The Asian Tigers of Nationalism

DENVER – Among the many arguments that former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević used to make to his interlocutors was that he never incited nationalism among his people. Indeed, his public statements and speeches during those turbulent times were carefully calibrated to avoid any outright exhortation to nationalism.

But it was not so much the words that he used as it was the music. With his crafty use of code words and body language to encourage a sense of victimhood among Serbs, Milošević was one of the most demagogic nationalists Europe had seen in generations.

Today, East Asia – especially China – is awash in a sea of nationalism. The patterns of this age-old scourge are familiar, featuring national narratives based on a supposed record of victimization. In China’s case, the narrative revolves around “the century of shame,” when China was too weak to defend itself against encroachments on its sovereignty, and the idea that it should never have to succumb again.

Among Japanese nationalist groups, the narrative is one of frustration with the wartime Allies’ version of history; almost 70 years – and billions of dollars in reparations and foreign assistance – later, Japan would like to move on. “We are done apologizing,” Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe has said.