By Beth Main
China should avoid conflict with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands if it wants to stay on the path to modernisation, according to academic Ma Yong, writing in the Global Times. Historically, Sino-Japanese conflicts have broken out at crucial moments in China’s modernisation process, delaying further development and sometimes rolling back previous achievements.
Not only should China avoid escalating a childish territorial dispute into World War III, Ma warns that it should not let Japan drag it into any conflict that will distract it from modernisation and development.
China’s economic boom risks causing as many problems for its people as it has provided benefits, these must be solved before its too late. Any military conflict with Japan would end badly (China’s military would likely crush Japan’s, but the US is bound to defend its Asian ally and other regional powers are unlikely to stand by once conflict breaks out) and leave social problems within China unresolved. That would be no basis upon which to continue or even salvage modernisation.
Japan has derailed Chinese development twice before, first in the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War just as China was beginning to open up to outside ideas. In the wake of defeat China turned to imitating Japan’s military innovations to have a better chance next time. This didn’t help stave of Japanese invasion in 1937 however, and Chinese economic and industrial development was again set back several decades.
Today after more than three decades of reform and opening-up China and Japan are on the brink again, but this time China has more space for strategic choices:
I think that Japan defies China on the Diaoyu Islands more out of its belief that if given another 20 years of peace, China can orderly resolve some problems as it wishes. By then, Japan will be no match for China in GDP, and will lose its century-long sense of superiority toward China.
What’s truly worrying of course is that if the Global Times, China’s most antagonistic and virulently nationalistic tabloid, is running anti-war editorials, how close to conflict are we?!