Skip to main content


A disturbing echo of the 1930s

Germans waving Japanese flags in 1939. Roger Viollet/Getty

While Xi Jinping was being received “with great pomp and ceremony” in Moscow last week, says Gideon Rachman in the FT, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida was making his own visit to Kyiv. China and Japan are “fierce rivals in east Asia”, and both know that the outcome of the war in Europe will profoundly affect their own standing. Tensions in the global East and West are beginning to blur into what “looks more and more like a single geopolitical struggle”. On one side is the “Russia-China axis”, which also includes Iran and North Korea; on the other, Nato, and America’s allies in the Indo-Pacific. Last year Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand attended a Nato summit for the first time.

The emergence of these rival global blocs “has sparked inevitable talk of a new Cold War”. But the more compelling and gloomier parallel is with the 1930s and 1940s. Then, as now, two authoritarian nations, one in Europe and one in Asia, were “deeply unsatisfied with a world order they regarded as unfairly dominated by the Anglo-American powers”. The pair back then were Germany and Japan. When Tokyo learned of Hitler’s military triumphs in the early phase of the Second World War, it was emboldened to accelerate its own expansion into southeast Asia. Today, all sides have a duty not to let “linked rivalries” develop into another global tragedy.