Keep your eye on China

| September 17, 2012

[UPDATE at end of post]

Russian President-for-Life Vladimir Putin can show off his pecs and fly with the geese, but Russia is largely a world-power has-been at this point, even with its nuclear arsenal.

China, though — China, with fewer nukes, is more dangerous, all the more so because of its internal problems (weak economics and social discontent). So what would otherwise be a kabuki theater of foot-stomping and saber-rattling over a small island in the East China Sea could, in fact, turn into actual armed conflict between China and Japan:

China and other Asian countries could end up at war over territorial disputes if governments keep up their “provocative behaviour”, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said.

Speaking to reporters before arriving in Tokyo on a trip to Asia, Mr Panetta appealed for restraint amid mounting tensions over territorial rights in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

“I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands, that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence, and could result in conflict,” Mr Panetta said, when asked about a clash between Japan and China.

“And that conflict would then have the potential of expanding.”

For its part, China is busy framing the argument in terms of growing Japanese militarism and a proxy fight with the United States. Note this language from the China Daily last Saturday:

China should forget about forging Sino-Japanese economic integration and fight against Japan’s resurging militarism

The Japanese government claims to have “purchased” China’s Diaoyu Island and Nanxiao and Beixiao islands for 2.05 billion yen ($26.15 million) from the Kurihara family, the so-called private owner of the Diaoyu Islands, and “nationalized” them.

Ignoring China’s repeated and strong representations, Japan stuck to its decision to “nationalize” the islands. Since Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara announced the metropolitan government’s plan on April 16 to “buy” the Diaoyu Islands, Japanese right-wing forces have been wolfishly pushing their luck on China’s Diaoyu Islands.

Besides, the Japanese Lower House Committee on Land, Infrastructure and Transport has passed two amendments, granting Japan coast guards the power to arrest non-Japanese nationals, if necessary, from the uninhabited islands.

Ironically, the Japanese government has claimed that the Diaoyu Islands are being brought under state ownership to “maintain and manage them in a peaceful and stable manner”, not to irritate China.

To avoid a strong reaction from China, Japan also tried to downplay the Diaoyu Islands dispute by sending a letter written by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to Chinese President Hu Jintao, conducting “corridor diplomacy” on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, and promising not to change the status quo or build new structures on the Diaoyu Islands. It is clear that Japan is using both hard and soft tactics to further consolidate its illegal occupation of the Diaoyu Islands.

Behind the farce of “buying” the Diaoyu Islands, Japan has a much bigger plan. Since the United States announced its strategy of returning to Asia, Japan has been acting as “a pawn of the US” to encircle China.

By getting involved in the South China Sea dispute, playing up the “China maritime threat” and frequently holding large-scale joint military exercises with US forces, Japan, together with other US allies, is trying to contain China’s rise. Japan is not expected to stop provoking China and does not take seriously either the overall situation of Sino-Japanese relations or the peace and stability in Asia-Pacific. On the contrary, it has intensified its offensive against China, which poses the most serious challenge to Sino-Japanese relations in the new century.

Give the current turmoil in the Middle East — with China feeding the flames by giving support to the current Syrian regime — now might be a good time for China to act in its own back yard. The next 3 am call, er, morning intelligence briefing, er, Blackberry text message on the campaign trail that President Obama receives on world events may be to tell him that China has invaded a small island claimed by Japan.

And what will President Obama do then?

UPDATE: Via Language Log (one of my favorite blogs) comes this link to photographs showing the internal protests in China against Japan over Diaoyu. Here’s the most significant one:

Translated text:

A banner on a store called pattad reads: “pattad firmly defends China’s right to the Diaoyu Islands. / We will give a 15% discount to customers who yell THE DIAOYU ISLANDS BELONG TO CHINA! in the store / We will give a 20% discount to customers who yell JAPAN ALSO BELONGS TO CHINA!”

Keep an eye on the Pacific Rim. Things could get very interesting. ..bruce w..




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Category: China, Economics, Geopolitics, Japan, Main, Military

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

Comments (2)

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  1. Bruce Henderson says:

    China brews a very nice bluster, but can you name the only country that has ever conquered China? Yes, that would be Japan. They have done it more than once. At present Japan is in a pacifist mode, but a credible threat could re-awaken the Bushido culture in a short amount of time. If China is wise they will let Japan demographically waste away. It won’t take more than 30 years.