Angry people are easy to manipulate. Politicians, governments, media and gangsters know this and use it to whip people up into mobs, sometimes leading to organized violence or armed government action in the service of ulterior motives often unknown to the angry people at the grassroots level.
Quite often, the trigger for mob violence is something that many people hold dear, like respect for one’s religion; something they would fight to protect.
In the case of the current Middle East crisis, sparked by an offensive video that portrayed the prophet Mohammed in a negative light, it is quite easy for Muslims to become angry, even to the point of justifying violence against Americans for insulting their most cherished beliefs. It is clear that unscrupulous gangster-politicians and extremists are using this anger to achieve their own ends, directing attacks against their US enemies in the name of revenge for this video.
In the East China Sea, a similar game is taking place with the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) issue. People in Taiwan, Japan and China are emotionally invested in protecting the sovereignty of their countries. Few under the influence of nationalism can stand by idly if they believe their countries have been insulted.
Unscrupulous politicians on all sides of the Diao- yutais issue are using this emotional catalyst to whip up nationalism to a fever pitch, equating the Diaoyutais and their loss with national disgrace. It is a dangerous game, and Taiwanese would be wise to avoid falling victim to.
In Taiwan, the most likely politician to be using the Diaoyutais issue to his own advantage is President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who would like very much for reporters to stop asking questions about the corruption scandal involving disgraced former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-hsih (林益世), who allegedly solicited millions of dollars in bribes. Because Lin was a member of Ma’s inner circle, his downfall looks very bad for the Ma administration, and hence this territorial row could not have come at a better time.
Across the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese Communist Party is in the midst of a major political reshuffle, with the downfall of a rising political star, former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai (薄熙來), and the two-week disappearance from the public eye of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) likely successor, Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), hinting at the possibility of a succession crisis within the secretive leadership. A territorial row with World War II bad guys Japan, painted as the archenemy for decades in popular Chinese media, is just the thing to whip up the emotional masses, already weary from a shaky economy, in support of the government.
In Japan, which already controls the Diaoyutais, or as it calls them, the Senkaku Islands, politicians in the past acted pragmatically on the issue to avoid insulting their neighbors. However, with China acting belligerently based on narrow political issues, and Taiwan backing Beijing up because Ma would like to see the spotlight taken off his corrupt sidekick, Japanese ultra-right nationalists are now successfully maneuvering their nation into a belligerent stance, with growing public support.
There is a small group of people in Taiwan, in China and in Japan using the Diaoyutais issue for ulterior gains. If people give in to emotional nationalism over this issue, these players will get what they want, while those that pay the price will be the public at large, not the politicians.