Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Who’s Winning the Battle of the Pinnacle Islands?

The Chinese, that’s who; GC must be peeing in his pants with joy.

The battleground:
Chinese vessels from the oceanic and fishing authorities are now rotating in and out of the contiguous waters of Diaoyudao and even spending a little quality time in the territorial waters while the Japanese Coast Guard do little to protect the Senkaku Islands but complain.

The optics:
The shutdown of public exchanges has come totally from the Chinese side. The Noda administration dispatches its MOFA administrative vice minister to consult with his Chinese counterpart…in Beijing! How lame is that? MOFAs aren’t the deciders, and the Chinese MOFA is even less of one, with the CCP breathing down its neck. In fact, I strongly suspect that relying on diplomatic channels for communications was what got everyone into this mess in the first place. The Japanese authorities completely failed to anticipate the Chinese blowback when they went and consummated the Senkaku purchase and were caught without even a Plan B. how likely is it that the Japanese side

The narrative:
China has managed to frame its offensive against the background of the devastations wrought by the colonial powers, whilethe 19th century geopolitical jockeying between two regional powers, one fading, the other in ascendance, that led most famously to the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) remains mostly stuck in the domestic consumption-only pages of Japanese nationalist publications.

Why? No pain, no gain, but Japan feels it more strongly. It hasn’t quite stopped playing touch football since August 15, 1945, but full-contact China, after a massive growth spurt, isn’t obliging any more. More substantively, high-profile brands are softer, more visible targets; it’s easy to overlook that Toyota has local 50-50 JV partners, and Chinese employees and suppliers. At the other end, Chinese exports show up behind third-country brands, in the country-of-origin fine print. There is no Hanryu, no AKB48, other than the occasional cineaste offering (and my beloved wushu serials, but that’s an acquired taste), with broad cultural acceptance.

Where do we go from here? I’m not making any predictions on the outcome of the battle, other than that hostilities will subside, sometime, somehow. But damage, enduring, has been done to the bilateral relationship and the war will go on, war by other means mostly, if maybe, just maybe, not exclusively.


Anonymous said...

who's winning? if you ask me, i would say the Rice Country.

Jun Okumura said...


China is rice to the south, wheat to the north. Either way, it wins.

Seriously, it depends very much on how you keep score. They certainly gained “ground” on the islands, and the economic setback will be somewhat harder to replace on the Japanese side. But long-term, Japanese businesses will not be the only foreign investors that will be more wary of eh political risk in China. More important, everyone saw the potential for enormous social instability in China under its current political system. That’s an even larger political risk to consider going forward. Whatever the shortcomings of Japan, instability is not one of them. If anything, crisis breeds social coherence in the immediate instance.