I’ve been avoiding this topic because a.) it’s being covered all over the place, and b.) I see it as one of those hopeless messes that cannot be resolved, as I see many foreign policy issues around the world. But this recent Global Times editorial popped out at me for its war mongering and hostility.
Japan’s increasingly radical approach over the island disputes is pushing the Diaoyu issue toward a military confrontation. The Japanese government is dangerously fanning the flames in East Asia.
Both China and Japan should be cautious in mentioning military clashes. Creating a war scenario should be a taboo for officials. Japan has to be clear that the hatred of Japan’s invasion is still buried in the Chinese consciousness. A rising China will by no means allow military humiliation by Japan to happen again.
World War II is long over for Chinese. But Japan repeatedly reminds us of that history. Tokyo has never honestly faced that war. No sincere remorse can be felt in its attitude toward China. On the contrary, it tries to make up for defeat in the past with new sources of conflict with its neighbor.
If a new war breaks out between China and Japan, it may well take on an aspect of revenge. Let it be said, however, that China has no plan to square up with Japan. Hatred toward Japan has been a topic of restraint in Chinese media and in remarks by officials. In the Diaoyu issue, Japan has repeatedly mentioned the deployment of Self-Defense Forces.
Japan mustn’t go too far in provoking China. Japanese officials should think twice before uttering provocative words. In modern history, all the conflicts between China and Japan were caused by Japanese invasion. Japan has no right to attack China bitterly as it does today. The Chinese public has boundless antipathy toward Japan.
At least it’s honest. We all know the disputed territory is claimed by China mainly because of its appearance on Ming Dynasty maps as part of the country, and that no one cared about it until the 1970s when the area was found to have valuable natural resources like oil and gas. The seas around them also harbore valuable fish. By that time, the islands had been handed over to Japan by the US which took control of them after WWII. Japan had claimed them since 1895. (You can read a good overview of how this situation evolved over here.) China would almost certainly not care a fig about them — or at least not to the point of threatening war over them — if they weren’t rich in resources.
This has become much more than a clash over territory. It has awakened all the old anti-Japanese sentiment (not that it had ever abated) and this editorial says as much. It is an admission that the wound China feels over Japan for not apologizing sufficiently for their brutality and war crimes of WWII still fester as if new, and that the dispute is largely fueled by “boundless antipathy toward Japan.” In such a hate-filled atmosphere there is no room for rational discussion. China is so prickly on the topic that a diplomatic solution seems impossible. You can’t reason with people blinded by rage. And we saw in recent weeks, with angry demonstrations in some Chinese cities, that this issue touches an exposed nerve. I have to admire the CCP’s knack for fanning the flames of anti-Japanese sentiment with propaganda such as editorials like this.
I am no authority on this issue, and maybe there are other historical factors I’m unaware of that legitimize China’s claim. I know they have fished off the islands for centuries, and that Taiwan also supports China’s territorial claims. All I’m commenting on is China’s bellicose reaction and the swiftness with which it turns a territorial dispute into one of virulent nationalism and hatred of Japan. Just look at the headline of the editorial: Staying calm could be seen as a sign of weakness. Time to not be calm, i.e., time to get furious, and, based on the first sentence I cite, violent.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.