If yesterday it was the Middle East's turn to escalate, today it is the Far East, aka Pacific Rim, where China and Japan both remind the world nothing has been fixed in the diplomatic snafu between the two countries over a barren rock in the East China Sea.
First, it was China, which on the front page of the biggest daily Xinhua, over the weekend, demanded that Japan immediately stop infringing upon its "territorial sovereignty. To wit: "China asked Japan to immediately stop all acts that harm China's territorial sovereignty, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said late Saturday, after some Japanese landed on the Diaoyu Islands. Hong said the Japanese landed on the Diaoyu Islands Friday evening with the excuse of preventing Taiwanese activists from landing on the islets. "It is a severe infringement upon China's territorial sovereignty, and the Chinese government has lodged solemn representations and strong protests to the Japanese side," Hong said in a statement."
Other concurrent headlines make it quite clear that it is in China's interest to stir populist anger at Japan instead of seeking an amicable resolution. Observe: "Japan urged to "repent" over Diaoyu Islands", "Japan's Noda needs to reset his China policy", "China announces names of geographic entities on Diaoyu Islands", "Safeguarding Diaoyu Islands sovereignty a long-term struggle: official" and the funniest one: "Reception to mark 40th anniversary of normalization of China-Japan ties adjusted".
Which brings us to the second - Japan - which, not known for backing down once it has staked its geopolitical ambitions, has likewise warned China to tone down its response to what, at least so far, has been a clearly provocative move by Japan.
Here's everyone's favorite "watcher" Noda, via the WSJ:
Japan's prime minister warned China that its inflammatory reaction to a territorial dispute—from violent protests to apparent informal trade sanctions—could further weaken the Asian giant's already-fragile economy by scaring away foreign investors. The comments showed the risks that the tense diplomatic standoff could broaden into a damaging commercial tit-for-tat between the world's second and third largest economies.
"China should be developing through the various foreign investments it receives," Yoshihiko Noda told The Wall Street Journal following a tense week filled with news of Japanese factories torched and cars overturned, and Chinese patrol boats hovering in and around territorial waters controlled by Japan. "I hope for its level-headed and rational understanding that anything to discourage that is a disservice to itself," the prime minister added during the interview in his residence Saturday.
And now that it has been duly warned that it should just keep doing what it's doing and ignore Japan's escalating territorial aspirations, we are confident China will promptly pack up and leave, and forever disown any claims over disputed territories around the world. Or not.
As for Japan, as we warned last week, the Chinese territories dispute is just the beginning.
Japan is simultaneously ensnared in an increasingly bitter tiff with another neighbor, South Korea, both over a separate territorial argument, as well as a debate over whether Japan has made adequate amends for its World War II aggression. Mr. Noda made clear in the interview that his government had no intention of making the concessions Seoul has demanded as necessary for repairing diplomatic ties frayed in recent months, indicating an extended period of friction there as well.
Asked if he would consider providing new compensation for the so-called comfort women who served as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers, Mr. Noda said firmly: "The matter is closed." He said South Korean criticism that Japan's previous offerings were insufficient "hurt the feelings of conscientious Japanese and it is a pity."
In addition to the isles dispute with China, Japan faces another with South Korea, which has evolved into an issue over Japan's wartime compensation. The South Korean foreign minister is widely expected to raise demands for new "comfort women" compensation in his U.N. speech. The long-simmering issue has heated up over the past year, after the South Korean constitutional court ruled that the country's leaders had violated the law by failing to negotiate a new compensation package with Japan. That put new pressure on South Korea's leaders, and Seoul has since twice asked Tokyo to hold consultations, but the requests were turned down.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak cited the lack of progress on the issue as a reason for the recent flare-up in their bilateral territorial rivalry over a group of tiny islets known as the Liancourt Rocks, including his surprise August visit to the area called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan. After that, South Korea's National Assembly passed a resolution demanding more formal apologies and compensation from the Japanese government over the comfort women issue.
Surely it is just a matter of time before Noda, trade relations amounting to $350 billion a year with China already in tatters, will attempt to tone done the escalation, but in a way which saves Japan's face: i.e., China has to present the other cheek. This is not going to happen, as noted above:
But Beijing indicated Sunday that it wasn't ready to move on, with the official Xinhua news agency reporting that the Chinese government had decided to cancel various ceremonies scheduled for later this week related to the 40th anniversary of normalization of postwar diplomatic ties between the two nations.
So, after finding himself between a rock and 1.4 billion hard cases, in a situation he himself has escalated, Noda does the one thing he can do: redirect, this time by dragging the US into it.
Mr. Noda implied that other countries would conclude they are vulnerable to same kind of harassment facing the Japanese—and possibly curb investments—making a point of citing the incident in Beijing on Tuesday where anti-Japanese protesters briefly surrounded the American ambassador's car, causing minor damage. "Even the U.S. embassy and its official car came under attack," Mr. Noda said.
The thing is China may or may not do without Japan, it however can't exist, at least for now, without the US. And vice versa. So any attempts to drag the US into the conflict will backfire severely on Japan. But for a country which has already demonstrated an abysmal lack of tact in foreign relations comparable to the one in the period 1930-1950, layering mistake upon mistake is to be expected.
Of course, all of this is well-known, as is the reality that the situation will escalate until someone has to decide whether to truly push it to the next level, or step down, humilating his country in the process, something Asian states have never been too keen on. What, however, was the most important article in today's Pacific Rim press is this one which has nothing to do with Japan, and everything to do with China's expanding zone of influence: "China's top security official on Saturday made a surprise visit to Afghanistan, the first time in 46 years that a Chinese leader set his foot on the soil of this landlocked Asian country."
Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, arrived at the Kabul airport late in the afternoon.
The four-hour visit had not been announced by Beijing due to security concerns. It followed a two-day trip of Zhou to Singapore, where he met Singaporean leaders on bilateral ties.
Zhou, who is also secretary of the Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs of the CPC Central Committee, will also go to Turkmenistan.
The last visit by a Chinese leader to neighboring Afghanistan was made by Liu Shaoqi in 1966 when he was the President of China.
During the past half century, Afghanistan was afflicted with series of military coups and two major wars commenced by the former Soviet Union and the United States respectively.
The country is still the front line in the U.S.-led war against terrorism and is undergoing daily bombing and bleeding.
In Kabul, Zhou was warmly received by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The two leaders held a bilateral meeting.
Elsewhere, Afghanistan's Opium production, via the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2010
US poppy-seed and opium trade power vacuum, not to mention up to $1 trillion in "untapped minerals" beware: here comes China.