The military recurrences in eastern Asia signal new tensions instead of celebrating peace. After more than 60 years, the Korean War’s carnage hasn’t lead to peace accords. North and South are still officially at war. More than half a century after the war in the Himalayas, India and China are divided by territorial disputes over the roof of the world and maritime tensions. Beijing wants to build a “ring of pearls,” a series of ports surrounding India; Beijing considers the ocean bearing India’s name as its backyard. From the Indo-Pakistan wars started in 1947, Beijing has sided with Islamabad, for no other reason than geopolitics against Delhi. The two nuclear powers in the subcontinent have sacrificed development for their rivalry; they are armed with atomic arsenals but they haven’t defeated misery and illiteracy. Friction persists between China and Japan, reignited by disagreements over the disputed islands (Senkaku or Diaoyu). The US Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel’s, recent visit to China could only verify the strong differences and Beijing’s determination, expressed by the unilateral decision to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the archipelago of rocks. In the past, Tokyo had not demonstrated intentions of backing down from its politics of reconquering national pride 70 years after the end of the Second World War. The winds of war extended to the South China Sea due to tensions between China and Vietnam, The Philippines, and Malaysia, always over a few small islands. Their strategic value is known; in fact, Beijing posed them as bulwarks at its borders, a “nine-dash line” that moved China’s jurisdiction a few thousand kilometers south of its coast. Obviously, the bordering countries are concerned while, paradoxically, support comes from Taiwan, in the name of the never dormant Chinese nationalism. Is it possible that the capitals consider war an option? Why is Asia still crisscrossed by dangerous military tensions? Among the many answers, two seem to prevail, resistant and parallel as train tracks:
1) Complete peace was never achieved. The countries chose peace, but not pacification. They had to rebuild after the war and escape from underdevelopment, but they never pursued politics of friendship. Not by accident, no form of institutional collaboration exists in Northeast Asia; unsurprisingly, multilateral organizations (SAARC in ex-British India and ASEAN in Southeast Asia) don’t even remotely reach the European Union’s standards of integration. Bitterness between governments and people was fueled by nationalism, but was hidden by the necessity of economic cooperation and the Pax Americana. The supremacy of political identity prevailed over every memory, and military tensions erased the vain hope of a rematch. Seoul didn’t refuse Tokyo’s help during the war against Pyongyang; China and Japan put their strong rivalry aside when delocalizing production to the Middle Kingdom was convenient for both parties. In those years, newspapers didn’t publish memories of comfort women or the Nanjing Massacre.
2) The economy has now accomplished its task. Underdevelopment has been defeated almost everywhere. Countries still ranking as middle- or low-income (like India and China) make their dimensions count instead of their individual wealth. Cooperation is an articulated choice, not an obligation. If China needs technology now, it can produce it in-house or buy it from anywhere, not necessarily it’s Japanese neighbor. Modern Asia’s extraordinary economic successes have ended the past’s cover-up and unveiled the blanket of oblivion—together rhetorical, profitable, and hypocritical—that cloaked growth. Now, the countries are strong and prosperous enough to avenge wrongs or to avoid reflecting on their histories. The wars and aggressions are still remembered as wounds, not as scars; it’s a consequence of not reckoning with the past and allowing a long and painful postwar period to take place.