Latent antagonism between China and Japan inched closer to the surface last week. The trigger was China’s establishment of an air-defence zone in the East China Sea, covering the disputed islands of Diaoyu (or Senkaku in Japanese), which both China and Japan claim as theirs.
Both the US and Japan have sent planes into the new air-defence zone, in defiance of China. Now, analysts are watching closely to see if the dispute will escalate; a military clash in the East China Sea is viewed to be entirely possible. So what does rising tensions between the world’s second largest economy (China) and its third largest (Japan) mean for the rest of the world?
• The roots of Sino-Japanese tension are ancient, but, today, much of that tension centres on events that took place 70 years ago, during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Read Horror in the East (BBC Books, Dh39) by the historian Laurence Rees to learn how Japanese troops pushed into China from 1937, committing atrocities that are still volatile subjects today, including the Nanking massacre in which an estimated 300,000 people were killed.
• After the Second World War, Sino-Japanese relations improved; the 1980s and 1990s brought decades of cooperation and relative ease. But China’s increasing economic power is serving to stoke old tensions, as China seeks to leverage its new global influence and Japanese conservatives fear that their country will be overshadowed by its vast neighbour. Read When China Rules the World (Penguin, Dh55) by Marin Jacques to learn how – according to many analysts – the 21st century will belong to China, and the implications for the country’s Pacific neighbours.
• Current tensions escalated when, in September 2012, the Japanese government purchased three islets in the disputed Senkaku (or Diaoyu) Islands from a private owner: many in China interpreted the move as an illegitimate land grab. See this year’s Sino-Japanese Relations After the Cold War: Two Tigers Sharing a Mountain (Routledge, Dh128) by Michael Yahuda for an educated guess on where the conflict is heading. After decades of peace between the dominant economic powers of North America and Europe, could the Asian century prove just as turbulent and destructive as the century that came before?