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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 16-Apr-05
Chinese rage at Japan grows, as does fear of uncontrolled rioting

Web Log - April, 2005

Chinese rage at Japan grows, as does fear of uncontrolled rioting

Chinese Internet boards are calling for renewed anti-Japanese riots this weekend.

The new riots would follow last weekend's massive riots, where 20,000 Chinese threw rocks and bottles at the Japanese embassy and at Japanese businesses in other cities.

Map of East China Sea and disputed region <font size=-2>(Source: BBC)</font>
Map of East China Sea and disputed region (Source: BBC)

The Chinese were further enraged this week when Japan began allocating gas exploration rights in an area of the East China Sea also claimed by China.

But this is only the latest in what the Chinese see as provocations fueled by Japanese nationalism and an unwillingness to face up to its historical crimes. (However, one commentator recently made the point that the Chinese also refuse to face up to their history, especially the genocidal Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s, which killed tens of millions of people.)

In return, Japan accused China of ignoring anti-Japanese violence in China, by "implying that the responsibility lies with the Japanese side and not with the Chinese side. ... Such violent acts, however, cannot be justified for any reason whatsoever in the international community today."

This dispute may have torpedoed Japan's bid to convince the world to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made extremely strong anti-Japanese remarks during a visit to India, referring to the Security Council issue: "The core issue in China-Japan relations is that Japan needs to face up to history squarely. ... Only a country that respects history, takes responsibility for past history and wins over the trust of people in Asia and the world at large can take greater responsibility in the international community."

Asian nations are lining up on both sides of this issue.

North Korea called Japan "a vulgar and shameless political dwarf," protesting new Japanese school textbooks that appear to gloss over Japan's actions in World War II. They added, "This is a grave insult to the people of Korea and the rest of Asia who suffered all sorts of misfortune and pain due to Japanese imperialists." South Koreans have also expressed outrage over the textbook.

On the other hand, Japan and Taiwan appear to be forming an anti-China alliance. This will only provoke China further.

Chinese protests carry a risk - to China

However, starting a couple of days ago, the Chinese government has started to discourage the rioting, and has ordered leaders of last weekend's protests to stay at home. China is also clamping down on Internet message traffic that encourages further rioting. (China is the most sophisticated country in the world in controlling the Internet, according to a study and report from the OpenNet Initiative.)

The reason is that China is afraid that the rioting will spiral out of control and turn against the Chinese government itself. Large mass riots have been occurring throughout the country in recent months, and as I wrote in January, China appears to be close to civil war. Such a civil war might be triggered by any sort of financial crisis that throws many of its 150 million itinerant workers out of employment.

"The basic policy of our government has been to be conciliatory to Japan and the rest of the world," says Pan Wei, a political theorist at Beijing University. "But that policy has become less viable today, when people are demanding a harder line."

We'll have to see whether China's "conciliatory" attempts bear fruit this weekend.

What is happening is that the level of conflict in the region -- Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan -- is increasing every day. There may well be war in the region in the next 12 months.

Why such a dire forecast?

A couple of readers have asked me why my forecasts for the North Pacific region seem more dire than forecasts for other regions.

Last year, when I wrote about the six most dangerous regions of the world, I felt that the Caucasus (southern Russia) region was the most dangerous, because of the 10-year-old Chechen war and a long series of bloody terrorist events, culminating in the Beslan school massacre. I also felt that the Caucasus was the most dangerous because it's farthest into a "generational crisis" period, with Russia itself on the World War I timeline (while other regions are on the World War II timeline).

However, Putin has been increasingly conciliatory for the last few months, backing off from putting pressure on Ukraine and Georgia, for example.

The Mideast entered a conciliatory period, with the election of Mahmoud Abbas in Palestine, although the good will is quickly fraying at the edges.

But nothing like that has happened in the North Pacific. The one major conciliatory act in the last few months was the "five noes" speech by Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, in which he pledged no declaration of Taiwan independence, no incorporation of "two states" into its constitution, no change of the so-called country's name and no referendum on Taiwan independence.

However, that one act of conciliation turned to fury and massive anti-Chinese Taiwan public demonstrations, the largest in history, after China responded by passing its Anti-Secession law, making it legal for China to invade Taiwan.

The point is that other regions bounce back and forth between confrontation and conciliation, but the North Pacific doesn't. North Korea and China are clearly mobilizing for war, and almost every day brings a fresh spiking of the level of confrontation.

It's quite possible that North Korea or China will pursue a preemptive war over reunification with South Korea and Taiwan, respectively. But even if there is no preemptive war, there's still the possibility of overreaction or miscalculation.

For example, this dispute of gas rights in the East China Sea could lead to a small armed skirmish between Chinese and Japanese patrols in the islands themselves, and that could quickly escalate to a much larger conflict.

Most of the time, Japan and China would back down from such a confrontation; but in a generational crisis period, they'll look for reasons to confront and escalate rather than to compromise and contain problems.

That's why anything from a financial setback to a mild skirmish can lead to war. And in the mood these countries are in, that could happen at any time. (16-Apr-05) Permanent Link
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