Western powers. Therefore, Pan-Asianism was an opportune idea that served to help Japan pursue its veiled imperialist policies and resist the Western powers dominating in Asia. Finally, military aggression to defend both national and personal interest was inevitable in an anarchic international system.