Japan is to China as the UK is to the EU?

I have just met a Japanese author writing about the UK’s difficult relaitonship with Europe to help inform his own country’s approach to China. I explained why I thought the positions were very different. It did occur to me during the course of the conversation that a country is partly defined by its history and common understanding. On that basis the Uk is 200 years old – thanks to Labour ‘s attacks on it through devolution – whilst England is 1100 years young, and growing stronger by the day in its common feelings as a result of this government.


  1. Matthew Reynolds
    April 28, 2008

    If England declared independence from the UK we would not need to send £11 billion to Scotland every year and so basic rate income tax could be cut by 25% from 20p to 15p . Smaller government , lower taxes and no more dictates from the Scottish , socialist Raj either . It is very bad for democratic accountability that a Labour minister can introduce measures applying to England that do not impact on the electors in his Scottish seat . The Scots can vote on our schools & hospitals while our MP's can vote on theirs . North of the Border the Scots pay less tax per head while we in England get less public expenditure per head . Talk about a raw deal !

    Alex Salmond is a fine fellow – the best friend that an English taxpayer could hope for ! I wish him well & any voters in Scotland please vote SNP if only to free England and Scotland from a marriage that is pretty unhappy .

  2. Bazman
    April 28, 2008

    Britain is not Japan. Never in a million years.

  3. Freeborn John
    April 28, 2008

    I worked for Japanese companies during the 1990’s and spent quite a lot of time there. As an engineer who had previously lived in Germany I had associated Japanese and Germans together in my mind because of the successful record of their technology companies. But I quickly came to realise I had been totally wrong to think that. I now regard the Japanese as a unique culture, one that has been subject to rapid change in a historically short period of time such that elements of their closed and feudal past still shape them today. Their need for group consensus, strong hierarchies, and the different behaviours they exhibit towards group-insiders versus outsiders (e.g. politeness, no open communication) take a lot of getting used to for any westerner and probably for the Chinese too.

    The analogy of comparing Britain and Japan’s relationship with their continental neighbours is one that I have heard before from the Japanese themselves and find credible. I understand the analogy is quite popular with the Japanese who generally have a high regard for the mythical English gentleman and who date their adoption of some practices (driving on the left, 60 Hz electricity in part of the country) to the period of good relations following the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902. Like any analogy it has some truth, but only goes so far. The historic cultural influence of the Chinese can clearly be seen in Japan through the use of the Chinese alphabet (Kanji) and the Buddhist religion, just as we adopted the Roman alphabet and Christian religion from our continental neighbours. But Churchill’s description of our relationship with the Continent could equally be applied to Japan. They are with Asia but not of it; linked but not comprised. In matters of foreign policy the Americans remain the guarantor of their independence; access to the US market a source of their prosperity. But while the Japanese like to regard themselves as associate members of the Anglosphere, their links to America are tenuous compared to our strong bonds of shared language, history and culture.

    The analogy works from the perspective of the islanders but not from the viewpoint of the continentals Chinese attitudes to Japan are quite different from European attitudes towards the UK. The legacy of the Japanese occupation is such that the Chinese still regard their island neighbours with fear and suspicion, in a way more akin to Polish attitudes towards Germany or Russia. Continentals do not fear Britain; on the contrary they regard us much as Berlin did in 1940; a defeated people who will come to our senses if given some time to adjust, after which we will accept our assigned place in their super-state. This ongoing misunderstanding on the part of Continentals regarding the determination of the British people (if not all our politicians) to an independent future is the source of the ongoing tension in the UK-EU relationship, and has no analogy in Chinese-Japan relations. The Chinese have their super-state already and the only islanders they imagine including in the future are the Taiwanese.

  4. APL
    April 28, 2008

    Matthew Reynolds: "If England declared independence from the UK we would not need to send £11 billion to Scotland every year and so basic rate income tax could be cut by 25% from 20p to 15p"

    Its even better than that! The UK, no longer existing would nullify the European treaties between the UK and EU. We could have another 7 billion per year on top of that £11billion. The other £1 -2bn could be divied up between Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Fair 's fare?

  5. etc
    April 29, 2008

    Surely you mean 300 years? (Well, 301, I believe).

    Reply: No 200 – after the full Union with Ireland.

  6. mikestallard
    April 29, 2008

    Freeborn John has said it all! Fascinating.
    Having just visited Singapore, Thailand and Australian Queensland and seen how the Japs behaved just 50 years ago, I personally would like to stress the difference between Protestant Christianity and Shinto.
    Also, I would like to make the point that Japan and Singapore show that small states can be much more efficient, less corrupt and fair to their citizens than huge ones – even though their politicians presumably do not feel that they are on "the top table".

  7. Iain
    April 29, 2008

    "whilst England is 1100 years young, and growing stronger by the day in its common feelings as a result of this government."

    Yet views/feelings that aren't being represented in the Conservative party, for while there is a Scottish and Welsh Conservative party there is no English Conservative party, and just like the British state England doesn't exist for the Conservative party, which has been very costly to the English people, for there hasn't been any institution or political party to defend English peoples interests.

  8. David Hannah
    April 29, 2008

    I do not see the analogy as being at all appropriate. The relationship between Japan and China is one between two sovereign states. The relationship between The UK and the rest of the EU is one of subservience. The UK is a vassal state, with less regulatory autonomy than a US state. Ironically, Britain’s remaining colonies have far more autonomy than the UK does.

  9. Rose
    April 29, 2008

    Have you thought of Japan's relationship with China being a little like West Germany's with the EU before she was persuaded to give up the Deutschmark?

    When Germany was persuaded to do that for the supposed greater good, it struck at the heart of what she stood for: economic rigour, an enduringly sound currency, and the avoidance of inflation at all costs. These things did not characterise the Latin countries, Greece, or Ireland, but they were vital to the German identity and sense of worth.

    China differs greatly from Japan in not being nearly so conscientious and meticulous in the detail of her manufacturing or her engineering, besides being to Japan rather as the US used to be to England in matters of taste, behaviour, and the spending of money. And yet it was from the old China that Buddhism came, together with much of her art and architecture, and her martial arts. Buddhism is still important today, despite the recent introduction of Shintoism, and families will go together to the Shrine or Temple quite naturally during the course of their day out.

    While Japan may feel more English than German, or rather how the English used to be till 1968 – a polite, reserved, self-effacing, understated, and apologetic people, with a love of gardens and dogs, of tea and of the landscape, a respect for etiquette, and a dislike of loudness and vulgarity – West Germany is closer economically.

    Both Germanyand Japan were strong proud nations who suffered catastrophic defeat, humiliation, devastation, and starvation, yet rose like the phoenix in the second half of the 20th century, renouncing military concerns, and paying great attention instead to industrial and manufacturing efficiency, with very high standards of reliability. There was a meritocratic rather than family-based hierarchy, one which emphasised attained position rather than pedigree, and education, training, and science were greatly valued. The group mentality, the insistence on accuracy and meticulousness, the well-organised transport and public services, and the impeccable tidiness, both public and private, backed up by a general desire to conform, seem most unEnglish. And these were the sorts of things which would be jeopardised when Germany joined the single currency and gave up her borders, in a way which they would not have been by reunification alone, though that was a brave undertaking.

    Where Japan differs greatly from both European nations is in her homogeneous population. That is almost unique, and enables her to live in very crowded conditions without crime or disorder, because everyone is brought up the same, to think of other people and not to give offence. This means among other things, that no-one bothers with credit cards, because however much cash is carried around, or left lying about, it will not be stolen. That little fact alone will work against inflation. There is also the little matter of the family which has by no means broken down in Japan. That may be why there is no nationalised industry or welfarism to speak of. Female deference is the most striking difference from the more matriarchal European way, though the Japanese of both sexes seem to like drink (but never become loud or violent under the influence.)

    What Japan and England have in common is the feeling that they are island people living from the sea, and eccentric by comparison with the continental people.

Comments are closed.