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A new Cold War liberalism?

15 1 0

FUKUOKA - In 2013, the Japanese philosopher Jun Yonaha published a provocative best-seller book and a slew of articles on the Sinicization of Japan. His thesis is that 900 years ago, Song Dynasty China established a Sinicized global powerhouse system incorporating free markets and a system of absolute imperial rule, all united in ideological orthodoxy by a meritocratically selected Neo-Confucianist civil service.

Yonaha also describes a Westernized pluralistic system of capitalism, representative democracy, rights and equality that grew out of early modern Europe, which later dominated the globe and modernized Japan. But he insists that with the decline of Western economic power and influence and the rise of China, its Sinitic model is returning to the center of global power again. Rather than oppose this, Japan ought to reflect on the failures of its Westernization and re-Sinicize. China and Japan should cooperate to create a new history, resolve their mutual problems, and adopt the best aspects of both Western and Chinese political ideas, Yonaha says.

It’s been suggested that Yonaha’s broad civilizational thesis is only half serious. Anyway, the notion that there are distinct, long-standing civilizational copyrights on beliefs, technologies, practices and ideas is rather strained. Song Dynasty technological and cultural innovations like gunpowder, movable-type printing and comprehensive civil service examinations have all become domesticated, indigenized and “owned” in other societies. And if anyone told Taiwan or Hong Kong citizens that their cherished civil liberties are Westernized products, surely they would reply, “but they’re ours, too.”

Moreover, the Sinicization originating from the actually rather pluralistic, lightly governed Southern Song Dynasty is very different from the Sinicization of the powerful carceral-surveillance state evolving under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s autocracy today. The Uighurs in Xinjiang Province would be the first to testify what that Sinicization means.

Progressive liberals like me who are horrified by worsening human rights violations under the Chinese Communist Party will reject Yonaha’s thesis. However, as superpower competition between the United States and China escalates in East Asia and elsewhere, is supporting U.S. President Donald Trump’s incoherent, divisive Western foreign policy the only alternative?

I’ve wondered whether the ideas of the post-1945 “Cold War liberals” may........

© The Japan Times