WASHINGTON: Relations between China and Japan continue to worsen as a Hong Kong Chinese group promised major protests in September. And two of America’s top Peoples Liberation Army analysts tell us things may well get worse, given the long-simmering enmities between the two countries and the “toxic brew” of the region’s unresolved territorial claims and misunderstandings.
Larry Wortzel, longtime member of the U.S-China Economic and Security Commission, and Dean Cheng, analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said in an exchange of emails over the last two days that the situation bears close watching.
“Disputed borders (no Helsinki accords equivalent), longstanding hatreds, contradictory historical accounts, all of which add up to LOTS of sources of tension, whether it’s with Japan or among other states. Throw in Chinese government willingness to manipulate said accounts and problems (to build up the CCP’s reputation), and it’s a very toxic brew, indeed!” Cheng wrote.
The latest round of protests were sparked when the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, a Hong Kong-based group, landed 14 people on the biggest of the disputed islands last week. The Chinese were seized by the Japanese and deported on Friday. This sparked protests across a large swath of China over the weekend, though news reports conflicted about just how many people turned out. The New York Times offered some of the best coverage, noting quotes in the Chinese Global Times newspaper. “Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan, one of the most outspokenly hawkish generals in China, called on China to send 100 boats to defend the islands.
“‘If necessary, we could make the Diaoyu Islands a target range for China’s Air Force and plant mines around them,” he said, according to a microblog posting by the newspaper,” the newspaper wrote. However, it looks as if the Times goofed in describing Luo as an active duty general. Both Wortzel and Chang say he retired some time ago. However, comments by such a senior retired officer still carry significant weight. Luo Yuan “has SUCH a high profile, that his comments are almost certainly made with the knowledge of the GPD and also civilian Communist Party officials. Whether he is making them as part of a plan, or because they do not CONTRADICT government positions (a subtle but important difference) is less clear,” Cheng said in an email.
Wortzel noted that the “Communist Party propaganda department does not need to work very hard to stir up some of these protests. The problem is keeping anti-Japanese activity under control in China, lest it really affect investment and manufacturing.” Several stories reported that Japanese cars had been attacked and stores pledged to stop selling Japanese products over the weekend. Japan has often been ham-fisted in its handling of its past with China. For example, they have sometimes denied that the Rape of Nanking was really that bad. And Japan still sometimes helps China clean up poison gas stockpiles it left behind after withdrawing at the end of World War II. However, the Japanese government remains extremely reluctant to admit that poison gas was ever used against the Chinese, despite much evidence to the contrary.
If you want to know which Chinese general’s remarks you should pay close attention to in order to understand the Chinese government’s position, Wortzel points to Liu Yuan. He was a political commissar at Academy of Military Science and is “rumored to be very close to [incoming President] Xi Jinping.” Wortzel also said Liu is “rumored” to be a candidate for a Central Military Commission-level opposition. Is he a strident nationalist? “Liu Yuan has a strong track record of publications that tend to treat the US as the major potential security threat to China,” Wortzel writes.