An islet straining China and Japan

Maswood Alam Khan
ONE thing leads to another. Tensions between neighbours flare up at the slightest provocation mostly on a trivial issue sparking first a regional conflict leading ultimately to a World War. Such is the history of the First World War and the Second World War.

The explosives that had blasted during the First World War had been long in the stockpiling. But the spark that detonated the first explosive of the First World War was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914.

A six-year long Second World War was brewing up when Adolf Hitler was planning to grab more land, especially in the east, to expand Germany according to the Nazi policy of lebensraum. But the spark of the Second World War was ignited on the night of August 31, 1939, when Nazis took an unknown prisoner from one of their concentration camps, dressed him in a Polish uniform, took him to the town of Gleiwitz (on the border of Poland and Germany), and then shot him. The staged scene with the dead prisoner dressed in a Polish uniform was made to appear as a Polish attack against a German radio station. Hitler used the staged attack as the excuse to invade Poland that started the full-scale World War II.

With bitter and horrific experiences of the two World Wars all nations and superpowers are extraordinarily circumspect in dealing with tussles among rivals to make sure that a small conflict does not flare into a global conflagration leading to a World War because a Third World War this time must result in “Mutual Assured Destruction”, a doctrine known by its most suitable acronym MAD. “Mutual Assured Destruction” is a policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two opposing sides would effectively result in the destruction of both the attacker and the defender.

The necessity of a conventional World War however seems to have been obviated by a new strategy that contains a regional war from being flared into a World War but serves the purpose of a World War—the purpose of selling arms and ammunitions, flexing muscles of power and establishing economic and military supremacy. Such wars, sometimes in the name of peacekeeping, sometimes for ensuring energy security and at times on the pretext of ousting a terrorist, are continually being waged here and there at different strategic locations in the world—the latest one being in Iraq for fear of Saddam Hussein possessing ‘weapons of mass destructions’ (WMD) and the ongoing one in Afghanistan for vanishing Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader, though both the fear of Saddam possessing WMD or the trace of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan have been proven dismally false.

America is still “Number One” superpower in the world—both militarily and economically. China is also one of the superpowers in terms of military and economic strength though the country still claims itself as a developing country considering a low per capita income on the law of average for its 1.3 billion people.

After their defeat in the Second World War Japan is no more a military power but till the other day it was the second economic superpower before the country was humbled by China which is now the second strongest economy in the world and is poised to become “Number One” in a matter of years.

Anti-Japanese sentiment in China is historically very old and still raw. A defeat of Japan at the hands of China in the economic front must have bolstered the Chinese who had suffered many military defeats at the hands of Japan and the defeat must have humiliated Japan which used to boast about many of their miracles that reshaped the behavior and strategy of modern global business.

Now a new dispute has cropped up which may re-ignite anti-Japanese sentiment in China and which may turn out to be an ominous spark to ignite explosives that have been stockpiled in the minds of the Chinese since their military defeat at the hands of the Japanese about eighty years back.

A row between China and Japan erupted since September 7th, when the Japanese authorities arrested the crew of a Chinese fishing boat which Japan claimed had rammed into one or two Japanese patrol boats that were attempting to shoo the fishing vessel away. The row has become emotive in China as Japanese authorities detained the fishing boat’s captain though the rest of the crew was released.

The row would not have been so serious had the ramming not taken place near an islet Japan named Senkaku and China Diaoyu—an uninhabitable islet that both countries claim as their own and regard as important not only as a marker for their wider territorial claims but also for its mining potentials as the small mass of land is perched on the oil-rich East China Sea.

It is not yet clear why and how the ramming took place and why Japan has still been detaining the captain of the fishing vessel in spite of China’s repeated calls for his release.

Was the ramming a deliberate attempt by a Chinese citizen to flaunt his country’s newly achieved status of second economic superpower? Was the detention of the captain of the fishing vessel a semblance of revenge Japan took to assuage pains of their recent defeat at the hands of China in the economic race? Was the captain of the fishing vessel drunk? Or, was the whole incident something called “staged”?

China has suspended all bilateral talks with Japan. Japan however has called for calm in the wake of China’s apparent decision to suspend top-level ties. The incident has also sparked resentment among the Chinese public, which still has strong feelings about atrocities committed by Japanese forces when they occupied swathes of China before and during the Second World War. Demonstrations in Beijing, diatribes on the internet and fulminations in some Chinese newspapers over the incident with anti-Japan chants, talks and banners mysteriously coincided with a politically sensitive anniversary of an incident occurred about eighty years back on September 18.

It was on 18 September in 1931 when an incident called “Mukden Incident” took place that led to the Japanese occupation of China’s northeast and eventually the invasion and conquest of much of China. The “Mukden Incident” was an early event in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Somewhat similar to 9/11 attack in 2001 in New York, on 9/18 in 1931, near Mukden (now Shenyang) in southern Manchuria, a section of railroad owned by Japan’s South Manchuria Railway was dynamited as an act of sabotage. While the responsibility for this act of sabotage remains a subject of controversy, the prevailing view is that Japanese militarists staged the explosion in order to provide a pretext for war.

One thing leads to another. If the new row between China and Japan is allowed to simmer for long a war in the pacific, if not a war engulfing the whole world, may be in the offing—this time China showing its muscle to Japan the way America showed its muscle to Iraq.



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