Rhetoric Escalates After Japan’s Purchase Of The Diaoyu Islands

In a cab yesterday evening, the first words the driver said to me were, “They gonna fight?” I was confused and signaled as such. He nodded at the radio. A broadcaster was in the middle of reporting on the Diaoyu Islands — sold on Tuesday to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration from their Japanese owners – and that’s when I realized he really meant, “Might they go to war?”

“Nah, I don’t think so,” I replied.

After a lengthy pause, he said, “I think they might.” Later he clarified, “Might as well fight a war. Got too much artillery sitting around anyway.”

Right, that’s a good reason. It’s about as good a reason as going to war over a bunch of rocks that no one cared existed until oil was discovered there in the late-60s. And now it’s “sacred.” It’s a symbol of national pride, and as I’ve written before, nationalism complicates everything. It so happens that fights over symbols are the toughest to resolve, because how do you split a symbol halfway and share the profits?

There’s really no reason you would need to know or care about what Xinhua thinks of all this, but here’s its stance:

The Japanese government’s move to “purchase” the Diaoyu Islands not only hurts the feelings of the Chinese people, but also challenges the post-WWII order in the Asia-Pacific region set by documents such as the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation.

Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands have been China’s sacred territory since ancient times. This is supported by historical facts and jurisprudential evidence.

It’s also become apparent that China has staked part of its identity as a rising / maturing nation on these rocks, and how the government handles the situation will be seen as a referendum of its own mandate.

In any case, the conflict is markedly moving in the wrong direction:

China has carried out the first round of countermeasures against Japan after its government signed a contract to buy the Diaoyu Islands on Tuesday to “nationalize” the islands, by sending two law enforcement vessels to the waters near the islands.

Following strong opposition from China’s top leaders and the government on Monday, the top legislature, military and public voiced protests against Japan’s unilateral move amid soured ties between the two sides.

And if you believe Xinhua, China is both telling the US to stay out of this while simultaneously acknowledging that in an armed conflict, the US can’t stay out:

It’s not difficult to tell that tough the US government’s position on the Diaoyu islands is contradictory, but in essence, it’s very clear, that is, it supports the Japanese government’s confrontational stance against China on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands.

Lest we forget, on the other side of the ocean, this is more or less the official position, as articulated in an LA Times article yesterday:

As the United States recalibrates its foreign policy to recover its standing in East Asia, analysts say Washington must execute a delicate balancing act to nurture relations with China while preventing it from bullying weaker countries.

Is it time we face the possibility that a misfired “warning shot” from one ship to another will set off a war? After all, some neoconservatives here still think the Second Sino-Japanese War has yet to be avenged.

Chances of war are “remote,” as experts and analysts all say. As they should be. The list of reasons for not going to war far exceeds the list for war. (See: ROCKS, FUCKING ROCKS.) But then you read words like these from Global Times on Tuesday, and it’s not hard to be at least a little disconcerted:

Therefore, China should set a long-term goal, which is to change the current situation in terms of who controls the islands. It requires that the Chinese be strong-minded and highly united.

The sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands cannot be negotiated. Japan will not talk with China about it either. Japan’s determination to defend the islands is also firm. It would be naive for the Chinese public to believe that the Chinese navy can solve the problem.

The conflict over the Diaoyu Islands seems to be between China and Japan. With Chinese pressure rising, the US may step into the issue, causing a confrontation between China and the US-Japan alliance to take place. China should be prepared for the worst.

I know one cabbie who’s already made such preparations.

The video above shows two ways of protesting the recent Diaoyu sale. Flags are involved in both — the car is from Guangzhou (“Yo dude, awesome!” is what the guy shouts), while the other video takes place in front of the Japanese embassy in Beijing.

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