Monday, December 12, 2011

If It Looks Like a Hornet Nest, Don't Poke It

Commodore Matthew Perry in Japan

With computers, it may be that WYSIWYG, but geopolitics is better characterized as being smacked on the back of the head by one unintended consequence after another.
Westerners from exploring nations had found little welcome in Japan before the historic pivot point in 1854, when American Commodore Matthew C. Perry strong-armed the Tokugawa Shogunate into signing an agreement to open their country to trade.  For centuries, feudal Japan had been inward-looking, agrarian and self-sufficient.  Previous approaches by the United States in 1837, 1846 and 1849 were rebuffed, but Congress decided on a show of force; the Japanese realized upon the fleet's arrival that the fortress in Tokyo Bay (and some wooden cannon) were inadequate to put up effective resistance.
The changes that followed were unpredictably, unbelievably, swift and thorough.  The domains of 300 daimyo (local lords) were first consolidated into a unified nation under a restored figurehead emperor, then industrialized and militarized by an energetically efficient oligarchy.  In a half-century, Japan leapt up from its dreamy isolation to become the powerhouse which bloodied the nose of both the Chinese and the Russian empires.  Full of hubris like Perry, they, in turn, poked back at the ones who started all this, in 1941.
Do we learn not to throw rocks at the junkyard dog, knock the bee nest down, or put our tongue on the frozen flagpole? 
No, we do it again, like Nixon did "opening" China in 1972.  There were reasons of the moment, as commerce had been with Japan:  putting the USSR off balance, helping to extricate the United States from Vietnam, and potential "markets."  China got full diplomatic recognition in 1979 and Most Favored Nation trade status later.  That and NAFTA will cost us more than the awakening of Japan ever did.
China wants, and will have, the natural gas in the East China Sea and the oil in the South China Sea.  We just recently set up a Marine station in northern Australia.  You add it up.
As David Frum said, "maybe Nixon should have stayed home."


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