Sino-Japanese Strife

A few years back, I had a rather conspiratorial lunch with a young Chinese statesman-scholar in the Beijing City Government.  As the clean light of an early summer afternoon poured in through the doorway of the curiously empty dumpling shop, he leaned over the table and advised me along the following lines:

“Forget about Korea.  What matters to China is Japan.  The Koreans are never going to work out their problems; they are perennially factional, and because of that, in both the long and the short term, they are weak.  China and Japan, by contrast, are the two titans of East Asia; their conflicts will shape the region for an entire era.  Watch Japan.  Watch the Japanese right wing.  Forget Korea.”

There is much to be said in response to this view (including the point that Sino-Japanese rivalries always play themselves out on the Korean peninsula in one form or another), but of late, my friend’s warning has proven to be particularly salient.

China and Japan are at a serious impasse over recent events near Diaoyu Island, northeast of Taiwan.

In one of those long interrogative dinners that make networking in China such an all-embracing experience, last night I sounded out a senior colleague here at Sichuan University about the Japan issue.  The verbal tumult that ensued assured me that I was not dreaming, that a great, great deal of information was pouring forth into the public domain at the moment, and that public sentiment in China is not simply backing the government’s stern response to Japan, but hopes that the CCP can go further down the list of its many options for causing pain to Japanese companies and the Japanese government.

Cankao Xiaoxi (Reference News), the standard foreign affairs daily which tends always to be overshadowed on this blog by its more colorful, nationalistic, and protean counterpart the Huanqiu Shibao/Global Times, has had a lock-on Japan for its headlines this week, and today reported that China dis-invited a Japanese youth delegation from attending the Shanghai Expo.

A couple of nights ago, Yunnan News offered up a full hour of analysis of the Diaoyu incident (broken but thrice by commercials, during which time one could flip but one channel away to the newly high-definition historical biopic of Hideki Tojo), and the language was extremely serious, which is not to say belligerent.  Could this standoff escalate into a military conflict?  Should the Chinese Navy stage military drills in the area?  Will the Americans intervene on behalf of Japan?  Can Taiwan and Hong Kong compatriots get out and throw more rocks for the cameras at Japanese trawlers?

The timing of all of this is spectacularly bad for Japan; the September 18 anniversary (China’s “Day of Humiliation,” commemorating Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931) has just passed, and now quite a few Chinese are heading home for the Moon Festival, where, to the extent that international politics is discussed at all with grandparents who still remember the War of Resistance, more than a few choice phrases are bound to be dropped in reference to Japan.

If readers have found solid documentation on the Diaoyu incident, reasonable debate or helpful links, please feel free to  leave them (along with some commentary) in the comment queue and I’ll do my best to respond.

Related Links (thanks to Thomas Lutze at Illinois Wesleyan University!) :

Japan mulls drilling near disputed gas field: media
Reuters | 2010-09-18
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan may start drilling near a gas field in disputed waters of the East China Sea if China does the same, the Nikkei business daily reported on Sunday, as territorial tensions between the countries grow….

Beijing demo demands release of fishing captain | 2010-09-18
Braving rain and chilly temperatures, a small but angry crowd of demonstrators gathered outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing on Saturday morning. The hundred-or-so mainly youthful protesters were clearly animated by recent events around the uninhabited Diaoyu islands which are claimed by both Chi…

Chinese protest against Japan is small but heated,0,6976803.story
LA Times | 2010-09-18
Marchers outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing rally against the detention of a Chinese fishing crew. Beijing, wary of demonstrations, keeps a close eye.Dozens of Chinese demonstrators rallied outside the Japanese Embassy, then marched through the rain-slicked streets to the Foreign Ministry on Sa…

A protest in China
China Rises | 2010-09-18
 It wasn’t much of a protest, as far as these things go. Several dozen people, possibly 100, gathered outside the Japanese Embassy in downtown Beijing to protest in the rain this morning. The crowd was there to condemn the Japanese arrest of a Chinese fishing boat captain, Japanese claims to a di…

The Rebirth of Minjian Waijiao: China’s Popular Diplomacy toward Japan
JPRI Working Paper | 2009-03-01
The term “popular diplomacy” [minjian waijiao, 民间外交] was first used in China-Japan relations to describe the informal interactions between government officials before China and Japan normalized relations in 1972. The term resurfaced in China to capture the wave of popular activism toward…

Phillippe Grangereau, “A bas l’impérialisme japonais!Liberation, Sept. 18, 2010 [coverage of the protests in Beijing]


  1. Pardon me for asking.But what exactly is the reason for the sole use of Chinese name of the island of which Chinese started claiming since the 70’s?

    1. Hi Aceface, just because I am reading it all the time in Chinese, it’s purely laziness on my part, nothing more! I would write Senkaku if I was reading more Asahi Shimbun, no doubt…But I suppose the “objective” way to handle this would be to write “Senkaku/Diaoyutai island/s”…Thank you for the comment, it’s insights like yours that keep me honest.

      If anyone else is keeping track, Japan Focus has had several very good articles on the dispute and its background:

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