Sunday, September 26, 2010

China vs Japan: the Scrape of Things to Come

In 1979 Vietnam and China fought a short little war that lasted a few weeks. The reasons given for the war were alleged mistreatment of Vietnam's Chinese minority, and Vietnamese occupation of the Spratlys, which China was trying to annex. One of the real reasons, however, was to show Vietnam that her ally Russia couldn't be depended to come to her aid.

This week China went after Japan in a big way in the Senkaku Islands. As the world has heard, a Chinese fishing boat rammed Japanese vessels twice in the Senkaku Islands. I'm not going to discuss who owns the Senkakus; study of history adequately answers that question.

Context: China kicked up a massive fuss in the world media and put a on a show for the home crowd. Yet in February Russia sank a Chinese fishing trawler and the Chinese response was muted. Similarly, there've been several clashes in the South China Sea recently which have received no publicity from Beijing. The leadership in Beijing appears to be engaged in two activities: stoking the home front nationalism, and seeing how the US would react when Tokyo was threatened. Japan makes a nifty victim -- imagine if the Chinese had tried this stunt with the Russians. Of course, the Tokyo-Washington alliance is the pillar of US hegemony in East Asia. Beijing is likely to continue to test it....

Petty bullshit from Beijing abounded -- note the class with which Tokyo handled the affair. No bluster, no random arrests of Chinese nationals in China. China arrested four Japanese nationals investigating possible bilking of the government of Japan in a WWII weapons clean-up in China. It was symptomatic that China apparently barred accredited Japanese reporters from the interviews of the fishing boat captain. ESWN has the translation:
According to Fuji TV reporter Fujita Mizumi, she and six other Japanese reporters got in a queue to obtain temporary passes at 7pm on the evening before yesterday. When the workers learned that they were Japanese reporters, they claimed that all temporary passes have been given out. However, the Japanese reporters observed that late-coming mainland reporters continued to receive temporary passes.

At 3am or so, the Japanese reporters made one more attempt to get interviews inside the VIP suite at the airport. Fujita Mizumi asked one of the Fujian Province Publicity Department workers who was handing out passes: "We are Japanese reporters who are approved by the Chinese government to cover news in China. Why doesn't China allow us to gather news?" The other party said bluntly: "We cannot arrange for Japanese reporters to cover this welcoming ceremony. You ought to know the reason why."
The cut off of rare earths to Japan was handled, this fantastic blog post on the Senkakus mess from Ampontan says that the cut off did not occur as an administrative order, but as an order not to load them onto ships for transport to Japan. Which is not covered by international trade regulations. This is the same pattern we have seen in other Chinese behavior -- remember the complaints from Thai fruit producers that Chinese shippers left their stuff to rot on Chinese docks rather than ship it inland to compete with Chinese fruit? China also suspended ministerial level exchanges.

Of the calculated humiliations and toddler-spite directed at Tokyo, my favorite was Beijing's demand that Japan apologize for detaining the captain of a fishing boat who rammed Japanese vessels in Japanese waters. Disgusting. And again, look at the class with which the incident was handled in Tokyo.

One interesting wrinkle was the way the incident with Japan brought out the usually veiled anti-Americanism among Deep Blue pro-China KMTers here in Taiwan. Not only were the talk shows full of it, I heard, but this China Times commentary is a priceless display of the abiding contempt for America that resides in the heart of the KMT:
The media in the US and Japan have been speculating about Japan’s recent confrontations with Mainland China over the Diaoyutai Islets (Senkaku for the Japanese). Is Japan hoping to drag the US into the conflict? Or is the US encouraging Japan’s confrontation with Beijing from behind the scenes?

Objectively speaking, both scenarios are possible. Without the US as its backup, Japan would never dare to instigate hostilities with Mainland China. The fact that Japan is refusing to back down points to the possibility that it is purposely trying to drag the US into the conflict. Politicians in the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) are not stupid; they know that the most effective way to regain public support is to take voters’ minds off domestic issues by inciting nationalistic sentiments. The DPJ’s need to prevent itself from sinking into obscurity is obvious.

If Sino-US relations are too harmonious, the Japanese government may not be in such an assertive position. However, sensing that the relations between the two great powers are on the rocks, Tokyo knows well that Washington will not completely maintain a hands-off attitude. After all, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan covers all the territories under Japan’s administration because its current jurisdiction was dictated by the US after WWII. Japan is taking this rare opportunity to test the resolve of the US.
The reality is that Japan has become concerned because of Chinese expansionism. That context, along with the behavior of the Chinese in this incident, is entirely missing from the China Times editorial, of course.

The US apparently put pressure on Japan to hand back the captain and resolve the issue. In other words, again, the opposite of what the China Times article claims.

Welcome to the future, folks.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Anonymous said...

"The US apparently put pressure on Japan to hand back the captain and resolve the issue."

Was it right for Japan to release the captain? Certainly one can't be right (detaining) or (releasing) and wrong (releasing ) or (detaining) at the same time!

Secondly, why would a superpower ally like the USA that can by just a push of a button severely inflict total annihilation of the PLA pressure Japan when Tokyo did nothin wrong?

Interesting dimes and reasons.


John Herodotus said...

I am curious about the timing of all of this. What is it that has changed to make China show its true colors now?

Peter Lee wrote in the Asian Times Online a couple months back, as I recall (I can't access their site now), that Beijing was miffed about being excluded from the Cheonan investigation, that it felt as if it was being presented with a fait accompli. South Korea and the US then decided to make as big a splash as they could in response by planning a massive military exercise in the Yellow Sea.

To compound the error, the US went weak-kneed when it decided to shift parts of the exercise to the Sea of Japan, after Beijing huffed and puffed about the location.

Is China trying to send a message to the US that it is not to be excluded from the design and maintenance of Asia's security architecture, or has it sensed that Obama is a push-over? Or is there some other motive (regarding the timing)?

Michael Turton said...

I'm not sure about the timing, since I don't understand it myself. It might relate to something domestic.

Stupid of the US to exclude Beijing from the Cheonan investigation. It's the kind of petty bullshit we deplore when China does it...

Anonymous said...

China has already made a mockery of the Japan-U.S. security treaty. The longer this matter drags, the weaker the Japan-U.S. alliance looks. Japan should wise up and pay compensation as soon as possible, and apologize..oh wait, I forgot the Chinese are still waiting Japan to apologize for WWII.


Kaminoge said...

A gift for Anonymous at 7:54am:

Marc said...

The longer this matter drags, the weaker the Japan-U.S. alliance looks.

Or is this a matter of choosing your battles carefully? There's nothing rational about the PRC's actions. They're meant to provoke something--but what that something is anyone's guess.

In the classic monologue, Young Albert learned the hard way when poking a stick at a supposedly contained lion.

All these "little" pokes are potentially ripe for miscalculation, and I, for one, approve when cooler heads prevail.

Michael Turton said...

Yes, I think Tokyo did the right thing too. I think as this gets assessed the PRC will be seen as the loser.

MJ Klein said...

years ago i made a comment on my blog comments about why the Chinese always demand apologies. it went like this:

"often we talk about free and open societies, but one often-overlooked aspect is that in an open society, one risks being occasionally offended (which is why Chinese demand “apologies” for everything – their society isn’t open and free and they don’t get it)."

no one gets "offended" in China by anything that is sanitized by the CCP.

Anonymous said...

The author is obviously a Japanese lackey who rather suck up their arse than admiting the fact that both the Mainland and Taiwanese governments (i.e. ALL Chinese) claim the sovereignty of the Diaoyu islands. Japan is a castrated man on testosterone replacement regimen, and the U.S. controls the dosage and decides how hard (or how floppy) they want the Japanese d*ck to be. Only a small bunch of morons in the island of Taiwan would ever call the Japanese "classy".

jerome in vals said...

I wonder if anyone is aware of the foretold June 17, 2011 pan-Chinese landing planned on the Senkakus? It is meant as a protest on the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Agreement of Reversion of Okinawa.

A coalition of nationalists hailing from LA, HK and Taiwan has been planning that invasion for months already. They need a hundred crafts and are raising the funds to rent them. They are rumored to have the backing of Zhongnanhai.

How does the ramming of the Japanese coastguard ship by a lone trawler plays up against this background? I am not sure.

Was this month incident a rehearsal meant to test the waters?

Was it a preemptive move intended to better abort those hot-heads' project?

After all, a hero's welcome to an apparently un-cued loner makes for good photo-op. But what to do with a thousand of volunteers bent on humiliating Japan?

Would it be wise of Zhongnanhai to be involved in the protection of those trouble-makers in Japanese waters?

If, left to their own means, the fools end up hosed down by the Japanese coast guard and navy, what stance should Zhongnanhai take in the aftermath?

Who will foot the bill for the fines the trespassing ships will incur?

All issues Zhongnanhai is sure to be weighing right now. Meanwhile, Japan beefs up its defenses.

Former PM Hatoyama (Dove Mountain)'s talk of the "friendly seas' and DPJ general secretary O(corrupt)zawa's 650 members tribute-paying pilgrimage to Zhongnanhai last year are the butt of jokes among gleeful conservative circles in Tokyo.

It seems that Beijing has no use of a Beijing-leaning Japanese leadership.

mx said...

re: timing, I've been reading about recent PRC moves into Burma/Myanmar to explore for oil and to build pipelines. Perhaps its a distraction to keep the media away from this news.(?)