The Diaoyu dispute is escalating the confrontation between China and Japan. Tokyo has chosen the wrong opponent at the wrong time and the wrong place. Japan inflicted the deepest atrocities on China in its modern history, which was full of humiliation. If China were to pick a target country to wash out the old shame, Japan is the best choice.
The Chinese have restrained their antipathy toward Japan for a few generations. The brief friendly period of the 1970s and 80s helped heal the wounds between the two countries. But it is far from a fundamental change. A series of incidents created by Japan, from politicians visiting the Yasukuni Shrine to the altering of textbooks, have sown the seeds for a frozen bilateral relationship.
The Diaoyu incident is a new turning point in Sino-Japanese ties. The Japanese may believe in their determination to secure control of the islands, but they have to understand that the Chinese can only be more firm in safeguarding their sovereignty over Diaoyu, because Japan owes too great a blood debt to the Chinese. Territorial compromises to Japan mean double the shame for Chinese.
If the two countries become embroiled in an overall confrontation, Japan will have made the biggest mistake of the 21st century. The balance of power between the two is no longer as it was in the last century. Confronting China can play up to the psychology of rightist forces in Japan, but it carries a danger that Japan cannot bear.
The time of Japan being the leading influence in Asia is over. The Meiji Restoration once gave Japan the advantage to become the leading power of East Asia. But that structure has been replaced as China's growing momentum is kindled.
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