Anti-American And Anti-Japanese Protests: ‘Old’ Grievances, New Risks
The past week has seen significant anti-American protests in Muslim countries, and anti-Japanese protests in China. Although both sets of protests were triggered by recent events, namely the sudden awareness of an anti-Islamic film made in the US, and a dispute between China and Japan over islands in the East China Sea, respectively, both incidents reflect long-standing grievances.
Anti-Americanism To Remain Potent In The Muslim World
Anti-Americanism in the Muslim world is unlikely to dissipate anytime soon. Recent anti-Americanism stems from US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and more broadly decades of US support for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and the State of Israel; past deployments of American troops in Saudi Arabia; perceptions that the US is seeking to dominate Middle Eastern oil supplies; and concerns that US-driven globalisation is undermining traditional Muslim values. Although the Obama administration has sought to improve its image among Muslim nations and was quick to express support for several democratic transitions in the Middle East, this has been insufficient to soothe widespread resentment. Many appear to regard this as too little, too late. Meanwhile, ongoing US drone strikes against perceived terrorist targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen have a tendency to result in civilian casualties, further inflaming public opinion. This partly explains why the Afghan Taliban retains support and has the means to strike high-value targets such as the US base Camp Bastion in Helmand province on September 14. At the same time, ‘green on blue’ attacks – attacks by allied Afghan soldiers on their Western counterparts – have become more frequent.
Anti-Japanese Sentiment Still Strong In China And Korea
Anti-Japanese sentiment is strong in Asia, especially China and the two Koreas, which suffered tremendous atrocities under Japanese Imperial rule in the first half of the 20th century. Perceptions in China and Korea that Japan is unrepentant or has not atoned sufficiently for its wartime record mean that bitterness lingers, even after 70 years of peace. Realistically, present-day Japan is not a military threat to China or the two Koreas, but China’s historical grievances with Japan are supplemented by fears that Japan is remilitarising and strengthening ties with the US to counterbalance China in Asia. Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea dispute ownership of some islets in the body of water that separates them. Even the name of the sea is disputed, with most maps calling it the Sea of Japan, and Koreans calling it the East Sea. Earlier this year, South Korean public hostility to Japan led Seoul to backtrack on signing a military cooperation pact with Tokyo.
Don’t Ignore History
The bottom line is that history is alive and well in the Middle East and East Asia, and that this will pose risks for American and Japanese diplomatic and business interests, respectively. Given that the US and Japan find it very difficult or impossible to apologise for past policies, this negative sentiment will linger for the foreseeable future. While the risks of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world are obvious, anti-Japanese sentiment is also negative for the US, because it is inconvenient for Washington to have its two closest East Asian allies – Japan and South Korea – at loggerheads.