Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rambling about Senkaku

While we wait to see just how the release of the Chinese captain in the Senkaku dispute plays out in domestic politics, it interesting to read the readers' comments* on US news reports on the subject. I have noticed this pattern since the problem began---lots of folks with your typical American name like "Johnson" from Nebraska who show an unusual grasp of the history---generally backing China's views or more extreme---supporting China in this argument. Those comments which support China seem to get "recommended" much more than others no matter how extreme or absurd they are.

I am impressed. I never dreamed that your average American was so interested in East Asia, not even the Asian-Americans who live there.

Somewhere over the past week I read about the power of nationalist bloggers and their ability to pressure the Chinese government. Wonder if some of those folk speak and write English well enough to post all over the Internet. (Answer: Yes)

We can hope that China overplayed it this time, by showing how far they are willing to push, and how much they are willing to go outside of what much of the world would consider a reasonable reaction.

In June, PBS News Hour produced a report on the growing dependency of the US on Chinese production of rare earths and how a few companies were trying to get government assistance in reopening some of the mines which had been closed earlier due to environmental concerns** and low-priced Chinese competition. Maybe China's cute little ploy of threatening to cut off? (or to have actually cut off?) rare earth shipments to Japan will give those efforts a much needed boost. If the US continues being distracted by such things as whether or not masturbation is a sin, then it will have to worry about a China that now produce 95% of the world's supply and obviously has little hesitation about using that for leverage.

Methinks (along with many, many others) that China is at least a temporary loser, exactly because it did play the unreasonable bully so well. Obama spoke of the importance of the US-Japan alliance in a way which was obviously a warning---or at least a strong hint to China---and Sec of State Clinton assured Foreign Minister Maehara that the Senkaku Islands were included in the US treaty obligations. And then we even had Obama bring up the continuing problems with the renminbi with the Chinese prime minister. Any plans by China to exploit a DPJ/Futenma rift in US-Japan relations certainly fell flat.

Unfortunately, China does not yet view things that way as it continues to force the issue by demanding an apology and compensation from Japan.

Of course I am biased, and I have no idea how things will play out. I do have an idea, however, that although there may have been a number of very good reasons for Japan to have let the captain go, that the DPJ is going to (already is) be seen as giving in to China. Maybe I just hang out with a strange group of people, but I can almost guarantee to a person that they will view it as caving in to China. The Oz Lady will gain more evidence for her theories about the naturalized citizens Kan & Ozawa as handing the country over to China. A few other fellows will view it as a failure to show the world Japan's "will" without regard to potential consequences.

*Not all of these NYT comments are, of course. But a read through them should reveal plenty.

**Rare earth mining is reported to be a huge environmental problem in China too.

Edited: 6:20PM

blogger spell check does not recognize the words: bloggers, renminbi.


  1. Anonymous10:22 PM

    My group of friends seems mixed - some have suggested that they can never forgive the DPJ for the shame they have brought on the nation (as if this was the worst "cave" that Japan has had!), while others are happy that the issue is all over. My thoughtful Japanese friends, as always, kept their opinions to themselves.

    To be sure, I can see how many would, not unreasonably, see it as a cave - and I myself certainly think the DPJ played it strangely in the end. I thought they were doing an excellent job, and then relented at a very strange time and with a very odd explanation from a supposedly independent judicial body. I would be dissatisfied, and I am certainly not a nationalist of any colour.

    Nevertheless, the real story is confirmation of what many China experts have suspected and argued for a while - to understand Chinese foreign policy you have to understand more groups and more styles of thought than before - and to make policy in response to that, you can't just analyse CCP internal politics. Japan in particular should be most concerned about this aspect. Perhaps the one saving grace is that it probably will allow Wen and Hu to claim victory for the moderates ahead of the 2012 party elections - which ironically could allow broader societal wide reform (Wen himself made a very "peculiar" speech recently) which will hopefully (emphasis on hope) allow for the frustration pressure valve in China to be released in much smaller increments...

  2. I need more thoughtful friends. I am curious to hear what one civil servant I know thinks of it.

    I think the fact that the government did seem to be doing well, then suddenly changing course raises suspicions of a cave.

  3. Anonymous12:24 AM

    Progressive media sources like the New York Times don't really reflect most Americans' opinion. Most Americans have always had a negative view of China and the incident has either reinforced it or haven't changed it. I have read several comments that say they are displeased that Japan let the captain go.

  4. Jeffrey12:45 AM

    In response to Anonymous' comment, the NYT is not a "progressive" media source. Going clear back to the 1990s, they banged the drum long and loud for Clinton's impeachment and then let Judy Miller run unsubstantiated stories about WMD in Iraq, helping sway public opinion in favor of the war. In any case, most Americans don't read the NYT anyway.

    Most Americans have paid little to no attention of what was going on and fewer still know the history of these islands.

    While the business dailies like the WSJ and Financial Times covered the issue to a certain degree of thoroughness, the story otherwise got relatively little mention in the print media, by television news (which virtually no one watches anymore anyway) or via Internet news sources other than those devoted to business and Asia.