Saturday, September 22, 2012

China and Japan Turn the Screw over Island Dispute

Chinese protesters express their anger at Japan
The nature and tone of the anti-Japan protests that rocked China last week can provide clues on possible policy decisions by Beijing 

Once again Tokyo and Beijing played with fire over the disputed Diaoyu or Senkaku islets in the East China Sea, operating under the assumption that the consequent outbursts of nationalism can be contained indefinitely and will not degenerate to the extent that they would threaten the mutually beneficial bilateral ties. 

On several occasions in recent years, relations between the two countries degenerated on issues such as sovereignty over the islands or the controversial visits by Japanese prime ministers to the Yasukuni Shrine, sparking large, and sometimes violent, protests across China and engendering vitriolic editorials in Chinese media (“Sino-Japanese Relations: Citizens Taking Charge Despite Government Efforts,” China Brief, September 7). In every instance, however, tensions were diffused before the crisis could translate into clashes between the two Asian competitors.

The belief that nationalistic fervor — a useful instrument for politicians to rally various constituents around the flag in times of domestic discontent — always will be manageable and that precedent provides the assurance of similar outcomes in the future is a recipe for disaster. 

My article, published yesterday in the Jamestown Foundation China Brief, continues here. The full issue is available in .pdf format here.

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