Asia’s Cold War: A Long Chill

In this Foreign Policy article, Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, argues that “although the probability of actual conflict between China and Japan over the Senkakus is negligible, the current crisis is the herald of a new cold war that will persist for years, if not decades.” The result, he adds, “will be an Asia that remains fragmented, unable to overcome the baggage of the past, and one in which the specter of accidental conflict is ever present.” Concludes Auslin: “Whatever course China’s leadership chooses, it will continue to believe itself to be wronged and that Japan precipitated this crisis by unilaterally trying to change the islands’ status. Japan asserts that its 40 years of administrative control simply reflect its rightful ownership of the islands dating back a century. Shots may be avoided, but the cold war between Beijing and Tokyo is real and on display for all to see. However the current crisis gets resolved, it seems a safe bet that relations will only grow chillier with time.”

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4 thoughts on “Asia’s Cold War: A Long Chill

  1. Kei Iwata

    I thought this kind of Cold War sentiment always grows between neighboring nations. Indonesian majority holds unpleasant feelings against Malaysians, recent conflict between Cambodia and Thailand, as well as India-Pakistan, China-Russia etc…
    If states outside Asia, let’s say Franco-German relation(?), have really overcome the deadly history by regionalism, it must be a rare case and we have a lot to learn from.

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  2. ss2012

    This is a very bad time for China to have conflicts with its largest trade partners when the export-related and manufacturing sectors are suffering from the slowdown in the West – the exports to some of the largest EU countries are declining by 30%+ year-on-year. Many have argued that China is in a better position in these talks as Japan holds a trade surplus vs. China. But if we look deeper, this may be a premature conclusion. The labor-intensive components of the Japanese businesses are the parts that are actually operating in China – just like most other foreign enterprises with Chinese operations. If these conflicts escalate to a level that would lead to a prolonged or permanent shut down in production activities in China, it would be the Chinese workers who take up the majority of the job losses – at a time when many SMEs in these sectors are already closing down. Japan has been the largest source of foreign direct investments in the past few years and its quite difficult to see the US or Europe to boost their Chinese investments in the near future and create jobs. The driver of the social unrest may shift from cultural factors (which still seems to be the case now) to economic factors. Be it Xi Jinping, Hu Jintao or Jiang Zemin, risks that may threaten domestic social stability are always the top concern. This really is a “two-level game” when domestic politics may interfere with China’s foreign policy stance on the issue.

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  3. Agnes Tse

    I agree that war is unlikely as the cost of a military conflict is too high for both China and Japan. Like previous Sino-Japan tensions, the flare-up this time would cool down gradually but the mutual distrust between the two countries would linger. Yet, I believe years’ or decades’ of “cold war” would be unaffordable as both countries would not give up the close economic and trade relations established for decades. Indeed, negative impacts of recent tensions on the economy have emerged. Take the auto sector as an example, Mazda Motor reported that its China sales slumped 35% in September from a year ago. Other companies such as Nissan and Toyota were forced cut production. China contributes 18% to Japan’s total exports (auto, electronic machinery, electrical appliance…). That means, a 20% drop in Japan’s shipment to China would erase total Japanese exports by 3.6% and the economy by 0.5%. This is significant as Japan is struggling to recover from sluggish economic growth. Japan is not only the one who suffered from the strained relation. Travel agents in China have been affected as Chinese visitors have delayed plans to travel to Japan. The influence on the tourist industry can be as bad as during the aftermath of the Great East Japanese earthquake last year. In the midst of global economic downturn, both China and Japan are struggling to revive their economy through various measures. How would they ever want to damage the economic tie? So far, I still think the spat this time would be similar to those we experienced in past years: tensions wax and wane between the two countries but neither war nor resolution would be seen.

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  4. Lam Ka Wing, Claudia

    The tension between China and Japan could only be resolved by continously shelving the Diaoyu Island dispute. It is claimed that China would not take any serious action to guarantee the successful handover of the PRC president in the 18th National Congress of the CCP, which drives Japan to initiate the purchasing of the disputed island. Japan’s action provokes huge resentment of the Chinese which leads to conflict between the two countries. Some say that China and Japan would go to war in order to settle the dispute. Yet, I believe both China, Japan and even US would not worsen the situation as going to war does not fit the interests of the countries. As the world’s second and third largest economies, China and Japan have interdependent economic relationship. Going to war would harm their economies. Furthermore, US would not like to see the conflict as she has to support Japan militarily as the island is included within the US Japan Security Treaty. The conflict would have no good to the countries but affect their diplomatic relationships and hinder their economic development. Hence, the best way to resolve the tension is to set aside the dispute and remain the island as a barren island.

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