Category Archives: Japan

“The Dangerous Math of Chinese Island Disputes”

M. Taylor Fravel with a reasonably controversial claim that China may actually be willing to use force to consolidate its claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands:

Since 1949, China has been involved in 23 territorial disputes with its neighbors on land and at sea. Seventeen of them have been settled, usually through compromise agreements. Nevertheless, China has used force, often more than once, in six of these disputes. And it’s these cases that most closely parallel the Senkaku impasse.

To start, China has usually only used force in territorial disputes with its most militarily capable neighbors. These include wars or major clashes with India, Russia and Vietnam (several times), as well as crises involving Taiwan. These states have had the greatest ability to check China’s territorial ambitions. In disputes with weaker states, such as Mongolia or Nepal, Beijing has eschewed force because it could negotiate from a position of strength. Japan is now China’s most powerful maritime neighbor, with a modern navy and a large coast guard.

China has also used force most frequently in disputes over offshore islands such as the Senkakus. Along its land border, China has used force only in about one-fifth of 16 disputes. By contrast, China has used force in half of its four island disputes. Islands are seen as possessing much more strategic, military and economic value because they influence sea-lane security and may hold vast stocks of hydrocarbons and fish.

In addition, China has mostly used force to strengthen its position in disputes where it has occupied little or none of the land that it claims. In 1988, for example, China clashed with Vietnam as it occupied six coral reefs that are part of the Spratly Islands. China had claimed sovereignty over the Spratlys for decades—but had not controlled any part of them before this occupation.

The final destabilizing factor in the Senkaku standoff is that both sides are simultaneously engaged in other island disputes. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak recently broke with tradition and became the first Seoul leader to visit the disputed Dokdo (Takeshima) Islands, which are occupied by the Koreans but also claimed by Japan. Meanwhile, China has been dueling with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea. Tokyo and Beijing may both conclude that whoever prevails in the Senkakus will have a better chance at prevailing in these other disputes.

History is not destiny. China has not used force in a territorial dispute for more than 20 years. Escalation over the Senkakus may be avoided. Nevertheless, the current situation is fraught with danger. Should a fatal incident occur involving government ships from either country, a real crisis may begin whose end cannot be foretold.

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Filed under Chinese foreign policy, Japan, Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands

“Beijing’s Dangerous Game”

Perry Link in the NYRoB on the anti-Japan protests, good as always:

Many have ascribed the vehemence of the protests to deep-rooted anti-Japanese sentiment linked to injustices committed by Japan eighty years ago. But there is little evidence to support this. Rather the protests appear to have everything to do with the interests of China’s current rulers, at a moment when the top leadership in Beijing is in turmoil.

The Chinese state media suggest that Chinese people have long memories of Japan’s invasion of China in 1931, when the Japanese army carried out a brutal massacre of civilians in the capital city of Nanjing in 1937. According to them, what we see today are echoes of this longstanding “national insult.” But there are not many people in China today who personally remember the 1930s. Recollections of these distant events handed down within families are not that strong, and moreover must compete with some terrible memories of the intervening Mao era. The anti-Japan expression that we see on the streets today springs largely from other sources.

In 1985, nine years after Mao’s death, a Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall opened in Nanjing. China’s textbooks and media also began to mention the massacre, and the government began to use the issue as a way to stimulate nationalism and draw support to itself. The anti-Japan vitriol that we see in the streets today comes much more from that “education” since the 1980s than it does from memories of the 1930s. In 1998 Jiang Zemin, China’s president, visited Japan and demanded a written apology for Japan’s invasion of China. Public demonstrations against Japan have flared occasionally since then, often after government prodding but always under government monitoring and control.

It is significant that the numbers of protesters, by Chinese standards, are small. Crowds are in the hundreds, rarely over a thousand. By contrast the crowd at the pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen in 1989 reached a million at its peak. There is no doubt which cause had the deeper appeal. Today, too, measured in numbers, the complaints of Chinese protesters are overwhelmingly not about uninhabited islands but about things closer to home—corruption, pollution, land annexation, special privilege, and abuse of power—and the usual adversaries today are not Japan but Chinese officials and the wealthy people associated with them.

From the regime’s point of view, the reporting is the whole point. The purpose of instigating protests is to generate “mass opinion” to serve a political purpose. Let me offer an especially clear example from a different context. In March, 2008, in Lhasa, Tibet, young Tibetans went on a rampage against Chinese shop owners. Some people say that agents provocateurs were at work, some say not. But in either case, credible eyewitnesses on both sides reported that for several hours Chinese police stood by and did nothing. They watched the looting and burning of stores while reporters from state-owned media made video recordings. Only when the taping was over did the police step in, arresting hundreds. Then, during the ensuing seventy-two hours, Chinese television—nationwide—showed and re-showed the video footage, explaining that the Dalai Lama, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, had been the instigator of the mayhem. Twenty days later, when young Tibetans ventured onto the streets of Lhasa and seemed ready to protest again, the police quelled them instantly. This time there was no need for videotapes.

What is it, today, that the people at the top in China want to achieve by stimulating and advertising anti-Japan sentiment? They do not say, of course, so the world must guess, but in broad outline the guessing isn’t very hard. The people at the top, who are used to maintaining a smooth façade, have every reason right now to distract attention from the unexpectedly messy handover of power now taking place, the results of which are hugely important to them.

The men at the top are very adept at staying there, and doubtlessly are aware of the dangers of this game. To them, stirring up and giving media attention to anti-Japan sentiment is a way to further their psychological engineering of the Chinese public. They know that it carries a risk. But the potential damage to the regime that could come from letting the public concentrate on their power transition, or get a deeper look into how corruption and special privilege work, is even greater.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Communist Party, Japan, protests

The Diaoyu Powderkeg: Primed and Ready

A sampling of the coverage from the last two days about the Diaoyu Island protests, in which the Chinese fenqing are at once unleashed and corralled by the Party. First, from Peking Duck, where Richard calls the dispute a tinder box:

This so reminds me of the simmering hatred of Japan that surged to the top back in 2005 with all the controversy over the Yasukuni shrine. There, too, the police facilitated the protestors, some officers handing them eggs to throw. They take a more active role in curtailing the demonstrations after protestors become too violent, hurling rocks at the embassy. We always knew the Diaoyu islands were a tinder box; now it’s exploded.

It will end when the government thinks there’s been enough and then starts to crack down, just like in 2005. Protesting against perceived injustices is something I encourage. Allowing emotions to take over and becoming enveloped in pure white-hot rage is dangerous. In this zombie-like state people can be manipulated to do the government’s dirty work. It does not reflect well on China when Japanese businesses and citizens are attacked. It does not reflect well on China to be seen as hysterics with no iota of self control.

From Reuters, a description of some of the actions some officials are taking to curb the protests:

In the biggest flare-up on Sunday, police fired about 20 rounds of tear gas and used water cannon and pepper spray to repel thousands occupying a street in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.

Protesters attacked a Japanese department store, grabbed police shields and knocked off their helmets. One protester was seen with blood on his face. At least one policeman was hit with a flowerpot.

Demonstrators have looted shops and attacked Japanese cars and restaurants in at least five Chinese cities. Protesters also broke into a dozen Japanese-run factories in eastern Qingdao on Saturday, according to the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

It added that the protests had spread to at least 72 cities.

A six-deep cordon of anti-riot police guarded the Japanese embassy in Beijing as demonstrators resumed their protest on Sunday, screaming slogans and insults as they passed by and throwing plastic bottles full of water.

“If Japan does not back down we must go to war. The Chinese people are not afraid,” said 19-year-old-student Shao Jingru.

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who walked by Sunday’s protest in Beijing, told Reuters he believed the demonstrations were sanctioned by the government and the police.

“Chinese citizens need to thank the Japanese government because for the first time, they can mount a large protest on their own land,” Ai said. “In China, there are no protests organized by the people.”

On the other hand, ChinaGeeks describes some of the ways in which the government has facilitated these protests, beyond the obvious factors like using decades of indoctrination in schools and the media to rile up anti-Japanese sentiment:

Browsing it, your first inclination may be to marvel at the particularly insane bits, like the hotel advertising that Japanese guests are no longer welcome or the Audi dealership with banners outside that literally advocate mass genocide (is this a new Audi sales campaign?). But for anyone who has been to a protest in China before, your second inclination is going to be to say this: where are all the fucking cops?

But anyone who has followed domestic protests in China for even a short period of time should be clear on the fact that if it wants to, the government has the means to totally shut these protests down. They may have sent in the tanks back in ’89, but these days there are legions of trained riot police, People’s Armed Police, and other anti-protest forces. Every major city has them. If you think that China doesn’t have the law enforcement capability to totally shut down these riots, you’re delusional. If these were anti-government protests, not only would they not have carried on this long, but half the people in those photos would be in jail by now. Before the Jasmine protests (for example) police nationwide were literally arresting people just for considering going to the protests, not to mention people police thought might go.

Can you imagine Tibetans protesting in 40+ cities without massive police intervention, gunfire, and months of crackdowns and disappearances after? Because that happened in 2008, and the region is still under lockdown today. Obviously this isn’t going to happen to Han protesters who are mad about Japan, though.

SinoStand has a first-hand description of one of the protests:

In the middle of the street there was a partition with police directing people to parade around it in long circles. People had huge Chinese flags and banners saying things like “Fuck little Japan.” What I was most surprised by were the number of Chairman Mao posters floating around. I asked a few people about this and the consensus was “Mao would never let Japan get away with this.”

As the crowds paraded around, they sang patriotic songs, chanted “Little Japan, fuck your mother,” “Chairman Mao 10,000 years,” “China 10,000 years” and most significantly “Communist Party 10,000 years.” (“10,000 years” basically means “Long live…”)

This mass outpouring obviously had official sanction. The police’s presence was to direct the protests rather than try to hamper them in any way.

Later things started to get a bit more intense. While the crowds circled around they were allowed to stop briefly in front of the Japanese embassy itself. It was guarded by hundreds of riot police with helmets and shields. At first protestors threw water bottles and eggs at the embassy, which police made no attempt to stop. But gradually rocks and (I assume Japanese) cell phones started to be thrown. Many of them hit the Chinese police, who were covering themselves with shields.

And finally, a good one from Rectified.Name:

Today was one of those perfect Beijing fall days, sunny, reasonably clear air and just the right temperature for a day-long hike of the Great Wall at Jinshanling… or for burning and pillaging your local Chinese-owned and operated Japanese restaurant. Whatever.

In fact, combining the best of both fun activities, three separate groups of young Chinese marched along the wall today waving flags demanding the protection of the Diaoyu Islands from the dastardly Japanese. One group was in yellow and waved a yellow flag. Another was in red and held a red flag. A third group split the difference and went with an all-orange look that confused a few Dutch hikers into thinking a football match was about to break out at the next guard tower.

On their way up, each group stopped to pay homage to a statue of Ming general Qi Jiguang. General Qi is something of a patron saint around Jinshanling. He’s credited with organizing the construction of this section of the wall in the mid-16th century. But before that, Qi Jiguang was best known for his battles against Japanese ‘pirates’ along China’s coast, and so is now the patron saint of seriously deluded Chinese nationalists out for blood over a chain of rocks inhabited by a herd of confused goats and an endangered species of mole. Seriously.

Frankly, every time I hear the phrase “history says…” I want to try and remove my own corneas with a shrimp fork. History “says” a lot of things. For example, China has never ever invaded another country. The PLA did not invade Tibet in 1951 because Tibet has been part of China since at least the time of the Yuan which was not a Mongolian Empire but a Chinese Dynasty. And China didn’t try to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281 because that was Kublai Khan who was, you know, a Mongol and not Chinese.

History is especially tricky when you take relatively recent concepts and constructions like the nation state and national sovereignty and apply them retroactively.

Of more contemporary concern though is the way the CCP, through the educational system and the official media, has made defending China’s ‘national sovereignty’ and ‘territorial integrity’ such an important and highly visible pillar of their legitimacy. That leaves precious little room for negotiation or compromise in situations like the current stand-off with Japan.

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Filed under Chinese foreign policy, Japan

“Diaoyu in Our Heart”

Freelance writer Helen Gao has a good piece in The Atlantic about some of the intricacies of the Diaoyu Islands arrests last week, and how Chinese people see their nation and themselves:

A web user named oncebookstore posted a question on Weibo, China’s twitter-style social network: “If your child were born on the Diaoyu Islands, what nationality would you pick for him/her: Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong or the mainland?” (The islands, also known as the Senkakus in Japan, are claimed by China, Taiwan, and Japan.) It went viral on Sunday, retweeted over 20,000 times in nine hours before censors took it down around midnight. The surprising results would seem to contradict the popular anti-Japanese protests, undercut the government’s efforts to stoke patriotism, and may well baffle outside observers: Chinese respondents overwhelmingly picked places other than mainland China. Around 40 percent answered Taiwan, followed by Hong Kong with about 25 percent, followed by Japan. Mainland China was the least popular option. A formal poll, set up on Weibo after the original post was pulled, returned similar results, with Japan at 20 percent and the mainland at 15.

Though contradictory at first glance, the sentiment at the anti-Japanese protests and that revealed by the Weibo quiz are perhaps not as inconsistent as they might appear, and could highlight the dual nature of the nationalistic feelings deeply rooted in Chinese society today. The same Chinese nationalism that drives citizens to stand up for their native land when outside forces challenge it could also sharpen their pain when they observe the depressingly wide gap between China as it is and China as they wish it could be.

“Political slogans aside, as a citizen of the globe, I would rather have the next generation growing up in an place like Taiwan or Japan,” said zuzhanggaocangwentai. “I don’t want them to have to take poisonous baby formula, sit in brainwashing classes, and love the party that hurts its people.”

Weibozhuanping also saw potential social advantage abroad: “If we speak about society instead of politics, Japan has the most fair and humane society. Workers and farmers won’t have as hard a time there as they do in China.”

“I vote for Taiwan,” said yingdedaobie, “because that’s where you get to vote.”

In fact, web users’ responses seemed to be driven more by a deep discontent with the current China than by a veneration for these more developed economies: a large number of participants put their answers as bluntly as “Anywhere but the mainland.”

The owner of an independent bookstore in a southern Chinese province, he told me that his initial hope in asking the uncomfortable question was to make the public aware that “there are more pressing issues than the Diaoyu Islands.”

“I hope Chinese people can show as much solidarity as they did in protecting the Diaoyu Islands every time someone is illegally evicted from his house by officials; I hope they can shout like they did to save the pro-China Diaoyu activists every time a Chinese dissident is arrested,” he posted on his blog immediately after putting up the quiz.

“Farmlands, houses, and families, they should be the Diaoyu Islands in our heart.”

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Filed under activism, Japan, nationalism, Taiwan

“Chinese activists arrested by Japan after landing on disputed island”

Apparently the ‘invoke nationalism by whining about the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands’ card is having some unintended consequences these days:

Shortly after the activists’ arrest, China vowed to lodge a formal complaint with Japan.

The activists, more than a dozen in all, had set out from Hong Kong for the islands — called Diaoyu by the Chinese and Senkaku by Japan. They carried with them five Chinese flags, reportedly intending to evade Japanese authorities patrolling the islands and to use the flags to claim the territory for China.

Many Chinese activists have embarked on similar forays in recent years, and several have been turned away by Japanese authorities.

A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement urging Japan to refrain from doing anything that would endanger Chinese citizens or their property.

I would assume they are mainland Chinese who just left from Hong Kong, because I’m sure Hong Kongers don’t get as crazy about these islands than people who live in the middle of the swirling propaganda vortex Beijing has created in mainland China.

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Filed under activism, Japan

Pu Zhiqiang on Nagoya

Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang on the recent scandal caused by Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura denying the existence of the Nanjing Massacre (via Shanghaiist):

“I can absolutely understand why the mayor of Nagoya would deny the Nanjing Massacre. All of your history is propaganda. There’s no credibility and no historical evidence. 300,000 victims, you say, but the number looks like it was plucked out of thin air anyhow you turn it. And let’s not forget how you’re so ready to greet your own countrymen with the knife, gun, sword, halberd, ax, hook, fork and other weapons. Up till now, you still haven’t owned up to the small massacre in 1989. What right do you have to demand that the Japanese mayor acknowledge the big massacre?”

On the one hand… yeah, the irony of Chinese officials getting mad about historical revisionism is pretty thick. But on the other hand, unless the major of Nagoya really is denying Nanjing specifically because of Chinese historical revisionism, defending him still doesn’t feel right. Two wrongs, a right, etc.

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Filed under history, Japan

“Japan Sharpens Rhetoric on China”

Ordinarily some new move in the ongoing slapfight between elements of the Chinese and Japanese governments wouldn’t be terribly newsworthy, but I’m including this because it’s an example of the way the relationship between China and almost all of her neighbors has degraded recently:

Japan intensified its rhetoric against China’s military, accusing Beijing for the first time of “assertiveness” and saying it needs to keep a closer watch on how China views the contested waters between the two countries.

Japanese government officials stressed that the new language—contained in an annual white paper released Tuesday and approved by the cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan—shouldn’t be seen as a cause for alarm. “This is one way of expressing our hope that China will address these issues through friendly relations,” said Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa at a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Still, the paper underscores the rising tensions between China and a number of its neighbors over similar regional issues. China has bumped heads with Vietnam and the Philippines over territorial claims in the South China Sea. Beijing also publicly sparred with Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, on his visit to China last month over U.S. joint military exercises with those two countries.

The paper also details what it said was China’s “frictions” with other countries, including “unbalanced trade, currency and human-rights issues.” “China is expected to acknowledge responsibility as a superpower, abide by international standards and play a more active and cooperative role toward regional and global issues,” it added.

The white paper had previously cited China’s lack of transparency in its military capabilities and its defense spending, but had focused its strongest criticism on domestic issues such as corruption, pollution and issues involving ethnic minorities.

The U-Shaped Line angering almost all of Southeast Asia, ongoing fights with India over NEFA/Zangnan and Pakistan (which is itself now being accused of giving Uyghur terrorists safe haven), the usual tensions with South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan… it isn’t a coincidence that neighbors in all directions are feeling less and less secure next to China.

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Filed under China, Japan, South China Sea