Daily Archives: 29 December 2003

Japanese Relations with Africa before WWII

Japanese interest in Africa is often depicted as a relatively new development, a result of the dramatic expansion of Japan’s trade with every corner of the world over the past few decades. In fact, Africa’s share of Japanese exports reached its peak of more than 17 percent during the late colonial era, while its share today [c. 1992] has dropped to less than 2 percent. The growth of Japanese influence in Africa over the last decade has clearly taken place in spite of a relative decline in Japan’s economic interest in the continent….

Japan’s victory in the Sino-Japanese War … resulted in its acquisition of the colony of Taiwan and greater influence in Korea. As a new imperial power, Japan looked to European colonialism in Africa for both administrative ideas and ideological justification for its rule. Books about British colonial administration and British imperialists such as Cecil Rhodes were translated and read by Japanese colonial administrators, businessmen in China, and the general public. Interest in Rhodes peaked following the Boer War at the turn of the century, but even as late as the 1920s a number of prominent Japanese businessmen in China fancied themselves as Rhodes-like characters, struggling to expand Japanese influence in China as Rhodes had expanded British influence in southern Africa.

The Boer War also helped to bring Japan and Britain into alliance. While European newspapers grew increasingly hostile to Britain, Japanese newspapers displayed a strong bias in favor of the British throughout the war. The war highlighted Britain’s need to end its “splendid isolation,” and immediately after the end of the war Britain concluded an alliance with Japan in 1902. Japanese leaders who favored the conclusion of this alliance argued that the prospect of increased Japanese trade with Britain’s colonies around the world was an important consideration.

Japan’s emerging textile industry had already begun to import cotton from Egypt before the turn of the century and, until the outbreak of World War I, Japan’s balance of trade with Africa was very unfavorable, in large part because of Japan’s growing demand for cotton. This balance of trade shifted dramatically in Japan’s favor during the war, as the supply of European goods to African markets was temporarily interrupted. For the first time, Africa became an important market for Japanese exports….

The Japanese had developed particularly close political and economic ties with Ethiopia, however, and were reluctant to see their influence diminished in this nominally independent African state. Japanese superpatriots reacted with anger to Italy’s conquest of Ethiopia in the mid-1930s and called for Japanese intervention on the side of Ethiopia. Instead, however, the Japanese government came to an accommodation with Italy, by which Italy recognized Japan’s position in Manchuria in exchange for Japan’s recognition of Italy’s position in Ethiopia. This helped to pave the way for the conclusion of Japan’s alliance with Italy prior to the outbreak of World War II, during which Japan’s trade with Africa was temporarily interrupted.

SOURCE: “Japan and Africa: An Historical Overview,” Swords and Ploughshares [Bulletin of the Arms Control, Disarmament & International Security (ACDIS) Program of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign], Summer, 1993.

For more on Japan’s post-WWII relations with Africa, including South Africa, read: Richard Bradshaw, “Review of Jun Morikawa, Japan and Africa: Big Business and Diplomacy,” H-Africa, H-Net Reviews, August, 1997. URL: http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=2716877366765

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Still No News from Myanmar

Notice how virtually no news originates in Myanmar (Burma) unless it involves human rights battles? But here’s a fascinating online travelogue by a writer/philanthropist, with helpful maps, beautiful photos, and the English translation of a recent (2002) German book on the reclusive country. An excerpt from the introduction follows.

I first went to Indochina early in my life, to Cambodia before the war and the Killing Fields, to Laos during the “secret” war, and to Viet Nam during the early phase of an already unwinnable war. Myanmar was a different story. Although it had remained apart from the power struggle going on in Indochina, it had entered into a prolonged civil war and isolated itself from the international community. In 1965, my request for a tourist visa for Burma (Myanmar’s name at the time) was denied, but I was able to get in through the back door from Thailand with some smugglers. Although I stayed almost ten days in the Kengtung (now Kyaing Tong) district, I saw only a small part of the country.

Today the governments of Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos are making major efforts to attract foreign tourists. The choices are ours. But to visit more than one country on one trip is not advisable. The good traveler knows that less is more. Having to choose to visit one of the four interesting and attractive countries is not an easy task. All four went through a period in the latter part of the twentieth century of devastating wars that left them poor and underdeveloped. And the current political news from Myanmar is troubling. The country is led by a military junta that shows little willingness to reintroduce democracy to the inhabitants; the opposition appears to be disheartened, weakened, and divided. Any sort of national reconciliation seems years away. However, in February 2001 Aung San Suu Kyi confirmed to foreign visitors that secret talks between her and members of the military junta had begun in October 2000. Whether such meetings will eventually bring about national reconciliation and power sharing is impossible to predict. Then there is the drug problem regarding opium and heroin. Myanmar’s northeast is part of the infamous Golden Triangle, and the country remains the second largest heroin producer in the world.

The causes of Myanmar’s problems are several: the devastating effects of World War II; a failed democracy thereafter; the economic ruin caused by Gen. Ne Win’s policy of socialism, nationalization and isolation; the civil war between the Burmese military and the many insurgent groups and feudal lords; and, last but not least, the emergence of heroin as a valuable export commodity. After Gen. Ne Win took over the country and closed it, the outside world followed developments in Burma with some interest for a while, but because all foreigners were banned from the country and little news found its way into the Western press, over time the rest of the world seemed to lose interest in this isolated country. Several years ago, in the 1990s, the military reopened the country to foreign visitors. Today visas can easily be obtained, and a tourist industry is gradually developing. However, not all areas of the country are open to foreign visitors–only those that the government considers safe to visit.

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