Sunday, 3 February 2013
Islands in the Stream
I wrote about the dispute over these uninhabited islands last November (Alas, Poor Moles). Since then the cold war has risen in temperature by several degrees. “We don’t want to fight but by jingo if we do we’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too”, so went the old British music hall challenge. My, oh my, what a world we live in, with jingoism now making a novel appearance on Chinese state media. “Japan”, says the China Daily, “is the real danger and threat to the world.” A military clash, the Global Times, echoes, is now more likely. “We need to prepare for the worst”, its editorial said.
Alarming exaggerations, you might think, but the position is actually quite serious, getting ever more serious since the Japanese government nationalised the islands - previously in private hands - last September. In December Japanese fighters were scrambled after a Chinese patrol plane buzzed the islands. Last month aircraft from both nations played a game of tag over the islands’ air space. According to newspaper reports, Japan is considering firing warning shots in any subsequent aerial dance. A Chinese general has said that this will count as the start of “actual combat.”
How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be concerning ourselves because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing...especially in a spat over a group of rocks. Horrible, fantastic and incredible it may very well be, but if you are American you should be concerned. For one thing, Japan is presently governed by Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party. While he is no General Tojo, he is a right-wing nationalist, one who believes that Japan needs to take a ‘tougher line’ with China. For another thing, America is treaty-bound to come to Japan’s aid if the country is attacked. Iraq and Afghanistan were bad enough but a new war in the Pacific – the horror! the horror!
The Chinese, incidentally, are well aware of the wider implications of the dispute. This is a country that, having left communism well behind, has embraced the most militant forms of nationalism. Suppressed and bullied for so many decades, China now wants to assert itself in a new form of manifest destiny. Japan, says the Global Daily, has become the “vanguard of American strategy to contain China.” The implication, the Economist reports, is clear enough – China should be ready to take on the United States.
Returning to my jingo theme, I think there is a game being played out here. The stakes are high and the wrong bid could be potentially catastrophic. China clearly wants to assert itself; for power politics has become the opium of the masses. Asserting itself is one thing; risking a region-wide war quite another. Japan is not only the country’s second biggest trading partner but it’s also one of its biggest investors. War or anything approaching war would potentially cripple the Chinese economy.
Nationalism is a dangerous and unpredictable beast. It’s anything but a paper tiger. A wrong move could lead to the communist oligarchy being devoured, a fact that surely cannot have escaped Beijing. It would be best for all parties to stand back and leave these islands, no matter what they are called, to the moles, their principal inhabitants. No venture, no gain, no loss, no prestige, no pride, no power; nothing. Let’s pray to God, for the sake of the little gentlemen in black, that oil is never discovered in these treacherous waters.
Posted by Anastasia F-B at 17:05
Labels: china, international politics, japan
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You didn't mention "face" Ana. We may laugh at how seriously the Chinese and Japanese take the idea of losing face, but it's a big deal in this part of the world, and as you rightly point out, it can lead to one or both sides taking completely irrational actions with dangerous implications for the wider world.ReplyDelete
Taiwan also claims these islands, by the way, although its government appears, wisely, to be sitting this one out.
Yes, Dennis, that is indeed an important consideration.Delete
This today from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:ReplyDelete
What goes for the working population counts double for the People's Army. Old generals hate to end a career never having fought - especially if those at the sharp end are young, naive, and disposable. There is a real temptation to see if all those expensive shiny toys really work, before they rust. There are a number of unresolved neighbourhood squabbles in addition to Japan: with Vietnam, with Indonesia, with Philippines, with India, and especially Taiwan.
It has been suggested that there is a divergence of opinion between the political and military on the outcome of using muscle over diplomacy. History indicates China fares poorly out of bounds. That won't prevent some from having ambitions. One possibility is low-tech conflict wasteful of lives, but less likely to involve the West. China, Indonesia, India, all have a lot of human capital to waste - assuming there is really anything worth wasting it on. In that case nearby nations would be faced with hard choices. Since current Western powers can't even summon up enough prestige to prevent small-scale conflicts near home, it is doubtful anything short of major intervention could defuse a bad situation in China's home territory. On the other hand, maybe that's how they are planning to fix their economic screwups.
Oh what times we live in. Now, where's my copy of Sun Tzu?
I've got it!Delete
Just a bit of 'Saber Rattling', formal negotiations are underway, neither China or Japan really want to risk a military conflict over this issue; we will see.ReplyDelete
Yes, just keep watching. I agree with Calvin above - China has never done well out of bounds.Delete
At least not yet.Delete
The outcome of the present spat is difficult to call but the situation does appear to favour sabre rattling, nothing more. I do believe there is an element of diversionary tactics here by both governments as domestically they are both going through economic difficulties. It is the usual tactic when things are not going too well at home distract and unite the people by aggressive talk against a perceived aggressor abroad. Globalisation does have the benefit of making large scale wars of this kind less likely as trade has become so important that anything that disrupts it will or should be avoided at all costs. Of course the common sense thing to do is for this dispute to be resolved amicably. Unfortunately how often have we seen common sense triumph over stupidity? Not that often I would declare as looking around me at the actions of the worlds leaders from the least developed nations to the highest I see only rhetoric and actions that defy belief.ReplyDelete
Antisthenes, yes, yes and again yes. Sometimes I just can't believe what is going on, simply can't believe the levels of stupidity. It's almost as if some perverse alien force is at work. What's the best course of action? OK, let's do the opposite.Delete
The present Mali situation is a case in point. I'll have more to say on this.