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Terrorism & Security

Concerns mount as Japan, China island dispute shows no sign of easing (+video)

Twelve Chinese vessels have moved to the waters around disputed islands in the East China Sea to patrol and enforce the law, according to Chinese state media.

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Japan and China should end this foolish row now.

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Latin America Editor

Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.

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Pesek describes the “spike in tensions” as a way to deflect attention from domestic politics, and notes that this latest clash puts a trade relationship of more than $340 billion between China and Japan at risk.

China has faced a succession of political embarrassments this year, including the Bo Xilai scandal and bad economic news.

But nationalism in both China and Japan has not helped the issue, with the Chinese government reportedly organizing and encouraging protests at home. An article by the Globe and Mail yesterday describes people patiently waiting their turn to protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing as though they were “waiting to go on a carnival ride”:

“Declare war on Japan!” some yelled in fury over the island dispute that continues to escalate. “Japan! Apologize!” others screamed, their anger based in unaddressed grievances from the Second World War, top of mind on the anniversary of Japan’s 1931 invasion of Manchuria. A line of Riot police walked in front of and behind each group of 100, preventing them from ever forming a mass that couldn’t easily be controlled.

It was a day of orchestrated and, so far, symbolic confrontation in China and at sea.

And others argue that Japan did not help stamp out tensions when it purchased the islands from a private owner, something China’s apparent leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping called a farce today.

"Japan should rein in its behavior and stop any words and acts that undermine China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Mr. Xi said in a meeting with visiting Defense Secretary Panetta today, according to Xinhua news agency

The Wall Street Journal warns that it is a mistake to underestimate the power of nationalism in China.

As scholar Guo Yingjie has written, modern China harbors two strains of nationalism. The cultural variety emphasizes the preservation of traditions and values that are seen as the essence of being Chinese. The political variety focuses on the creation of a strong state capable of defending its sovereignty, and sees traditional culture as a drag on development.

The clash between these two visions of China has created an identity crisis, Mr. Guo believes, as well as a love-hate relationship with foreign cultures.… So far China has not sought to overturn the international status quo as the Soviet Union did, but this new super-nationalism could change that.

Ultimately, China will pay a price for putting its nationalist impulses ahead of its national interest in cultivating foreign trade and investment and acquiring a reputation as a stable, rational and trustworthy power. The question is, how high will the price have to go—and who else will have to share in paying it—if Chinese leaders don't put their worst impulses in check.

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