Bullied nation now a bully
In 1894, in a quarrel over Korea, the David that was Japan (small but unified, militaristic and disciplined) took on the Goliath of Asia, China (large but weak, divided and “ungovernable,” as one historian put it), and after a year won resoundingly.
“The proud Middle Kingdom (China) had been defeated by a people looked upon not only as inferior but also, by means of their westernization, as traitors to the Confucian family of nations,” wrote the historian Paul Hibbert Clyde in “The Far East: A History of the Impact of the West on Eastern Asia.”
Japan thus joined the Old Boys Club of the European powers—Britain, France, Germany, and Russia—that had established legations in Peking, and carved up most of China into little fiefdoms for economic exploitation and political power.
The 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War, it turned out, was just a dress rehearsal for future aggressive moves by Japan, hungry for territory. In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria in northern China, turned it into a puppet state not recognized by any member of the League of Nations, and renamed it Manchukuo.
An undeclared war between the two Asian giants ensued from 1937-1941 which, with the outbreak of war in the Pacific in 1941, became full-scale hostilities. A united front was forged between the Kuomintang forces led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and the guerrillas of Mao Zedong, with the United States aiding China.
China won in 1945 and civil war resumed with the victory of the communists in 1949. China was at last united, but at what cost. She was now ready to bully, from within and without. Later would come a famine with millions dead, due to Mao’s desire to make China a military power; the invasion of Tibet (a Filipino mountain-climbing physician, Dr. Ted Esguerra, witnessed how Chinese border guards shot some Tibetans fleeing to freedom); a border war with India; a foray into Vietnam, China’s ancient enemy; massive violations of human rights during the Cultural Revolution; and the Tiananmen massacre.
The time machine travels through the decades and we arrive at the disputed Spratlys, which China claims for its own. Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia, being self-respecting nations, have stood up to the Chinese dragon. No such luck for the Philippines, because President Duterte loves Chinese President Xi Jinping, and vice versa.
The sleeping giant has awakened. Wasn’t it Napoleon who warned about this? The nation bullied during the 19th century has become the bully of the 21st century.
Amadís Ma. Guerrero used to work for the Associated Press in Manila and the pre-martial law Graphic magazine, and has been a regular contributor to the Inquirer since 1992.
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