Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Sino-Japanese Tensions Rise

Weeks of government prompted and tolerated protests against Japanese businesses and diplomatic installations throughout China have pushed Sino-Japanese relations to their lowest point in decades. Even Junichiro Koizumi, Japanese normally unflappable prime minister, makes no secret of Japanese anger at Beijing and his country's escalating fear of Chinese power.

[Prime Minister Koizumi] made clear his irritation with Beijing, and its tolerance of weekly demonstrations that have often turned to violence against symbols of Japan, including diplomatic offices and shops.

In a interview to be broadcast on Australian television, Mr Koizumi insisted that relations with China remain good but added: "I hope that the Chinese will, shall we say, become more grown up and will be able to look at friendly ties from broader perspectives with, shall I say, a cool head."

Tens of thousands of Chinese protesters have taken to the streets, infuriated that Tokyo's education ministry has approved a textbook that plays down Japan's wartime aggression.

The dispute over Japan's imperial history is a sign of a wider escalation of tensions in Asia over the economic and military growth of China. Its voracious appetite for imports has boosted the economy of the region, but its growing belligerence has alarmed some neighbours, particularly Japan and Taiwan.

The wave of "popular" Chinese protests come suspiciously on the heels of Tokyo's recent push for even closer military ties with the US and its sudden decision to include the defense of Taiwan as a top-level military concern.
The new Japanese national defence strategy last December for the first time named the rapidly re-arming China as a prime concern, saying: "We have to remain attentive to its future actions."

Two months later, Tokyo further infuriated Beijing with a joint declaration with Washington that the peaceful resolution of the dispute between China and Taiwan was a common "strategic objective".

Although phrased in diplomatic language, this was a clear warning to China not to seek to retake Taiwan by force.

America's reckless trade policy with China has flooded Beijing's coffers with easy cash. The militaristic communist despots who run China are now using that cash to rapidly build up China's military. Particularly worrying to Japan and other neighboring Asian countries, the Chinese military build up seems geared toward the establishment of a "blue water" Chinese navy, with which China could project its power throughout the Pacific.

"The balance of power is changing in favour of mainland China," said Masahi Nishihara, president of the National Defence Academy, Japan's equivalent of Sandhurst. "If there is a conflict between China and the United States over Taiwan, Japan would be almost immediately involved."

Mr Nishihara raised the prospect of a China mounting a Pearl Harbour-style surprise attack on the US military base in Okinawa to stop America coming to the rescue of Taiwan. "We need diplomacy to avoid conflict. But if it came to war, we would want the US to win."

He said China had now overtaken Japan in defence spending, and while the Japanese navy could still stand up to the Chinese, Tokyo had no nuclear submarines and no response to the hundreds of missiles on China's coast or the threat from North Korea.

These concerns led Japan to plead with Europe earlier this year not to end the European Union's ban on weapons sales to China.

"China is not a threat to Europe. For European countries that want to make money, China is a good market," said Mr Nishihara, "But for us China is a security threat."

Although Japan is one of the world's biggest spenders on defence, successive governments have preserved the country's pacifist constitution that gave up the right to settle international disputes by force. But Japan is undergoing a revolution of its defence doctrine, which has seen Tokyo send troops ever further afield, strengthen military ties with America and become more active in Asian security.

Containing China is likely to become the top US foreign policy goal over the next decade, once Washington finally wakes up from its current Wilsonian crusade to democratize the Middle East. Given the increasingly bellicose rhetoric coming from Beijing and the Chinese military leadership, that priority is likely to be shared by America's Pacific allies, for whom the US represents the only bulwark against Chinese power. Japanese pacifism could only be sustained in the absence of a threat to the Japanese mainland. Now that such a threat has materialized, expect to see Japanese defense policy adopt an increasingly aggressive posture to check China.


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