Asia Time Online - Daily News
Asia Times Chinese
AT Chinese

     Oct 5, 2010

China signals V for victory
By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO - The flare-up between China and Japan over the arrest and dramatic release of a Chinese fishing-boat captain detained near disputed islands in the East China Sea symbolizes the rise and fall of Asia's two most powerful countries.

Chinese fishing boat captain Zhan Qixiong, 41, arrived at an airport in Fuzhou City of Fujian province, his birthplace, on September 25, and descended the stairs of a Chinese government-chartered airplane with both hands raised in the air making V signs. He became a national hero in the Chinese media, and his release was lauded as a significant victory for Chinese diplomacy as Japan bowed to Beijing's relentless demands to end his detention.

Beijing frightened Tokyo into submission via a de facto ban


imposed by China, according to Japan - and denied by Beijing - on the export of rare-earths, metals essential to numerous industrial processes and whose supply is at present largely in Chinese control. China's tourism authorities discouraged Chinese citizens from traveling to Japan. China was, in a sense, successful in appealing to the international community the fact that there is a territorial dispute between the two nations, while Japan claimed there is no territorial dispute over the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

The incident and its conclusion touched off a fierce political firestorm in Tokyo, with the media and opposition hammering and accusing Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his administration's handling of the incident as ''weak-kneed'' and a display of ''cowardice''. The politically damaged Kan is highly likely to struggle to clear through the legislature its 4.8 trillion yen (US$57 billion) supplementary budget, which to spur the deflation-driven, sluggish economy. The government is expected to compile its proposals for the budget this week.

Reflecting increased tensions between the two nations, more than 10 vehicles of Japanese right-wing campaigners surrounded a line of motorcoachs carrying about 1,300 Chinese tourists in Fukuoka City on September 29. No one was injured, the Japanese media reported.

Japan's mistakes
Japan seems to have made a couple of mistakes in dealing with the Chinese fishing boat, which Tokyo claims had illegally entered Japanese territorial waters and crashed with Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels near the Senkaku Islands on September 7.

It's first mistake was in how it dealt with the fishing boat captain. Japan could have deported him to China immediately without judiciary proceedings. Tokyo has a precedent in the recent past. Junichiro Koizumi, a former prime minister, deported seven Chinese activists, who landed on Uotsuri Jima in the Senkaku Islands.

The Kan administration did eventually release the captain, but in a half-hearted manner. It should have released him much earlier before having to succumb to pressure from Beijing. Contrast this with when Koizumi was in power. As prime minister, Koizumi was hawkish enough to provoke fierce protests from Japan's neighbors, particularly China, by regularly visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine memorializing the war dead (including Class A war criminals such as Hideki Tojo), but he also was well aware of how severely Sino-Japanese relations would deteriorate further without the forced repatriation of seven men.

Japan's second mistake was in not immediately releasing the video of when the Japan Coast Guard patrol arrested the captain. Although little known among domestic and foreign observers, in June 2008 Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels and a Taiwanese leisure fishing boat collided with each other near the Senkaku Islands. At first, the coast guard claimed the Taiwanese boat bumped into the Japanese patrol ship. Later, because one Taiwanese fisherman aboard happened to shoot the scene in which the coast guard could be seen bumping the other vessel, the Japanese government was forced to pay about NT$10 million (US$311,000) as compensation.

From the start of the more recent incident, Japan should have released the video in order to justify its own claim as soon as possible, not least before four employees of a Japanese construction company, Fujita Corp, were held in China on September 20 for allegedly entering a military zone without permission and videotaping facilities there. The Japanese government is now reluctant to release the Japan Coast Guard's video as this could whip up anti-Japanese feeling in China at a time that one Fujita employee is still being held in Chinese custody.

The story is far from over
Although Chinese media has raved about the Chinese diplomatic victory, the story is far from over. Other nations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and South Korea as well as the United States and European nations are beginning to voice concerns about the perceived Chinese "threat" - vehemently denied by Beijing. By looking at Beijing's strong-handed diplomacy against Tokyo, they have become very cautious about China's recent aggressive diplomacy and military activities to expand its ocean interests at a time when the economic powerhouse already exceeds Japan as the world's second-largest economy.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all claim sovereignty over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, yet another potential tinder box in the region. South Korea is also conscious of Beijing's intentional display of its diplomatic and economic power. JoongAng Ilbo, one of South Korea's major newspaper wrote on September 25:
China has been eyeing the territorial right over Leo Island in the Yellow Sea, which South Korea claims is its territory, and the Exclusive Economic Zone could become the next hot potato. The Leo Island dispute and the economic zone are the reasons why Korea cannot sit back and watch the discord between China and Japan comfortably.

We need to have firm determination to proudly defend Korea's national interests, using all possible and available means and measures.
The South China Morning Post has also pointed out that China is taking a harder stance than before. ''First there was Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang, and then the South China Sea. Now the Diaoyu Islands have become the latest addition to China's 'core interests' when it comes to territorial integrity,'' the Hong Kong newspaper reported on October 2.

Western companies are beginning to dislike the ''China Risk'', as Beijing can easily block the export of rare earth minerals that industries throughout the world need, leading companies to suffer since China accounts for more than 90% of the global production of such minerals.

Middle Kingdom
Chinese characters also show the potential for stability and instability that has persisted in Asia historically. In Chinese characters commonly used in East Asia, China means "central nation" or "middle kingdom". The characters imply that the Chinese empire is the center of the world and that other nations are tributary states. That situation for neighboring states was long true until the middle of the 19th century, when the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China, suffered under foreign aggression and occupation.

From the standpoint of China, the late 19th and 20th centuries were exceptional times, with what Chinese call "small Japan” beating and invading the middle kingdom and reigning as the No 1 nation in the region. The 21st century may well be high time for China to recover ''lost territories''.

Japan, meanwhile, experienced great changes during and after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when the emperor proclaimed a cultural awakening to "catch up" with Western nations. Two victories against China in the Japanese-Sino War, 1894-1895, and against Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, 1905, made Japan a world power. The main character on the Asian stage thus changed rapidly in the early 21th century.

In a sense, Asia is in the process of normalization, with China coming back as the Asian hegemon after a century and a half. But at the same time, the world is in a process of "abnormalization", with the global economy's center of gravity shifting from the West to the East, led by China's rising economic and corresponding political power.

The world needs to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder among the international community, not to become a big nation that bullies neighboring countries.

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based journalist.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Japan poured oil on troubled waters
(Oct 2, '10)

Unbowed China wobbles in diplomatic test (Sep 30, '10)



All material on this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form without written permission.
© Copyright 1999 - 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings), Ltd.
Head Office: Unit B, 16/F, Li Dong Building, No. 9 Li Yuen Street East, Central, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110