THE SINO-JAPANESE CRISIS CONTINUES: A COMMENT
"Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has launched a fresh diplomatic effort in a bid to ease escalating tensions with China, reignited over a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea. The Japanese government is keen to smooth relations with its largest trading partner and hopes a letter written by Mr Noda on Tuesday to Hu Jintao, China’s president, will help “the stable development of relations” between the two countries, said chief cabinet secretary, Osamu Fujimura. The move follows an incident on Monday when a car carrying Japan’s ambassador in Beijing was attacked. Japan has called for a full investigation into the incident. Uichiro Niwa was travelling with his wife and two staff on a congested road when two cars blocked the vehicle, an official at the Japanese embassy said. “A man jumped out of one of the two vehicles, ran over to the ambassador’s car and ripped the Japanese national flag off it,” the official said. No one was injured. The incident comes as both governments are trying to contain a dispute over the Senkaku islands, a group of tiny rocky outcrops controlled by Japan but also claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu islands. The archipelago, home to rich fishing grounds and believed to hold natural gas reserves, has repeatedly been a source of contention between the two countries. Beijing and Tokyo have struggled in recent years to build constructive ties and break free from a past loaded with the memory of Japan’s wartime aggression and decades of anti-Japanese propaganda in China".Kathrin Hille & Michiyo Nakamoto, "Noda looks to ease China-Japan relations." The Financial Times. 27 August 2012, in www.ft.com.
"August 15 marks the anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia. Japan’s defeat was complete, and its losses unprecedented. Today, Japanese television coverage traced the final days of devastation, with those who lived through the war (now in their 80s) narrating accounts of the firebombing that ruined most of Tokyo and the atomic bombing that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Japanese it continues to be a day of national mourning for those lost, and an annual opportunity to remind the nation and its neighbors of Japan’s postwar commitment to peace. For Japan’s neighbors, however, it seems that August 15 is increasingly an opportunity to demonstrate their own national narratives of the war.... Hong Kong activists took the opportunity to send ships to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, small islets whose sovereignty is contested by Taiwan, the PRC, and Japan. Despite warnings from the Japan Coast Guard (JCG), seven activists dove overboard to swim to the islands—with five making it to land and two turning back to the ship. The JCG, the Japanese police, and agents from the Japanese immigration service met the activists who were subsequently detained. The Hong Kong ship and its remaining nine-member crew have since also been detained. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda tersely stated that they will be treated in accordance with Japanese law.... Japan has long had to cope with activism such as this. Taiwanese and Hong Kong based activists have focused on the territorial dispute over the Senkakus since the 1970s, and in 2002, a group of Chinese activists also landed on the islands. The Japanese government has treated these incidents as violations of domestic law, but has more often than not promptly returned activists to their home countries. Detentions have been the norm, but the consequences have ranged from warnings to fines. In September 2010, the dangerous behavior of the Chinese trawler captain upped the ante, however, and his detention opened the possibility that he would be prosecuted.... Leaders of all Northeast Asia nations must recognize the costs to the entire region of the nationalisms of the 20th century. Chinese, Korean, and Japanese peoples have all paid the tremendous cost of war. Yet they have rebuilt dynamic and prosperous societies, and while the wounds of last century’s wars are still raw, reactive nationalism is not the salve that will heal them. Blame and retribution will only create conflict, and if unchecked, could lead yet again to war. Territorial disputes today can be adjudicated under international law, and scientific evidence and legal argument should be the armaments in that battle. Reflection on the costs of war should be part of every nation’s conversation on days of memorial. But the leaders of each nation must find the courage to remind their nations to look forward while working to create the path to reconciliation with those who were once enemies. There are too many opportunities to demonstrate the value of cooperation among the countries of Northeast Asia for anyone to persuade me that the hurts of the past cannot be overcome. It is a difficult task, but for the political leaders of Japan, South Korea, and China, it is perhaps the most pressing one".Sheila A. Smith. "Sixty-seven years After WWII, Northeast Asian Nationalism Flare Again." The Council on Foreign Relations. 15 August 2012, in www.cfr.org. "Situation is quiet on the surface so much so that many people are inclined to believe even now that Chiang Kia-shek does not seriously intend to embark on large scale hostilities though I hold the opposite view. Apart from continuous movement of Central Government troops northwards along Peking-Hankow line there are numerous other indications that extreme measures are intended....There is a very deep current of anti-Japanese feeling which is only restrained because people feel that the Generalissimo is at last about to lead them forward; but my impression is that if he failed them now there would be serious danger of an outburst of national feeling which would destoy him." Sir Hugh Knatchbull-Hugessen (Nanking) to Foreign Office, 3 August 1937. In Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919-1939, Volume XXI: Far Eastern Affairs. (1984), pp. 204-205. The latest contretemps between Peking and Toyko are a reminder that contrary to some of the bien-pensant reasoning akin to that of Sheila Smith, there are currents of Chinese behavior and policy which run very deep indeed. As can be seen by the dispatch of the British Ambassador to Nationalist China at the time of the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War. Which is not to excuse Japanese culpability in allowing the Marco Polo incident of July 1937 to lead to a tragic outbreak of hostilties between the two countries. Merely that the decision to go to war, was au fond a Chinese one, driven as we can see by domestic political considerations, id. est., primat der Innenpolitik considerations. As the various news stories and the more intelligent analyses of Chinese politics and policy show, nationalist drum banging on any and all issues relating to so-called irredentist territories, is part and parcel of Chinese government policy to shore-up domestic support for the same 1. Strictly speaking, the PRC has absolutely no case, in its various disputes with not only Japan, but Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries in the surrounding area 2. That empirical fact has not prevented the PRC from endeavoring to browbeat and or intimidate neighboring powers on issues relating to the off-shore island chains in either the South China Seas or the East China Seas. Given the domestic basis of Chinese policy, it is quite impossible to imagine anytime soon that the regime in Peking will be at all minded to allow 'international law, scientific evidence and legal argument' to settle these disputes. Sancta simplicitas! Doctor Panglosss where indeed are you? That being said, the role for the Western powers in this situation can and must be to ensure that Peking is not allowed to run roughshod over its neighbors. Either now or in the future. In particular the United States can and must retain the role of balancer and stabilizer of the regional equilibrium between the PRC and its smaller neighbors 3. 1. For a thoroughly splendid discussion of how domestic political currents over-determine PRC foreign policy, see: Zheng Wang. Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations, (2012). Which amplifies to the tenth degree the primat der Innenpolitik analysis that I have been putting on the PRC's foreign policy for quite awhile now. 2. For an interesting discussion of the confused manner in which Peking approaches this entire question from a diplomatic standpoint, see: James R. Holmes, "The Korean War meets the South China Sea." The Diplomat. 9 August 2012, in www.thediplomat.com. 3. For a mostly similar view of what American policy should be in this matter, see: Douglas Paal, "Dangerous Shoals: U.S. Policy in the South China Seas." Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 15 August 2012, in www.carnegieendowment.org.