chapter  3
23 Pages

Japan, China and the origins of the Pacific War, 1900–41

The motives behind the Japanese challenge to the West in the inter-war period have been the subject of much debate. In the wake of its defeat in 1945, Japan’s expansionism was largely seen as the result of the hijacking of the state in the 1930s by a militarist clique that had sought power for its own sake both at home and abroad. Simultaneously much emphasis was put on American-Japanese relations


as the fundamental dynamic within the region. This perspective has gradually been modified. Studies of Japan itself have questioned whether the imperial Japanese army should be seen as solely responsible by emphasizing the rivalries within the Japanese elite and by demonstrating that an internal battle for power continued even into the Pacific War. More broadly, analysis of the nature of inter-war Japan has led to interest in the significance of the political, social and economic imperatives generated by modernization and by its position as a late imperial power. In addition, a recent development has been the study of the ideological and cultural roots of Japanese foreign policy. This, in turn, has raised the issue of the degree to which pan-Asianism and ideas about Japan’s predestined leadership role in Asia influenced its actions. Meanwhile, works on the international history of East Asia have demonstrated that many actors influenced the history of the region. In particular, access to archives in Taipei, Beijing and Moscow has helped to stress the centrality of China’s own modernization process as a force in regional history and the importance of the triangular relationship between Russia, China and Japan. The simple answers provided in the aftermath of the war have thus been replaced by a complex series of interlocking interpretations.