I don’t normally post on Sundays, but this is important enough I feel I need to.
In case you can’t tell from the sheer number of posts about China, I am not a fan of the People’s Imperial Republic of Tyranny and the people in Beijing who run it. Their recent moves in the South China Sea to claim islands they once avowed, as well as designs on Philippines and Vietnamese territorial and EEZ waters has caused a shift in alignment towards Japan and away from the PRC.
Now, after the meeting in Davos, the tensions are on the upswing.
China and Japan’s war of words reveals a larger struggle for regional influence akin to a mini Cold War. Last week’s tempestuous pissing contest in Davos, which The FT’s Gideon Rachman notes, left people with the belief that “this is not a situation that is getting better; it is getting worse.” Following Abe’s analogies to WWI, China’s Yi compared Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine to Merkel visiting the graves of Nazi war criminals and as the rhetoric grows the US has asked for reassurance from Abe that he will not do it again. So we have two countries, each building up their militaries while insisting they must do so to counter the threat of their regional rival. Added to this, a deep distrust of each other’s different political systems coupled with a history of animosity makes the two nations deeply suspicious of each other. Each country insists it loves peace, and uses scare tactics to try to paint its opponent as a hawkish boogeyman. Sound familiar to anyone else?
Lately, it seems that Japanese officials can’t sneeze without incurring the wrath of the Chinese — and vice versa. So it’s no surprise that even conciliatory statements from Shinzo Abe have been soundly rebuffed. On Thursday, Abe wrote a message, published in local Chinese-language papers, conveying greetings for the lunar new year. According to Reuters’ translation of the Japanese-language version, Abe insisted that Japan has “taken the path of peace” since World War II, and “nothing has been changed in the policy of continuing to uphold this position.”
Friday, Abe further extended the olive branch. According to Channel NewsAsia, Abe told a parliamentary session that “Japan and China are inseparable.” He also expressed his desire for the two countries to restart diplomatic meetings. “Instead of refusing to hold dialogue unless issues become resolved, we should hold talks because we have issues,” Abe said.
China flatly rejected these overtures. Responding to earlier requests for a bilateral dialogue, Qin Gang responded with bitter sarcasm: “Such kind of dialogue will be of no effect. Chinese leaders are very busy. Let them spend more time on things useful and effective.” China has repeatedly expressed its position that no diplomatic meetings between China and Japan can be held until Shinzo Abe proves his sincerity. During Friday’s press conference, Qin Gang laid down a specific path for restarting dialogue: Abe should declare that “I will pull back from the precipice, immediately admit and correct mistakes and make no more visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.”
And with rumors of a bank run in China, the situation will likely get worse. The government in Beijing is already losing popularity and legitimacy, so expect some increased saber rattling at the very least.