“Brexit” England-France and China-Japan’s Bad Blood

NISI20160703_0011877841Kim Kook-hyun – Director, Policy Planning Bureau of MND of Republic of Korea

At the British Museum in London one can find the Rosetta Stone with Egyptian hieroglyphics on it. Taken by the British military in 1801 with the British defeat of Napoleon’s forces, the Rosetta stone forms the basis of Egyptology today. Decoded by the genius linguist Jean-François Champollion, the Rosetta Stone was the pride of French cultural conquests. The fact that this penultimate cultural artifact is in British hands must give the French pause.

The surface area of France is five hundred thousand square kilometers and only second to Spain’s five hundred and fifty thousand square kilometers in Western Europe. Napoleon had conquered all of Europe a mere two centuries ago. French was lingua franca and the language of the courts until the First World War. France was to Europe what China was to Asia.

For the hundred years between the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 to the onset of World War One in 1914, Britain was not only the British Empire on which the sun never set, but also a power player in Europe. France was being pushed back during this time. Even until World War One, the British military command had made plans for a possible French invasion.

Since China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War, China was defeated by Japan again and again. In Manchuria, in the Second Sino-Japanese War, and in Nanjing, China’s position as Asia’s one and only superpower suffered greatly. The Rape of Nanjing, in which the Japanese Imperial Army massacred up to 300,000 civilians and disarmed soldiers, is the most severe example. This is why China insisted that the Documents of Nanjing Massacre are listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, and why Japan resisted to the very end. Just as Koreans carry a collective memory of the “comfort women,” the Chinese will never forget Nanjing, and the French will not forget their bad blood with England.

The two countries have a long and tortured history as well. France dominated Germany for a millennium before the Franco-Prussian war. The humiliation France experienced in that war is portrayed in Alphonse Daudet’s “Final Lesson.” In the two world wars of the 20th century, France was completely destroyed by Germany. After World War Two, De Gaulle cooperated with Adenauer to conceive of the EEC in 1957. This becomes the EC in 1967, and De Gaulle agreed to Britain’s entry into the Commission only in 1973. In 1993, every member of the European Commission ratified the Maastricht Treaty and set forth the dream of a united Europe with a European Union Parliament, Court, and Council.

As such, France and Germany form the centerpiece of the EU, and the UK acts as an outsider.

When the Allies successfully landed on Normandy and marched into Paris, De Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces had to borrow a division of the US army. His shame must have been great. President Hollande’s asked the UK to “leave the EU as soon as possible” after the UK referendum decided on Brexit because of such historical bad blood.

The bad blood between England and France, and China and Japan will last another thousand years. This is history, and this is reality.

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