Peril and appeal of nationalism

Commentators in Asia News Network papers take up the alleged influence-peddling scandal involving Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the phenomenon of nationalism worldwide. Here are excerpts:

Abe's bid to revive Imperial Japan

The China Post, Taiwan

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in trouble. He donated one million yen (S$12,500) through his wife Akie to a school run by ultranationalist educators in Osaka, and a possible land-buying scandal with political influence has emerged.

In a testimony in the Diet, ultranationalist Yasunori Kagoike said Akie Abe had handed him cash in an envelope on behalf of her husband during her September 2015 visit to Kagoike's kindergarten.

Abe has denied the donation but said it would have been legal because Osaka isn't his electoral constituency.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces worries over reports that he donated money to a school run by ultranationalist educators in Osaka and whether China and the US - Japan's ally - will mend frayed ties. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Yet, the couple's ties to Kagoike have raised additional questions due to his extreme views on history and derogatory comments regarding China.

Kagoike's school is notorious for a curriculum that resembles the height of Japanese militarism - the same Japan that invaded China in 1937. Abe's popularity has fallen so drastically as to cause speculation that he will not be able to retain control of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

But, for now at least, this will be a tempestin a teapot at most. The greater danger, in fact, lies in Abe's launching of the helicopter frigate JS Kaga.

The Kaga is purportedly a helicopter frigate but is actually a quasi-aircraft carrier. Its basic displacement of 19,500 tons and total length of 248m are similar to the dimensions of an aircraft carrier. From its deck, five helicopters can take off and land at a time.

The newborn quasi-aircraft carrier inherits the name of the Imperial Japanese Navy's (IJN) Kaga - a full-fledged aircraft carrier that was once the world's largest.

It was under construction as a battleship in 1920 when the Washington Naval Treaty was signed to limit Japan's number of capital ships to three. The Kaga would have been one too many, and the IJN remodelled it into a 30,000-ton aircraft carrier. Japan used to name battleships after its feudatories. So, the reborn aircraft carrier kept its old name after the feudatory of Kaga, which is the present-day prefecture of Ishikawa facing the Sea of Japan.

At the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the old Kaga patrolled the Chinese mainland's coast, launching fighters and bombers to support the Japanese invasion army.

Its fighters annihilated China's fledgling air force and its bombers terrorised Chinese coastal cities. The Chinese called the Kaga, then ported in Taiwan, "Little Devil". It took part in Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbour but was sunk in the Battle of Midway in 1942.

Beijing will be further enraged by Abe's assignment of the old Kaga's namesake to patrol the East and South China Seas, no doubt to ingratiate Japan with Uncle Sam, who wants nothing more than to continue containing China.

Tensions have mounted between Japan and China since Abe took office in 2012. He had the Constitution reinterpreted to allow Japan's Self-Defence Forces to go to the aid of, and defend, an ally under attack from China.

Subsequently, the US-Japan defence cooperation guidelines were revised to make Japan an American ally in Washington's containment of China.

US President Donald Trump, who once considered China a potential enemy, has moderated his stance by agreeing to honour Washington's "One China" policy.

He is going to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida this month to mend frayed Sino-American relations. If Trump succeeds in making friends with China, where would Japan's prime minister stand? It could cause a crisis in the Abe Cabinet.

Narrow nationalism

Rubana Huq
The Daily Star, Bangladesh

There was a time when the film industry in the subcontinent used India-Pakistan plots to create pre-film release tension teasers to attract more audience. After all, a movie reeking of political controversy and laced with a love story was bound to sell more.

Then, with time, as nations started to become more and more war-prone, on-ground confrontations turned more real than those in the films.

Fuelled by communal tensions, people got out of homes and fought for religion as well as religiosity and nationalistic boundaries.

Somehow, most of our hearts have shrunk in fear of being invaded by the "others". Therefore, whichever leader flaunts his or her own boundaries and ownership of identities, the more he or she is set to lead the nation.

Narrow nationalism sells better these days. The old days of Tagore dreaming of a united world, untarnished by "narrow domestic walls" are gone.

In the world of populism, nationalism sits well with the voters. Voters look for extreme promises made for them in the voice of "genuine patriotism".

Therefore, it is natural for leaders to be applauded for pursuing aggressive foreign policies, going after the rich and handing out LPG connections to the rural poor.

The nativism and the grandiosity of the leader's narrative is super critical. And the grand promises are also equally, if not more, important.

That is the reason why Irom Sharmila Chanu got only 90 votes in the Manipur elections. After 16 years of starvation, Sharmila's political aspirations died a few days ago with her constituency voting for the sitting chief minister.

After all, raging nationalism offers apparent euphoria and hope.

In general, there is a worldwide attempt to take people back to a time when voters buy the slogan of "Let's make... great again" with faith. For example, Putin wants Russia to look as it were 100 years after Lenin. Similarly, today Israel is investing in building temples again. This has become an age of reversals, promoting isolationism.

And this is exactly how the first nations, thousands of years ago, lived by the Yellow River in China, divided into many different tribes, suffering from periodic droughts and floods, as each one of them had little control over the river.

But it was only after the suffering that the small nations surfaced as the Chinese nation, bringing people together, building dams and canals, and regulating the river.

So, we also need to realise that while the call to go back to past authoritarian tendencies has worked well with elections and number of votes, it is the "Morning After" impact, after a long night of drinking, that is crucial for the survival of the globe.

In spite of all the realisation, the paranoia of intolerance across the world continues. In France, there's the far-right anti-Muslim, anti-immigration candidate Marine Le Pen, daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. In Germany, there's Frauke Petry, chairman of Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), who often meets in Bavarian taverns to plot policies. Petry's mistrust of Islam fuels her political passions, as she often cites Sharia and reports of sexual assaults committed by asylum seekers in Germany.

According to Petry, Muslim immigrants go there "with attitudes that are so way out of our sort of common behaviour and European attitudes".

There's one in Hungary as well. The politician and historian David Kovacs' Movement for a Better Hungary, or Jobbik, describes itself as a "principled, conservative and radically patriotic Christian party".

Nationalism can be a great brand sponsored by the state. It can also be an easy brand to appeal to the popular masses who have lost jobs to migrants to turn around and chant anti-immigration slogans.

It may also be easy to speak the language of hatred to evoke the false sense of security. And it may also be the easiest to wage a war against "someone else's babies" next door. But it is also much, much more difficult to imagine a world without immigrants. Without immigrants, the melting pot of civilisation will cease to exist.

  • The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media entities. For more, see
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2017, with the headline 'Peril and appeal of nationalism'. Print Edition | Subscribe