Against this political backdrop, the national outrage against Japan, involving attacks on Japanese businesses and establishments in China, is a useful distraction and mobilization technique. The CCP is always mindful of keeping popular demonstrations under close watch because nationalism is a beast that might take an unwelcome turn, even turning on the party for all sorts of reasons. However, these protests are useful to distract from the country’s slowing economic growth, internal political wrangling from the Bo affair and the leadership transition.
Whatever might be China’s internal political imperatives, the external ramifications of increased regional tensions are quite worrying.
Japan has its own ultra-nationalists, like Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who wanted to buy the islands from their Japanese owner, thus forcing the national government to pre-empt him with its purchase.
Indeed, Japan’s centrist ruling Democratic Party of Japan looks like it will lose the next election to a right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party that has just elected former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, a fervent nationalist, as its president. With Abe as prime minister, tensions between the countries would likely rise further.
While this is essentially an issue between China, Taiwan and Japan, any military conflict between them is likely to involve the US on behalf of its ally, Japan. US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has visited both Tokyo and Beijing, emphasizing the need for both countries to sort out the islands issue peacefully, lest it develop into a military conflict that could involve the US.
CCP mouthpiece the People’s Daily said that Beijing might take punitive economic measures against Japan if it did not back off.
Highlighting Japan’s economic paralysis over the past two decades, further compounded by the global financial crisis, the newspaper said: “Japan’s economy lacks immunity to Chinese economic measures,” while admitting that would be a “double-edged sword” for China because the two countries’ economies are interdependent in many ways.
“Amidst a struggle that touches on territorial sovereignty, if Japan continues its provocations China will inevitably take on the fight,” it added.
And it does not take long for economic warfare to develop into military conflict.
Sushil Seth is a commentator in Australia.