The Law of Unintended Consequences has been operative once again, this time in the intense Japanese reaction to several weeks of Chinese demonstrations against Japan, some of them violent. In a word, the eruption in China has backfired in Japan.
Ten days of conversations with Japanese government officials, diplomats, business executives, military officers, academics, journalists and private citizens in Tokyo and Kyoto have turned up a deep-seated anger against China that is likely to be long-lasting.
Moreover, many Japanese have added a disdain for South Korea due to what they see as Seoul's echo of China's anti-Japanese posture, always an easy position for Koreans to take because of Japan's 35-year occupation of Korea that ended in 1945.
"They have gone over to the Chinese side," a Japanese diplomat said with a wave of his hand.
For the US, the antagonism between China and South Korea on one side and Japan on the other has confronted the Bush administration with a dangerous dispute that could corrode the US' power in East Asia if the antagonism gets much worse.
So far, the administration, consumed with the war in Iraq, seems to have ignored the issue even though the US has security treaties with Japan and South Korea and has been seeking working relations with China to cope with North Korea's nuclear ambitions and to assist in the war on terror.
The China question is pervasive in Japan. The press and television news have been filled with discussions of how Japan should respond. Popular weekly news magazines have carried a flock of special reports and almost every conversation, no matter how casual, quickly turns to China's anti-Japanese stance.
Even a sushi chef in Kyoto got into an animated discussion late one evening after most of his customers had left.
"The anti-Japanese uprising in China," he said, "does not serve the interests of either China or South Korea or Japan."
Many Japanese think they can do nothing to persuade the Chinese and Koreans to relent. They point to 18 or 20 apologies for World War II, including the recent one by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and to US$30 billion in economic aid that has helped to build China's industrial infrastructure. Japan has extended similar aid to South Korea, but has failed to get credit for it in either case. Now the Japanese seem to have given up.
"No matter what we do, the Chinese and Koreans will always demand more," is a common refrain.
One diplomat said: "The Chinese and Koreans have been educating their people for more than a generation to hate Japan. It will take another generation to undo that."
The demonstrations, including rock-throwing assaults on Japan's embassy in Beijing, were evidently intended to intimidate Japan into diplomatic submission. Instead, the Japanese have become defiant.
"Among my friends, the general feeling is `enough is enough,'" a musician said.
Chinese protesters last month and early this month carried scores of placards demanding that Japanese reflect on their country's invasion of China during World War II. Instead, the Japanese asserted that the Chinese themselves were guilty of millions of deaths during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s.
The protests, encouraged by the Chinese government, were intended to force Japan to give up its campaign to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Instead, Japan is seeking international support. India, Germany, Brazil and Japan have jointly asked to enter the Security Council, which complicates China's opposition. The Chinese rallies, during which the police did not intervene, were intended to drive a wedge between Japan and the US. Instead, said another Japanese diplomat: "We must do everything we can to strengthen our alliance with the United States."
The Chinese intended to dissuade Japan from building up its armed forces and becoming a "normal nation." Instead, they have accelerated moves to revise the famed Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, the "no-war clause" that forbids Japan from using military power.
China intended to dampen speculation that Japan, alarmed by North Korea's nuclear ambitions, might go nuclear.
"I don't believe we should have nuclear arms," a scholar said, "but we should consider it."
Some Japanese said the way to prevent Japan from acquiring nuclear arms would be for the US to reiterate its commitment to Japan's defense, including an explicit pledge to retaliate if Japan were to be attacked with a nuclear weapon. To be effective, said a strategic thinker, such a pledge should come from US President George W. Bush.
Richard Halloran is a writer based in Hawaii.
There are few coincidences in the world of foreign diplomacy. Two days after a Japanese government donation of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Taiwan on Friday last week, a US delegation led by US senators Tammy Duckworth, Dan Sullivan and Chris Coons touched down at Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) in a US military transport aircraft, which flew in from Osan Air Base in South Korea. The cross-party delegation of US senators announced that Washington would donate 750,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Taiwan in the first wave of the US Foreign Vaccine Sharing Program. Japan and the US’ vaccine donations are
Over the past year, scores of gargantuan Chinese sand dredgers have deployed themselves in territorial waters off the Taiwanese-administered Matsu Islands, where their activities erode beaches and ruin fishing shoals. These Chinese ships are mercenary; a small 5,000 ton ship could sell a load of sand for the equivalent of US$55,000 to Fujian construction firms — or to the People’s Liberation Army for use in building its artificial reefs in the South China Sea. They also frustrate Taiwan’s government, which tries unsuccessfully to cooperate with Beijing on environmental stewardship of their contiguous waters. Each day, Taiwanese Coast Guard vessels can
On Monday last week, a formation of 16 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) warplanes flew over the South China Sea near Malaysian Borneo and intruded into the airspace of Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone. Although it was not the first incursion into Malaysian airspace by Chinese military aircraft, it was the first time such a large formation had been dispatched by China. It was yet another worrying indication that Beijing senses an opportunity to aggressively shape the post-COVID-19 world in its own image and has stepped up its plans to expand the frontiers of its empire well beyond the limits of its