The True Crisis in the Asia-Pacific
The Asia-Pacific’s most dangerous crisis may be going overlooked due to North Korean threats. Despite the Obama administration’s ‘pivot’ to the region, Asian allies worry that the United States will not continue to be a steadfast partner.
North Korean bombast has been using up all of the oxygen in the Asia-Pacific, but what may be the region’s most dangerous crisis is raging on a few hundred miles to the south. With front pages focused on Kim Jong-un’s threats and the United States’ shows of force, the ongoing Sino-Japanese impasse has gone overlooked in recent weeks. Even so, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the latter conflict’s long-term implications for peace in Asia.
As tensions in the East China Sea have heated up over the past year, analysts, journalists, and businessmen have been asking two questions: Could Japan and China really come to blows over the Senkaku (or, in Chinese, “Diaoyu”) Islands? Would the United States really allow itself to be drawn into a conflict over a handful of obscure, uninhabited rocks? These questions are based on an errant assumption that the roiling conflict is, at heart, about ownership of the Senkakus. It is not.
China’s Goal: Securing CCP Leadership at Home and Abroad
For Beijing, the conflict with Japan over the Senkakus serves two goals that extend far beyond the islands themselves. The Chinese Communist Party’s primary objective is to stay in power. Having long ago jettisoned the ideological foundations of its regime, the CCP relies on delivering economic growth and on its claim to a nationalist mantle to legitimize its continuing rule. Stoking tensions with wartime foe Japan has long been a part of Beijing’s playbook. The playbook also includes a propaganda effort aimed at sustaining anti-Japan grievances, an effort that continues nearly 70 years after the conclusion of World War II and Tokyo’s adoption of a pacifist constitution, and more than 30 years after Japan began providing economic aid to China (Tokyo has long been China’s biggest donor).