Thursday, January 23, 2014

Japan and China -- Is War Inevitable?

The Business Insider has an interesting piece. Keep in mind, however, that the opinions are just those of one unidentified Chinese "professional", and does not necessarily reflect the dominant opinion among Chinese leaders.
I went to one of those fancy private dinners last night in Davos, Switzerland. 
Like most of the events here at the 2014 World Economic Forum, the dinner was conducted under what are known as "Chatham House Rules," which means that I can't tell you who was there.

I can tell you what was said, though. And one thing that was said rattled a lot of people at the table.

During the dinner, the hosts passed a microphone around the table and asked guests to speak briefly about something that they thought would interest the group.

One of the guests, an influential Chinese professional, talked about the simmering conflict between China and Japan over a group of tiny islands in the Pacific.

... The Chinese professional at dinner last night did not seem so much worried about a military conflict as convinced that one was inevitable. And not because of any strategic value of the islands themselves (they're basically worthless), but because China and Japan increasingly hate each other.

... He then explained that the general sense in China is that China and Japan have never really settled their World War 2 conflict. Japan and America settled their conflict, he explained, and as a result, the fighting stopped. But China and Japan have never really put the war behind them.

The Chinese professional acknowledged that if China asserted control over the disputed islands by attacking Japan, America would have to stand with Japan. And he acknowledged that China did not want to provoke America.

But then he said that many in China believe that China can accomplish its goals — smacking down Japan, demonstrating its military superiority in the region, and establishing full control over the symbolic islands — with a surgical invasion.

In other words, by sending troops onto the islands and planting the flag.

The Chinese professional suggested that this limited strike could be effected without provoking a broader conflict. The strike would have great symbolic value, demonstrating to China, Japan, and the rest of the world who was boss. But it would not be so egregious a move that it would force America and Japan to respond militarily and thus lead to a major war.
These comments are interesting in light of Japan's Prime Minister also suggesting that Japan and China are fast approaching war. From the Atlantic:
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday, Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, compared recent tensions between China and Japan to the rivalry between the British and German empires at the start of the 20th century. Like the Chinese and Japanese are today, he noted, the British and Germans were close trading partners in 1914—until World War I broke out. Abe argued that China’s military buildup is destabilizing the region, warned of “inadvertent conflict,” and admitted that the two countries didn't have an “explicit roadmap” to resolve one. Then the Japanese leader packed his bags and traveled to China’s rival, India, for an official visit.

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