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Sunday, April 17, 2005

The whales size each other up

Tensions between China and Japan seem to continue rumbling along over textbooks, gas exploration rights and so on, but it is clear that the underlying issue is the shape of Northeast Asian geopolitics in the coming decades. One indication of how important this story is being seen around the world is the fact that it has been the top story on BBC News Online all weekend. I've been meaning to translate at least some of Kim Yong-uk's excellent analysis of Japan's current manoeuvering in the latest issue of Ta Hamkke but haven't had time yet. In the meantime, there's a very interesting piece in Asia Times Online, which places the Chinese government very firmly behind the current anti-Japanese protests in Shenzhen, Shanghai and elsewhere.

Besides giving some evidence on how the government has backed and manipulated the protests, the author puts forward some possible reasons for 'why and why now?':
To be systematic about it, there seem to be three possibilities: 1) the government wants to divert attention from pressing domestic problems; 2) Communist Party factional issues are fought out in a strange arena; 3) Beijing wants leverage to stoke up nationalist fervor for international gain.
He concludes, correctly I think, that both nationalist distraction from domestic issues and international leverage are playing a role. There is no doubt that China is beginning to assert itself as a regional (and potentially global) economic and geo-political power. Of course, this does not mean that the anger many ordinary Chinese people are expressing does not have rational grounds (in history and present developments related to Japan) or that this anger that is being manipulated by the Chinese government is not genuine.

As the whales start what looks like a long and titanic battle, it is no wonder that the shrimp is groping desperately for some new policy that can miraculously 'balance' the demands of bitterly opposed competing powers.


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