21 January 2013

Shooting War Coming in the East China Sea?

Are China and Japan going to come to blows over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands? The Economist reports...

CHINA and Japan are sliding towards war. In the waters and skies around disputed islands, China is escalating actions designed to challenge decades of Japanese control. It is accompanying its campaign with increasingly blood-curdling rhetoric. Japan, says the China Daily, is the “real danger and threat to the world”. A military clash, says Global Times, is now “more likely…We need to prepare for the worst.” China appears to be preparing for the first armed confrontation between the two countries in seven decades

China and Japan have well-known differences over history and territory—most pressingly over five islets, out in the East China Sea, which Japan controls and calls the Senkakus but which China lays claim to and calls the Diaoyus. Rational actors with deeply entwined economies are supposed to sort out their differences, or learn to put them safely to one side. At least, that was the assumption with China and Japan.

But this changed in September, after Japan’s then prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, nationalised the three islands Japan did not already own. It was a clumsy attempt to avoid them falling into the hands of Shintaro Ishihara, a right-wing China-baiter who was governor of Tokyo until late last year.

Yet China insisted that the move was an anti-China conspiracy to strengthen Japan’s claim. It set out to blow a hole in Japanese pretensions to sole control of the waters and skies around the islands. Incursions by surveillance vessels came first. Then, in December, a patrol plane buzzed the islands; Japan scrambled fighter planes. This month Japanese and Chinese jets sought to tail each other near the islands’ air space. Japan, newspapers report, is considering ordering warning shots to be fired next time. A Chinese general says that would count as the start of “actual combat”. So long as China vies for control, conflict will be a hair-trigger away.

The thing is, given the history behind their relationship - especially WWII - it won't be hard for China to drum up world sympathy against the Japanese, even if China is blatantly in the wrong. It will be interesting to see how this will play out in the UN, and on world trade markets, as both sides are very heavily tied in around the world. How many Japanese-owned shipping companies are hauling Chinese consumer goods to ports around the world?

By: Brant

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