China Versus Japan: Shooting War, Economic War or War of Words?


Are China and Japan Going to War?

The conflict between China and Japan over a small chain of disputed islands – called “Senkaku” by Japan and “Diaoyu” by China  – is fluid.

Here are some of the key recent events in this dispute:

  • Chinese hackers have launched a cyber-attack against Japan, taking down at least 19 Japanese websites – including those of a government ministry, courts and a hospital  – and adding messages proclaiming Chinese sovereignty over the islands
  • The protesters chanted slogans such as (1) “down with the U.S. imperialists”; (2) “The U.S. government is the mastermind”, an apparent reference to the dispute over the island and the United States’ security treaty with Japan; and (3) “return the money!”, probably referring to the Chinese government’s purchase of U.S. government debt

What’s Going On?

The islands are small and uninhabited … so what’s really going on?

True, they are in important sea lanes. And the seabed nearby is thought to contain valuable mineral resources.  But there are much bigger issues at play.

As Tyler Durden notes, Chinese anger over World War II is part of the equation:

All day long we read how today, on the 81st anniversary of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria, anti-Japan protests flared up in 125 Chinese cities, for the most part peaceful, protesting what China believes is an illegal Japanese attempt at annexation of the Senkaku Islands as a proximal catalyst, but likely also an outlet for years of pent up anti-Japanese sentiment (of which there is plenty on both sides).

Some say that the incident is really about China testing (1) Japan’s weaknesses and (2) America’s alliance with Japan:

Steven Clemons, editor-at-large of The Atlantic, says the two nations are probing the other’s weaknesses.

“It is really about China testing the United States and its alliance with Japan,” he told RT, adding that he expects the skirmishes to continue for a long time.

“What we are seeing today is a snapshot of what we are going to see for the next decade – or more.”

Indeed, while U.S. SecDef Panetta says that American military focus in Asia are not aimed at containing China, Panetta and other American leaders have previously hinted that any credible economic challenge to the U.S.(from China or elsewhere) will be considered an act of war.

Anyone who has 2 brain cells to rub together knows that the “long-game” of U.S. military shenanigans is to contain and weaken China.  The U.S. wants to topple Syria’s Assad because he is a close ally with Iran, and the U.S. wants to topple Iran because it is a close ally with China.

But what does that have to do with Japan?

I spoke with a very smart friend who grew up in China, has lived in the United States for a number of years, and has a very sophisticated view of geopolitics.  (He is a professional and an entrepreneur, and isn’t directly affiliated with the Chinese government).

He told me that the Chinese and Japanese have periodically argued over these islands, and reminded me that the Chinese people are still furious at Japanese imperial invasion and brutality during WWII, especially Nanking  and Manchuria.

Most interestingly, he said that the Chinese and Japanese both have upcoming elections, and that they are simply posturing to look tough for domestic consumption.

He said that the Chinese and Japanese leadership both know where the “line” is, and that neither will cross the line and actually start a war.

Willy Lam, Adjunct Professor, China Studies, Chinese University Of Hong Kong agrees:

From the Beijing’s perspective there will be a major change of leadership coming up at the 18th Party Congress. At this stage the government also doesn’t want to appear as weak. Particularly given the rise of Chinese nationalism.

Likewise, Linus Hagström – associate professor of political science and a senior research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs – says that Japan’s actions are largely driven by political considerations of “not appearing weak”.

Currently, China is Japan’s largest trade partner, while Japan is only China’s fourth-largest trade partner.  However, the United States is obviously a huge trade partner for China, even if America does end up backing Japan in conflict over the islands.

So the one certainty is that there are competing factors and motives involved in the dispute.

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  • The Northwest Passage opening may exacerbate the situation as trade routes change and new treasures are imagined:

    Having just witnessed climate change in action on an Arctic campaign, Greenpeace International head Kumi Naidoo professed, ‘I am shit scared.’ Despite the fact that the Arctic seems far away, Naidoo said, ‘What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.'”

    (Arctic Sea Ice Loss, emphasis added). These pressures are coming on China ahead of a much needed deployment strategy change, and ditto for the U.S. nuclear deployments (Teapot In a Tempest).

  • owenfinn

    I wouldn`t be surprised if the whole crisis was concocted back in April at the Neo-Con infested Heritage Foundation.

    Timeline — In April, Tokyo`s conservative right-wing governor Ishihara visits Washington and has a meeting at the Heritage Foundation. Following the meeting he gives a speech at the foundation saying he wants to “protect Japanese territory” by buying the disputed Sendaku Islands.

    Predictably, all hell breaks loose and the Japanese people are treated to round-the-clock TV images of rioting Chinese burning up and breaking anything Japanese owned in the country. Fear/tension levels rise.

    The Chinese reaction towards Japan, unsurprisingly, fans nationalist sentiment in Japan, leading likely to general elections early next year which could well see the LDP (and Ishihara`s son – how convenient) return to power, most likely in a coalition with the right wing Restoration Party lead by extreme nationalist Mr.Hashimoto.

    Fast forward to Sept 17 – US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visits Japan and announces that “U.S. and Japanese officials have agreed to put a second missile defense system in Japan.”

    Yesterday, after months of protests against their deployment, the Japanese government suddenly declares the Osprey “safe to fly”.

    And finally, they drop talk of abandoning nuclear energy by 2030.

    Caaa-ching!$!$ Mission accomplished!

    Executive, generals and politicians all love a good crisis.

  • falcon

    fail, check the islands location on the map.

  • The enmity between China and Japan goes back to their imperialist pasts. However, after being a nation of opium-eaters before WW I – now China has become the future world power, especially in the economic sense. The United States has the largest national debt (over $1 trillion) from China.

    The current conflicts between the US and China, played by American proxies – is to control world’s major trade routes and energy sources.

    China has successfully cultivated good trade relations with several Muslim countries for its viable global interests. Libya, Sudan, Iran and Pakistan top those China-friendly countries. All these four countries are known US-NATO targets, now and possibly in the near future.

    China’s largest foreign investment among its neighboring countries happens to be in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some estimates put the figure at US$80 billion, mostly in oil and gas sectors. China itself is world’s fourth largest oil producing country but its national resources cannot cope with the country’s growth in population and energy consumption. In September 2010 – Senators Chuck Schumer and Senator Jon Kyl had complained to Hillary Clinton in a letter that Chinese National Petroleum Co. (CNPC) along with two other Chinese companies, Sinopec and Zhuhai Zhenrong, have violated a new US law aimed at discouraging foreign investment in Iran.

  • gozounlimited

    Just call Hillary …. she can solve the problem …. I understand she will be available for hire soon.

    Hillary Clinton : We Created Al-Qaeda

    In this video Hilary Clinton admits that the US government created and funded Al-Qaeda in order to fight the Soviet Union.

    While she states it was a good thing at the time, she express regret that the Americans are fighting them now. (And change the focus from Monika and what she was doing to her husband with her mouth.)

    See here:

  • Jay

    Washington is hedging its bets on this one, caught between its “pivot on Asia” bluster, and its complicity in the present conflict between China and Japan. It was the US, after all, who opportunistically included the Diaoyu Islands in the 1951 San Francisco treaty returning Okinawa to the Japanese. The Chinese were not a party to the arrangement and their protestations about it were ignored.

    Because settlement and reparations made by the Japanese following WW2 never addressed legitimate Chinese grievances for the extraordinary brutality of the Japanese occupation, it has remained a purulent wound in the national psyche. The US who illegitimately ceded the Diaoyu to the Japanese are therefor anything BUT “neutral” to the present conflict. Whether or not there are carbon energy resources in the sea-bed has little to do with China’s claims of territorial sovereignty. Historical fact and documentation are very clear. The cynical, tacit collusion between Tokyo and Washington is a finger in the eye of China and a transparent attempt to export instability to the region. If the burgeoning standoff in the Persian Gulf devolves into a shooting war, strategists may reckon this instability can thus keep Beijing and the PLA preoccupied with other matters.

  • Scott

    the real issue is Taiwan, which is in between the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and the mainland.

  • Beth

    I gather that this is part of the American’s strategies to prevent China’s growth. They side with the Philippines to block off the the sea lane to the Indian Ocean. They establish military base in Darwin, Northern Australia. They have joint military exercises with South Korea. With the issue of Senkaku/Diaoyu Island, Its obvious that China’s sea route has been blocked. In addition, there are economic benefits for the US. Those countries are likely to buy weapons from the US. This may boost their export significantly.

    • vokoyo

      The Japanese government claims that there is no dispute on the sovereignty of these islands, and that they belong to Japan when they first discovered these islands in 1884.

      However, there are many records that show that these islands have been part of China for more than 600 years since the Ming Dynasty, that Chinese fishermen on and off have been using these islands as temporary shelters, and many international maps (including Japanese maps) over the last few centuries have listed these islands as part of China.

      Based on analysis of official Japanese government documents (by both Chinese and Japanese scholars), Japan actually tried to secretly steal these islands from China in the late 1880s and early 1890s. When Japan defeated China after the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, these islands came under the control of Japan.

      When WWII ended, according to the 1943 Cairo Declaration, the 1945 Potsdam Declaration, and the 1945 Japanese Instrument of Surrender, the Diaoyu Islands should have been returned to China, just like Taiwan and other territories that Japan had stolen from China.

      It is important to note that the principal author of all these three documents was the – USA.

  • truth7784

    Japanese surrendered to America not China. China sure didn’t come close to invading Japan to defeat them. Thus if America gave the Japanese the land they had defeated the Japanese for, so be it. China can’t even admit it was saved, claiming America only won