China, Japan and the Senkaku Islands: The Roots of Conflict Go Back to 1274
Charles Hugh Smith-China, Japan and the Senkaku Islands: The Roots of Conflict Go Back to 1274
Sensitivity to domination, aggression and loss of face run deep in East Asia.
Let’s start by noting the “stranger than fiction” absurdity of privately owned islands in ambiguous-nationality waters off China—the scenario of Bruce Lee’s classic martial arts film Enter the Dragon. The plot revolves around an ex-Shaolin monk engaged in the drug and prostitution trade who has acquired a private island with murky nationality where he stages martial arts competitions of “epic proportions.”
Despite the resemblance to fiction, the dispute is soberingly real, and rooted in chains of events stretching back to 1274 and 1592. Although ostensibly about rights to possible undersea oil/gas reserves, the conflict is about more than territorial or mineral rights.
Japanese fear of Chinese domination can be traced back to the 1200s, when two massive fleets under Mongol leader Kublai Khan attacked Japan in 1274 and again in 1281. The four thousand-ship fleet carrying nearly 140,000 men is said to have been the largest naval invasion in history, eclipsed only in modern times by the D-Day invasion of France (Normandy landings) in 1944. The Mongol fleet was twice dispersed by timely typhoons known in Japan as the “divine wind” (kamikaze).
If you visit Korea, you will notice a curious repetition in the placard descriptions of the historic temples and palaces. Each description includes the phrase, “burned by the Japanese in 1592.”