China Versus Japan: Shooting War, Economic War or War of Words?

George Washington's picture

article 2198707 14D9B665000005DC 942 634x375 China Versus Japan: Shooting War, Economic War or War of Words?

Senkaku islands via AFP China Versus Japan: Shooting War, Economic War or War of Words?


Are China and Japan Going to War?

The conflict between China and Japan over a small chain of disputed islands – called “Senkaku” by Japan and “Diaoyu” by China  – is fluid.

Here are some of the key recent events in this dispute:

  • Chinese hackers have launched a cyber-attack against Japan, taking down at least 19 Japanese websites – including those of a government ministry, courts and a hospital  – and adding messages proclaiming Chinese sovereignty over the islands
  • The protesters chanted slogans such as (1) “down with the U.S. imperialists”; (2) “The U.S. government is the mastermind”, an apparent reference to the dispute over the island and the United States’ security treaty with Japan; and (3) “return the money!”, probably referring to the Chinese government’s purchase of U.S. government debt

What’s Going On?

The islands are small and uninhabited … so what’s really going on?

True, they are in important sea lanes. And the seabed nearby is thought to contain valuable mineral resources.  But there are much bigger issues at play.

As Tyler Durden notes, Chinese anger over World War II is part of the equation:

All day long we read how today, on the 81st anniversary of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria, anti-Japan protests flared up in 125 Chinese cities, for the most part peaceful, protesting what China believes is an illegal Japanese attempt at annexation of the Senkaku Islands as a proximal catalyst, but likely also an outlet for years of pent up anti-Japanese sentiment (of which there is plenty on both sides).

Some say that the incident is really about China testing (1) Japan’s weaknesses and (2) America’s alliance with Japan:

Steven Clemons, editor-at-large of The Atlantic, says the two nations are probing the other’s weaknesses.


“It is really about China testing the United States and its alliance with Japan,” he told RT, adding that he expects the skirmishes to continue for a long time.


“What we are seeing today is a snapshot of what we are going to see for the next decade – or more.”

Indeed, while U.S. SecDef Panetta says that American military focus in Asia are not aimed at containing China, Panetta and other American leaders have previously hinted that any credible economic challenge to the U.S.(from China or elsewhere) will be considered an act of war.

Anyone who has 2 brain cells to rub together knows that the “long-game” of U.S. military shenanigans is to contain and weaken China.  The U.S. wants to topple Syria’s Assad because he is a close ally with Iran, and the U.S. wants to topple Iran because it is a close ally with China.

But what does that have to do with Japan?

I spoke with a very smart friend who grew up in China, has lived in the United States for a number of years, and has a very sophisticated view of geopolitics.  (He is a professional and an entrepreneur, and isn’t directly affiliated with the Chinese government).

He told me that the Chinese and Japanese have periodically argued over these islands, and reminded me that the Chinese people are still furious at Japanese imperial invasion and brutality during WWII, especially Nanking  and Manchuria.

Most interestingly, he said that the Chinese and Japanese both have upcoming elections, and that they are simply posturing to look tough for domestic consumption.

He said that the Chinese and Japanese leadership both know where the “line” is, and that neither will cross the line and actually start a war.

Willy Lam, Adjunct Professor, China Studies, Chinese University Of Hong Kong agrees:

From the Beijing’s perspective there will be a major change of leadership coming up at the 18th Party Congress. At this stage the government also doesn’t want to appear as weak. Particularly given the rise of Chinese nationalism.

Likewise, Linus Hagström – associate professor of political science and a senior research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs – says that Japan’s actions are largely driven by political considerations of “not appearing weak”.

Currently, China is Japan’s largest trade partner, while Japan is only China’s fourth-largest trade partner.  However, the United States is obviously a huge trade partner for China, even if America does end up backing Japan in conflict over the islands.

So the one certainty is that there are competing factors and motives involved in the dispute.


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Zero-risk bias's picture

Completely irrelevant perhaps, but as I was in a store buying toothpaste in China today, I happened to notice that the 'music' played on the PA in the store sounded overtly nationalitic. Upbeat, with smatterings of patriotic sentiment in the melody. A chorus of male voices positvely and harmoniously reaffirming a sense of patriosm to shoppers.

I'm not against this kind of love for one's homeland, still, I think it's overlooked when people assess the active role goverments play in guiding and cohercing sentiment one way or another. Media is just one aspect, obviously coupled with economic and social conditioning, one must concede that intended or otherwise, it's a stretch to claim that states have absolutely no hand in current affairs.

q99x2's picture

War of words bad choice. Nobody would know what anyone else was saying.

DanP1966's picture

The Chinese have a justified and deep seated hatred of japan.

That said, there is a lot more at play here.

The Chinese economy is a lot worse off than it first looks and it is going to get worse. The political changes at the top are not going smoothly.

A foreign enemy is always a good distraction.

The problem is that this could easily spin out of control and the US will back Japan. We essentially have guaranteed Japan's security since WWII in return for their not creating a large military of their own.

Even if this does NOT get to a shooting war, it is very likely going to further hurt Chinese exports and the willingness of US companies to open production facilities in China. That is only going to make the problem worse for the Chinese.

THOUGH.....were we to fight a war with China, we could write off the debt we owe them.

Does not need to be a big war, just big enough to create so much animosity that no european or American business wants to go there and we cut off relations so we can bail out on the debt.

Of course, it likely wiil not be a minor war. North Korea would use the opportunity to attack S. Korea and God only knows what would happen with India and Pakistan.

A good war solves all economic crisis.

Element's picture

I read this very enlightening book about 25 years ago.  It's a comprehensive study of what triggered all past known industrial wars, both great and small.  The conclusion was that there was no case in which a war was undertaken as a political or economic distraction.  The distraction theory of war has a long history, but Blainey found zero material evidence to support the theory.

payment expert's picture

I think China is trying to show their muscles in the polical arena as they haved achieved it in the economic arena, stepping away from being the factory of the world but a true super power.

Volaille de Bresse's picture

"Is there oil down there or no?  That's all I need to know."



strangewalk's picture

China's economic strength primarily derives from foreign investment, over 17 TRILLION dollars of which has come from the US alone over the past 25 years. (the US has been by far the largest source of investment in China)

In addition, China's economic model is heavily export dependent, with the US, Europe and Japan being its largest markets. Also, high technology imports from Japan are critical to the continued growth of Chinese industry, and the huge dollar, Euro and Yen holdings China possesses are completely obligated toward maintaining the artificial RMB peg--something China desperately needs to hold.

China is in fact the most vulnerable of the large powers today and is clearly in no position to seriously threaten anyone. They are exploiting nationalism and rallying their brainwashed, Confucian zombie droid hordes around the flag in hopes of propping up support for the thoroughly corrupt and rotten Chinese Communist Party, which now strongly senses that its days are numbered.   

Divine Wind's picture



U.S. Says Disputed Islands Covered by Japan Defense Treaty


SECDEF just spent three days there. What just happened?

I would assume this is going to piss the general Chinese populace off.





Bear's picture

GW ... Why don't we hear from you on the events of last weeks.  Susan Rice goes on every weekend show last week to tell the nation that a fricken movie trailer caused the death of our Ambassador and Obama lied through his teeth all week long claiming the same trailer as the source of all Mid East discontent. The White House knew that Libya was a serious risk two days before the assassination and didn't lift a finger to get our men out. Then straw-manned a movie to cover the terrorism of 9/11/12. Our response (or lies about how horrible the trailer was and how sorry we were) was like pouring gasoline on an already ignited fire. Twisting the truth to fit a political polemic is just crap and no one is calling them on it ... shame on us.

You can continue to focus on all sorts or important topics that happened years ago or things we can't do anything about ... but you could also be a powerful voice to condemn the obvious mendacity of today. 



George Washington's picture

Bear, Drudge has been doing an outstanding job of covering the issue.  Drudge is orders of magnitude more popular than my blog, and is even more popular than ZH.

I usually stay away from issues that are already being well-covered.

Make sense?* Fn: Tyler has done a great job covering China-Japan.  I just wrapped it up in a neat bow ...

BeetleBailey's picture

GW...keep up the outstanding work!

Bear's picture

Thanks ... I'm just so pissed that all the vermin in Washington can in-your-face lie with absolute immunity.

Crap like this from Obama: “We’re still doing an investigation,” he said. “What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by the extremists to see if they could directly harm U.S. interests.” ... Politico


Sandmann's picture

Chinese and Japanese both have upcoming elections


Which parties are standing in China ?

Tompooz's picture

upcoming erections, neh?

Must be the military faction standing.

Stuck on Zero's picture

The U.S. should retaliate immediately in the way it has for twenty years: destroy American industry, put millions of Americans out of work, invest more money in building up China, and run up huge debts to China.  That'll fix em.


Goldilocks's picture



The 3/11 Attack on Japan Exposed - May 13, 2011 (45 mins)

The 3/11 Attack on Japan Exposed - May 25, 2012 (1 hr, 20 mins)

falak pema's picture

wow, goldilocks you are deep into this world wide militarist evil conspiracy if you believe this! 

SingleCross's picture

Perhaps this event is distracting the Chinese to their east when other events are planned to their west, eh?

HardlyZero's picture

Geographically these islands separate Taiwan from Japan.  Its like a big game of "go".

If these islands are Japanese, then Taiwan and Japan form a larger group that stands alone from China.

These small border islands are major political "tipping points" which will force China's hand.

If these islands go to Japan, then Taiwan and Japan are then "Western" and no longer "Eastern".

This tension has existed for 1000's of years.

Are Japan and Taiwan on the edge of the West or on the edge of the East ?

true brain's picture

Kill all Chinese.
That's what the Vietnamese and Korean are saying too. They are holding a grudge against Chinese domination all those years. Man, i love to see all out war. Chinese against japan, Korea, Vietnam. It is going to be beautiful. Wonder if US will use nuke or send in troops.

Or alternatively everyone grow up and be a civilized human being for once.

skyun's picture

You are a complete idiot... We koreans as a group have complete disdain for the japanese. Like the chinese we are waiting for the day when the island nation falls into the Pacific Ocean.  

Ar-Pharazôn's picture

korean scum go back into your shit-hole



falak pema's picture

edifying mindset, are you on ninja juice?

true brain's picture

Sure, I'm an idiot. After Japan goes down, the chinese will go after Vietnam, then you Korean can suck the Chinese dingdong for a thousand years. Wake up you fool. You'd better band with the Japanese, Vietnamese, Philipine, Indonesian if you want to have any vestige of independence for your grand children. Why do you think the Chinese will only negotiate bilaterally and not multilaterally, involving US and Russia, EU in discussion?

M2Market's picture

Obviously true brain has no clue how deep the hatred Asian in general has towards Japan.  Banding with Japanese to reclaim the

empire of rising sun?  Better invest some time to dig into Asian history before commenting on this subject.  True Brain's view is typical of that

of a neocon mouthpiece that view the world from a US centric view.  Korean people's hatred toward Japan may be even more than China's and you're oblivious to this fact,

It is you who has some waking up to do.

Colonial Intent's picture

No quicker way to die in S Korea than to call a Korean a jap.

Ar-Pharazôn's picture

oh yes! band with China is a great idea.


after japan there is vietnam, korea, etc etc


only way to survive for asian countries in a war with china is to band all together against china

Element's picture

And that is the reason why China will not become a major global power, but will remain a large regional-power.  Beijing is simply too geo-politically untrustworthy to ever develop a sound global alliance network of like-minded supporters.  And without that sort of alliance network, a dominant global power can not come in to existence, or be sustained.  Indeed, if the US lost it's alliance support network (and it may) then the conditions for another super-power to arise may not re-emerge for many decades, if ever. Certainly it won't for China. So they'll have to be content to remain a serious strategic regional pain in the arse for the Pacific Basin, especially for Japan and the US.

Russia currently has a much greater chance of becoming a serious global level power again.

The EU Commision recently tried to push the notion in early 2010 that it should be taken more seriously as a major great-power partner in South East Asia, if the US does hit the wall hard.  But the PIIGS were already calling the whole future of the Euro itself into question by then.  Regardless, the EU Commission sent this twerp named David Daly to explain that, "The EU Commission High Representative for Foreign Policy", is now Baroness Catherine Ashton, who is thus the first head of the recently constituted EU Commission's foreign affairs department named, "The European External Action Service". Thus she supposedly represents and speaks for the collective foreign policy position of all EU Commission member-states.

Riiiiiight ... ok.  Everyone was looking around the room wondering if it was a joke.  Personally I've never heard a more pompous and pretentious load of laughable Orwellian bullcrap in my life. Get a load of this guy - David Daly:

Geo-politically, the above all means the US is the only game in town for Japan, Korea, South East Asia and Australia.  So the only way out of this, or rather, to limit the negative impacts of being held-hostage to Washington's foreign policy blunders, stupidities and abject lack of actual intelligent leadership that gives a damn about the local outcomes, is to buy more weapons, and increase capabilities (i.e. a regional arms race) to develop a more independent strategic deterrent capability, that does not require such US foreign-policy capture (especially when you have a complete idiot like Hillary Clinton running the show) to be endured.  And no country is interested in having 'faith' in the vacant kindergarten-level promise of a US nuclear-umbrella, as a regional 'security guarantee'.

That's a security guarantee absolutely no one wants or thinks is worth 2-cents.  Hence this sharp rise in tensions as will certainly result in enhanced plans and preparation towards nuclear arsenal development.

But this was likely to happen anyway, simply because the US actually will go ka-splat, at some point, and also because the US is increasingly on-the-nose globally, so many regional countries do not want to be so closely associated with or dependent on Washington (imagine what Vietnam thinks of that!).  So basically the Asian states are going to buy more US, European and Russian arms and platforms, and point them at China's expeditionary navy and air force units.

So yes, they will band together.  The US will be a part of it only because it's a part of the Pacific Basin fauna also.

true brain's picture

My friend, you're missing the point. I know all too well about Asian history. The hatred is just as hardcore as the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. Look, Japanese killed one million Vietnamese during world war II. Do you even know that? But the Vietnamese will band with Japanese against the Chinese because this will ensure their survival.  Sure , Japanese turned a bunch of Korean women into sex slaves (may they have peace where-ever they are.), but if choosing between past and future, a person with a brain, ability to think and reason, will choose to put away past hatred for future gain. So the choices are 1)continue to hate the Japanese for their past deeds and have the same things happen to your people again, only this time by the Chinese. Yes, after Japan is turned into rubbles, the Chinese will turn Korean women into sex slaves again- remember there are 100 million more Chinese men than women.

or 2)band together with Japanese and have a future. So choose.


As for the Japanese second empire, you got to be joking. They'll be lucky if they survive Fukushima, which is still ongoing. Get your reasoning together.   Sh*t people commenting here sure have low IQ.

M2Market's picture

True Brain:  First of all I ain't your pal, and please don't make any assumptions on what your perceived pen pal know or don't know, it is as rediculous as your assumption on the anti-Chinese alliance in Asia.   As you've stated yourself, Japan as a nation is in decline, while China is in a uptrend, at least for the moment.  If Fukushima taught us anything it is that these guys can get you to defend them while your'e being radiated with their love, pun intended.  Last time I checked Japan was the country that sneak attacked us, emphasis "SNEAK".  You can see China coming from a mile away, while you've just proved yourself that Japan is a master marketer of their culture and there are plenty of buyers who throws away their history books for the benefit of looking ahead.  Well, those who do not remember history is destined to repeat it.  Your claims are nothing but assumptions that assume Japan will stay passive as they've been for the past 60 years.  I'm sure back in the 1800's people were also saying that about Japan, and they sure were right indeed.  For my money I'll take a loud, obnoxious China over a sneaky, backstabbing Japan any day, you can keep your yen.

Toronto Kid's picture

Since Fukushima the Japanese have had their backs to the wall. They cannot contain the radiation; clean up efforts are progressing far too slowly. The effects of the radiation on the main island are largely unknown - but there are reports of very ill youngsters and of shipments from Japan being refused because of high radiation levels - but if things on the ground in Japan are bad and not being reported in the mainstream media, Japan might need to annex new territory to survive as a country.

If I ran a country and needed new territory, I would first attempt to establish control over disputed territory in order to determine how neighbouring/nearby countries reacted. If they roll over, I'd proceed with annexing more territory. If they don't, perhaps other countries will roll over. Perhaps treaty allies will support my annexation attempts.

The Japanese started this little kerfuffle, but it is telling that most countries in the area are reacting to the provocation. Even the Russians are being dragged into this.

Time will ultimately reveal just what the Japanese are up to.

Ar-Pharazôn's picture

hahahahahahahaahahahahah really funny....


you say that japanese are trying to annex an island wich is measured in acres instead of square miles, to survive?


LOL and where do you think they will put 120 milions japanese? digging tunnels under the island? ahhahahahahahahaha

M2Market's picture

Obviously true brain has no clue how deep the hatred Asian in general has towards Japan.  Banding with Japanese to reclaim the

empire of rising sun?  Better invest some time to dig into Asian history before commenting on this subject.  True Brain's view is typical of that

of a neocon mouthpiece that view the world from a US centric view.  Korean people's hatred toward Japan may be even more than China's and you're oblivious to this fact,

It is you who has some waking up to do.

Ar-Pharazôn's picture

you're just prooving that you cannot read.

he was not speaking about how much asians hate japanese.

he is speaking about a scenario where china start a war in asia.

and for me it's quite clear what he's saying. after japan there is vietnam. and after vietnam? can you guess? mmmmmmmmmm korea?

theXman's picture

Just want to point out that the red circle in the first map is at the wrong place. See the map at the following URL for the right location of the the islands:


Click on the image to see the picture in full size. There are a couple of faint white dots in the red circle if you can see them. They are the disputed islands. 

ZackAttack's picture

How deep, I wonder, does China and Russia's cooperation go? I can't see anyone else being China's ally in this.

If they are full allies, that's a total game-changer. Islands to China, then islands to Russia.

Element's picture

George, the map graphic you have chosen to supposedly depict the geographical placement of the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, is not centered on those islands at all.  It is instead centered around the Sakishima-Shoto islands, which are much further to the SSW of the islands in dispute. 

That map is geographically misleading if not outright slanted, and appears constructed to lead one to suggest that Japan and Taiwan have a greater and more valid geography-based claim to those islands, as a natural extent of existing territory.

This is not the case, as more accurate geographical depictions of where the islands actually are positioned leads to a much more contentious reality to China's claims and concerns.  The Chinese I think have a valid claim on these islands, and we should not ignore that, just because the seat of Govt in Beijing is full of arseholes.

Cosimo de Medici's picture

If geographical proximity is the means by which ownership is determined, then China can bolster its case by forever abandoning any claims to the Spratlys, and maybe engaging in a coin flip with Vietnam over the Paracels.

Something tells me they won't do this.

Element's picture

I agree, I said a few days ago that the current case is the best option China has for successfully pursuing a territorial claim, as all the other claims are much more dubious, if based on geography and history.  Plus if they wanted to fight it out, they would lose pretty badly.  Pretty sure Vietnam will not go for a coin-flip though.

And China would be unwise to push it's luck with Vietnam, because we could see the US declare its great sadness over the barbarism and errors of the Vietnam war era, and vow to make good in recompense by soundly beating the snot out of the PLAN.  What a tremendous narrative that could make for 'just war'.

Jstanley011's picture

The map "George" displayed isn't slanted, it's outright wrong. The islands in dispute are a little over 2 square miles TOTAL.

My Days Are Getting Fewer's picture

Courtsey of my friend Michael, a native Chinese and now a retired engineer in NJ - here is what is going on:

China is to Japan as Germany is to France:  they don't like each other.

Those islands are uninhabited, unexplored and not worth shit, except for this:

Japan "bought" them - from who???  Japan does not say.  An island owned by a private person and not by a government is unimportant.

But, an island owned by a nation is different - that sovereign can invoke the 200 mile territorial limit around the island and exercise dominion over those waters.  That's what it is all about.

falak pema's picture

from what I have read on this ownership issue :

1° At Potsdam agreement in 1945, Truman et al. decreed that as part of wartime reparations to Tchang Kai Chek's China those islands and Okinawa were restored to China.

2° After fall of Tchang kai Chek and Mao takeover, US attitude changed; it occupied Okinawa, in association with those islands, and then years later decreed unilateraly as local hegemon, that Okinawa and islands were Japanese territory. (Change of strategic focus against red china).

3° Now Japan says it owns the islands based on that "real politik" unilateral decision.

THat is not international law; that is unilateral power play, if this is the historical truth of what transpired.

Elmer Fudd's picture

Is there oil down there or no?  That's all I need to know.

DeFeralCat's picture

In the picture, is that Godzilla or Mothra on the Eastern side sunning theirself with a rum and coke in their claw? The Chinesse better be careful about dissing the Japanesse.

hannah's picture

i am not chinese but i do eat fried rice...


chinese will continue to buy jap cars because they are better than the chinese or indian cars and cheaper than the german.

mao killed many times more chinese than the japs did in WW2. the chinese leadership would drop a million people in a heartbeat if it made them some cash. they have no regard for human life.

this is all posturing probably because of the coming change in leadership in china.....

Fred123's picture

The Chinese are an ignorant lot. They don't understand (or don't know) that their revered leader Mao managed to kill 20x more Chinese during his reign of terror than the Japanese did from 1931-1945.

I think the greatest disaster of the 20th century was the takeover of China by Mao and his henchmen. Imagine the world today if China was more like Taiwan. Imagine the events that would not have happened or would have been less severe in their impacts. Korea would have been one nation, Vietnam probably would not have happened, USSR might have folded sooner, etc etc etc. Heck, the economy of China might have been double that of the US today! Think of the advances in science and tech the human race with a peaceful China. 1949 was a very sad year for the Chinese people and the world.