By Artyom Kobzev
China has responded to Japanese moves to buy the Senkaku outcrops in the East China Sea from a private owner by sending a flotilla of a thousand fishing boats to the disputed islands. Tokyo is fuming. It has already put its naval forces on heightened alert and reminded the world that Japan’s military allies include the United States.
This latest aggravation follows a week of unrest in which some 100,000 people across China besieged and ransacked Japanese offices, schools, shops and businesses including Panasonic and Canon factories. Many of these businesses have been shut. In Beijing, an angry crowd has been confronting police outside the Japanese Embassy.
Dr Valeri Kistanov of the Far East Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences says the row is the worst of its kind between the two Asian powers in 40 years:
“Although set to last, the current dispute is unlikely to result in hostilities. Neither side is really interested in going to war. I believe that domestic factors are at play.”
In China, these factors include a desire by the Chinese authorities to distract attention from the recent political scandals and consolidate the nation ahead of the next Communist Party congress, at which a change of leadership is to take place.
Russian East Asia analyst Dr Viktor Pavliatenko also sees signs of political trouble in Japan:
“The economy is struggling, prompting the Japanese government to channel public discontent away from its apparent failures. As for China, it is taking advantage of the tense political situation in Japan.”
In a parallel development – and probably also a related one – a Tokyo meeting between Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has produced an agreement for a new American anti-missile radar on Japanese territory.