Thursday, April 14, 2005

China and Japan

In case anyone missed it, there were some big riots in Beijing this past week against Japan and Japanese things. A large crowd of "spontaneous" protestors attacked the Japanese embassy in Beijing. According to Simon at "Simon's World" :

"The Government has already put a clamp on official media reports, but modern communication techniques (including BBS and blogs) and hints of official involvement show that even the Government is divided on how to handle this turn of events. Ironically Japan is now demanding an apology from China. On Sunday the riots continued in both Guangzhou and Shenzhen. The US Consul General in Shanghai was worried enough to issue an alert to American citizens. The danger is this snowballs completely out of Beijing's control. Are they willing to take on what they've created?"

Here in Japan its hard for any one to accept that the riots were anything but scripted by the government, especially in view of Beijing's iron fist in other areas. So it leaves one asking why? Why does the Chinese government wish to embark on a Campaign to elevate the level of tension with a country that is also a major trading partner with both China and the US? There is no real answer to that question although there are a lot of theories.

Some folks think this centers around the desire of Japan to become a member of the UN Security Council. Others think it is about the continuing perception that Japan has failed to come to grip with her brutal history in the region and has not made atonement for what happened then. ( Never mind that they have apologized some 19 times officially by my count!).
This includes what other nations consider to be controversial textbooks , that distort the true history of the time between 1931 and 1945 when Japan ruled the Northeast part of China in Manchuria and in fact, many folks in that region still can speak Japanese as well as Mandarin.

While all of these issues provide the backdrop, I believe there is a much more sinister reason at work here. This is part of a Chinese government campaign to keep the pressure on Taiwan. The passage of the anti-secession law last month, is the first step of a careful campaign to isolate the island nation and keep the US off balance with relation to the United States commitment to defend Taiwan in case of attack. By turning up the heat on Japan, they are hoping to divert attention away from the island, and give Japan second thoughts about allowing US bases in Japan and Okinawa to be used in case of a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

Long term, I don't believe the Chinese intend to take Taiwan through military force. They want to give everyone the impression they can though, and that is one reason they are feverishly modernizing their military. However a head to head showdown with the US would hurt China and they know it. The roof would cave in on both the economic and the military front. An overt military thrust on the island would galvanize other Asian nations who are already uncomfortable with China's growing military prowess. That's not to say, China would not go and do something stupid, but they would have to feel like they had been backed into a corner and they are not there yet.

No, I believe the Chinese know that it is best to bide their time. First, I am sure they have no illusions about what George W. Bush would do in case of attack ( "Let slip the dogs of war"). Against the backdrop of Iraq and other military intervention they should have no illusions about his firmness. However if they can continue to isolate the island of Taiwan, while keeping both Japan and the US off balance by being unpredictable (and in need of Chinese trade) they can strengthen their bargaining position as they see it. They know the President has his hands full with other issues and he won't be there forever. In the interim between now and 2008 , they can keep economic pressure going by stalling on devaluing the Yuan and buying up US debt. ( People are only slowing beginning to wake up to the perils of economic blackmail underwritten by the spiraling US debt). They can take a carrot and a stick approach with Japan ( the riots are part of the stick), and they can work hard to get the captives to forge their own chains by continuing to push for some sort of "one country, two systems" nonsense and perhaps get Taiwan to bite. Then they can simply strangle Taiwan and renege on the deal the way they are doing in Hong Kong. And they can hope the US continues to shrink its military through its long term "better business practices".

Its a clever strategy, but not without risks. Japan is already making noises about stepping up to the plate for its own defense. A threatened Japan actually hurts China's efforts to undermine the US position. As far as military forces go, the Pacific is something of a growth industry for the US Military these days and force levels should remain constant. So my prediction is that you will see China offer up something to Japan as a carrot in the near future. And as the year progresses they will see-saw back and forth between confrontation and concession.



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