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From the comments section: Is China making a big mistake about Japan?

From the comments section: Is China making a big mistake about Japan?
Published 14 Aug 2014 

Featuring the best Disqus comments by Interpreter readers, as selected by the editors.

Responding to Hugh White's post on whether China is right to dismiss Japan as a future strategic rival, commenter Peter suggests a couple of problems with the premises underlying Hugh's argument: [fold]

Just because Japan is seeking to strengthen security ties with Australia and India for instance isn't necessarily a sign of a weakened alliance. First, the US for its part is very happy for Japan to shoulder a greater burden in East Asia. Japan spending more on ships, planes and tanks means that the US can spend less. Second, it is unrealistic to expect a "normal" country to depend solely on a single actor for its security. Australia also effectively enjoys a US security guarantee, but that doesn't stop it from pursuing defence cooperation with other actors in the region.

Additionally, it is not as though this behaviour is new. Japan previously made an attempt (under Shinzo Abe) to pursue new regional security arrangements, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue as far back as 2007. While this may have again been prompted by fears of a rising China, it predates the period of China's "new assertiveness". Since Hugh White was a leading advocate against this dialogue it is puzzling that he doesn't mention it in the context of his argument.

AaronJH argues that China's provocation of Japan is being driven by domestic concerns:

Take a glance at any newspaper from the mainland, or watch Xinwen Lianbo, and you can see how the state controlled media milks any conflict with Japan for all it is worth, driving nationalistic fervour. That nationalism is one of the key techniques used by the Party to deflect attention from its current problems. It's much better to have people rioting in the streets overturning Japanese cars than to be protesting against the corruption of local officials.

It seems every time there are domestic disturbances, the rhetoric against Japan ratchets up dramatically. It was no coincidence that during the controversy around Bo Xilai, Japanese car dealerships had to close their doors, and Japanese restaurants shut down due to the rhetoric reaching fever pitch.

Maybe there is no over-arching strategy. Conflict over the Diaoyu Islands, and conflict with Japan in general plays well at home, and that is enough to justify the assertive tactics.

On the other hand, the conflict over the South China Sea is definitely part of the broader "New Silk Road" strategy of securing critical marine transit routes through the South China Sea, and road transport routes through Central Asia. However, the Diaoyu island dispute seems more geared around domestic concerns. If not primarily, then definitely as a major secondary motivation.

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