The Pacific Asia is a region covering approximately 2.9 billion hectares of land area, which accounts for 22 percent of the total global land area. It stretches from the borders of China-Mongolia with the NIS to the north to the south of New Zealand and to the tip of Australia. The size of the region varies depending on context, but it typically includes much of Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania. The term may also refer to Russia and some countries in Americas found in the coast of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, which include Chile, Canada, Mexico, Peru, and the United States. Other scholars have also used the term to refer to all of Asia and Australia as well as island nations found within the Pacific. Even though not precise, the term, Pacific Asia became popular beginning the late 1980s in finance, commerce, and politics.
Over the last decades, scholars have come up with less controversial definition of the region. Pacific Asia as a term has become a common term to define the maritime segment of Asia, which includes Southeast and East Asia. All the countries bordering the Pacific Ocean make up Pacific Asia, but also include Laos and Burma even if both do not border the Pacific Ocean. This paper looks at the key themes that characterize Pacific Asia in the 20th century up until the outbreak of World War II.
Movements for independence
This period was marked by two major upheavals in the Far East, which included the emergence of Japan from more than 200 years of isolation from the outside world, and consequent rise in the last three decades of the 19th century to assume a status of world power. Another major event was the collapse and decay of the Manchu dynasty in China, resulting into the revolution of 1911 and the establishment of a republic. Neither of these disruptions culminated into immediate effect in the Pacific region. After defeating China in 1894 and Russia in 1905, Japan concentrated her efforts on northeastern Asia rather than southeastern Asia, while China concentrated on what was happening on the global landscape. However, the upheavals had a longer-term implication on the political movements in Pacific Asia. The prevailing chaos in China in the previous years and after the Revolution increased the need for immigration to the neighboring countries. The growth and ultimate success of Communism in China motivated the spread of similar ideas in the region and the defeat of Russia by Japan helped to instigate early nationalism in the countries under colonial rule, by showing that an Asian country could survive on its own without the west.
20th Century Changes
Economic and political prevalence of almost all of the new or expanded nation-states remained under the custody of one or more of the ethnic groups of the country. In China, ethnic Chinese have remained the dominant group. In Russia, ethnic Russians emerged as the dominant group. Similarly, in Indonesia, the ethnic group of Java has dominated political life, while in Southeastern countries political power remained in the hands of lowland people such as the Burmans in Myanmar and the Vietnamese in Vietnam. The highland population in those areas such as the Shan in Myanmar and Hmong in Vietnam often feel sidelined.
The growth of dominant ethnic groups in the Pacific Asia has increasingly restricted the territory available for native, simpler societies. In addition, modern political and economic patterns have replaced earlier practices. For example, it is still possible to identify where the Yukaghir formerly occupied as a separate ethnic group in eastern Siberia, but for the few who remain, acculturation, political absorption, and internal social degeneration have rendered the classic description of the group largely a historic one. Majority of the tent-dwelling, horse-riding, and sheep-herding Karakalpak work on the grain firm established by the Russians, live in permanent houses, and speak Russian in public. The remaining members of the Ainu tribe of the Northern Japan today gather in “cultural villages” where their bear dances and traditional woodcarvings serve as a tourist attraction to tourists from other parts of Japan.
Japanese Colonial Rule
Between 1910 and 1945, Korea was a colony of Japan. History has it that the Japanese colonization was quite harsh, Japan ruled the nation for the first ten years through military, and any Korean dissent received intensive punishment. However, after a nationwide protest by Koreans against the Japanese colonialism that started in 1919, the Japanese relaxed their rule that allowed a limited degree of expression for Koreans. Despite the oppressive rule practiced by the Japanese authorities, majority of recognizable aspects of Korean society emerged during the thirty-five year period of the colonial rule. These among others included the expansion of trade and commerce, rapid urban development, and forms of mass culture, including cinema and radio. However, the primary purpose of these developments was to benefit Japan and engage in the wars in the Pacific and China rather for the benefits of the Koreans themselves. Such distorted and uneven development left a mixed legacy for Japan after the end of the colonial period. By the end of the colonial period in 1945, Korea ranked second in industrialized nations after Japan itself. However, the mobilization of war had led to reintroduction of harsh treatment by the Japanese colonial rule, as they forced Koreans to work in Japanese factories and sent to the front as soldiers.
Nationalism and communism
The effects of the Meiji era transformation introduced by Japan continued to take toll throughout Southeast and East Asia as ethnic tribes struggled to adjust to the impacts of new technology and ideas. At the same time, a stream of new ideological and religious missionaries, new economic colonizers, and political idealists poured across Pacific Asia ports from Europe and the United States. The essence to modernize was motivated by a new generation of intellectuals whose thinking was influenced by their traditional culture as well as their access to western ideas and education. The changes involved even basic language and expression. In addition, the affluence brought by the Western practices worsened the contrast with the desperate poor Pacific Asia flocking urban factories. Young reformers and thoughtful students saw these inequities and most of them blamed the West for the large gap between reality and expectation. This is when the Pacific Asia adopted the idea of socialism to help bridge the gap between the affluent and the poor and promoting a nationalist spirit.
This paper has examined the key themes that characterize Pacific Asia in the 20th century until the outbreak of World War II. It is evident that the Pacific Asia has undergone a series of changes starting with independence, movement for independence, Japanese colonial rule, and the resulting changes.
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Yahuda, Michael. The International Politics of the Asia Pacific, 3rd ed. Kentucky: Taylor & Francis, 2011.