"Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence." − Lin Yutang
On September 11th, 2012, the Japanese government under Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda declared nationalization of the Diaoyu Islands, a traditional Chinese territory under Japanese control. This move caused great fury in China. In protest of Japan's illegal occupation of Chinese territory, hundreds of thousands of outraged demonstrators took to the streets in more than 50 cities across China, burning Japanese flags and attacking the Japanese embassy and consulates. Meanwhile, Chinese media was rife with condemnations of the Japanese aggression by not only state leaders but also political party spokespersons, grassroots citizens and intellectuals. More disturbingly, the Chinese Army staged several large-scaled military exercises in the Eastern China Sea, firing more than 40 ballistic missiles with coverage wide enough to reach Tokyo. And on September 17th, with the escort of Chinese marine surveillance ships, thousands of Chinese fishing boats rushed and flocked to the waters near Diaoyu Islands to start their annual post-ban fishing, in open defiance of the roaming Japanese Coast Guard patrol ships nearby ....
Reading these frantic headlines, I couldn't help wondering how things got so much worse in only one week. What on Earth has spurred the Chinese to react so furiously this time? And what kind of hatred is this?
Maybe the Japanese government and rightists such as Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara hadn't expected this, either. Hoping to appease China and relieve the resultant tensions between the two countries, the Noda Government nominated a new ambassador to China on September 11th, the same day it announced nationalization of the Diaoyu Islands. Unfortunately, this clever little trick did not work out. Nishinomiya Shinich, the new ambassador to Beijing, died in hospital on September 16th, three days after he fell to the ground unconscious on his way to work. Perhaps this was caused by too much pressure. This cast quite an ill omen for the current crisis in East Asia.
In a certain sense, yes, this is another 9/11. Only this time the 9/11 is an attack on the Chinese, not Americans. But the pain and hatred are by no means less intense.
What could possibly have caused this unbelievable rivalry between these two countries? In my opinion, the answer lies in two factors: historical debt plus geopolitical competition.
Historically, Japan is the country that has caused the most damage and pain to China. Ever since the first Sino-Japanese War in 1894 the two countries have found themselves in a series of conflicts and wars. These culminated in the full-scale Japanese invasion in China in 1937 and the outbreak of the eight-year "Anti-Japanese War" (as part of the Second World War in Asia) until the capitulation of Japan in 1945. During the Second World War, millions of Chinese civilians lost their lives. When the Japanese Army occupied Nanjing in December 1937, they committed the notorious Nanjing Massacre, an atrocity the likes of which had never before been heard of in human history, by executing 300,000 Nanjing civilians in as little as six weeks. The whole city was turned into a hell after the massacre. According to statistics, during the Second World War, Japan caused 17 million civilian deaths, 18 million casualties and a total economic loss of more than US$600 billion in China.
After the war, theoretically and at least judging from the appearance, a demilitarized Japan with a peace constitution and under US control should have converted itself into a country of peace, just like Germany has. However, in reality, this is not what happened. One need only count the number of Japanese politicians' visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a notorious Japanese memorial site enshrining Japanese war criminals, to see the truth. What kind of fury would this fan into the hearts of ordinary Chinese? Perhaps no less than the fury Jewish people would feel if Germans were to line up to pay homage to Hitler openly in a state-funded memorial hall in Berlin.
In other words, the historical debt owed by Japan to the Chinese people has never been repaid and the karma exists. In this respect, Japan is very much unlike Germany. German Chancellor Brandt's act of kneeling before the Ghetto Heroes Monument in Warsaw symbolized Germany's courage to admit their war crimes and express the country's remorse over its past. For this, Germany has won the respect of the world. In comparison, Japan has not only denied its wartime atrocities such as the Nanjing Massacre but also has shamelessly depicted itself as the Liberator of Asia, asserting that the purpose of its wartime aggression was to liberate Asia from the yoke of barbaric Anglo-Saxon forces.
An Anglo-Saxon yoke? Perhaps not so much on other Asian countries as on Japan. This inevitably brings up another interesting topic for discussion, which happens to be the second factor leading to the current crisis, i.e., the geopolitics in the Asian Pacific. But before we move on to a detailed discussion of the geopolitics in East Asia today (which would inevitably involve the United States, the largest proxy of modern-day Anglo-Saxon forces), let's first do a historical review on the traditional role played by the Anglo-Saxon forces in shaping Imperialist Japan.
We cannot possibly proceed without mentioning two "glorious" names, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, two US presidents who played a remarkable role in shaping the Asian geopolitics in the early 20th century.
The most memorable legacy of Teddy Roosevelt, if viewed from today's perspective, is perhaps his "carrot and stick" strategy as an extension of the Monroe Doctrine. Disputed as it may be, this trick of Roosevelt did play its role in shaping the Far East geopolitics and keeping the delicate balance of power there in the early 20th century. For his contribution to meddling between Russia and Japan, Roosevelt was even awarded a Nobel Prize for Peace in 1906. Viewed from this perspective, it is no exaggeration to say that it was Roosevelt's dedication to peace, his balance of power strategy, his despise of weak nations and his pragmatic respect of power and spheres of influence that eventually lent prowess to the little Japanese wolf who later grew into a big wolf to snarl, some day in the future, at its one-time benefactor.
Taft inherited Roosevelt's pragmatic foreign policy to a great extent. This can be easily evidenced by the secret Taft-Tatsura Agreement signed between the US and Japan in 1905. On July 29th, 1905, Japan's Count Katsura met Secretary of War Taft (later president) to negotiate a resolution of the grievances between the two countries. Japan agreed to accept the US presence in Hawaii and the Philippines. In exchange, America agreed to give Japan a free hand in Korea. According to some Korean scholars, it was this treaty that later caused the Dokdo dispute between Korea and Japan.
Having reviewed how the US shaped Asian geopolitics historically, let's come back to the present-day geopolitics in East Asia. In my opinion, the geopolitical situation in East Asia today resembles in many ways that of the early 1900s, particularly in that several regional powers are competing to grab the regional leadership. As a result, the delicate balance of power in the region as a legacy of the Yalta System is at great stake. This situation inevitably gives the US many good excuses to meddle in Asian affairs, thereby profiting from others' infighting.
Take the Diaoyu Islands case, for example. It has been a well established and publicly recognized historical fact that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China, as has been recognized by almost every country in the world. Detailed historical records exist that show the islands became part of China in as early as 1562 during the Ming Dynasty (ca. 14-16th century). Before Japan seized the islands, even Japanese maps showed the islands as part of China. However, when WWII was over, despite the Chinese request to reclaim all the lost territories seized by Japan according to the Potsdam Proclamation, the US as the de facto controller of Diaoyu Islands after the War did not comply; instead, it chose to hand the administrative rights over the islands to Japan in 1972, thus sowing the seeds of today's territorial conflicts between China and Japan.
Absurd as the US decision in the 1970s might appear, it was, in fact, a rather clever strategy from the US point of view as it well served US strategic goals in the region. In other words, by playing the game of Diaoyu Islands and thereby placing a wedge between China and Japan, the US managed to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, through this move the US created a very good excuse for its continued military presence in Asia. If an armed conflict broke out between Japan and China, the US could use the conflict as an acceptable excuse for its continued military presence and meddling into Asian affairs. On the other hand, this move successfully generated distrust and hatred between China and Japan and caused the two countries to fight against each other, thereby consuming and weakening the power of both countries. Just as the Chinese proverb says, "When a snipe and a clam grapple, it is always the fisherman who profits." In our case, when China and Japan grapple, it is always the US who profits, just as it profited from the two world wars. What a clever but sinister plot!
However, justice has long arms. Those who play with fire are usually also those most likely to be burnt by fires. When Hillary Clinton left Beijing two weeks ago fruitless and disgraced, nobody would have foreseen East Asian geopolitics could experience such a rapid change in the following two weeks. Today, after a short visit to Tokyo, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will come to Beijing for a visit, possibly to talk Beijing into backing off. Whatever his purpose, let's hope that this time nobody's interests are sacrificed and the 1905 scene will not be staged once again.
Editor's note: This editorial offers a view of the developing situation in East Asia from the perspective of an individual with a deep, traditional Chinese cultural frame of reference. The Daily Bell looks forward to publishing future works from this author, whose name cannot be disclosed.