In a recent article in National Interest, Gordon G. Chang compared the current disputes between Japan and China with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937, which started World War 2. However, now the roles have changed:
Today, China, no longer the victim, is aggressive, continually pressing its weaker neighbors to its south and east. For decades, the People’s Republic has been seizing specks in the South China Sea from Vietnam and the Philippines.
Most recently, Chinese vessels took Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in the middle of 2012. Washington, not wanting to antagonize Beijing and hoping to avoid a confrontation, did nothing to stop Beijing gobbling up the shoal despite America’s mutual defense treaty with Manila. The Chinese were not satisfied with their seizure, however. Now they are pressuring Second Thomas Shoal and other Philippine territory, also in the South China Sea. Beijing claims about 80 percent of that critical body of international water as an internal Chinese lake.
And as soon as the Chinese took Scarborough, they began to increase pressure on the Senkakus in the East China Sea, regularly sending their ships into territorial waters surrounding the islands and sometimes flying planes into airspace there. The barren outcroppings are claimed and in fact administered by Japan, but Beijing, which calls them the Diaoyus, wants them.
Why should the Japanese care about rocks in the East China Sea? The reason is that the Chinese are acting like classic aggressors. They were not satisfied with Scarborough, so they pressured the Senkakus. Chinese analysts, egged on by state media, are now arguing that Beijing should claim Japan’s Okinawa and the rest of the Ryukyu chain.
Chang goes on to list three parallels between the current political climate in China with the political climate in Japan in 1937. You should, as always, read the whole thing.
Chang is a bit of a Cassandra. Many China hands–their eyes filled with glitter mistaken for gold, and mouths full of flattery in the vain hope of winning favor–dismiss everything Chang says outright, just because he does not worship at the same altar they do. However, we have always found his observations pretty much on the mark, and even when we disagree, he always gives us food for thought.
Our personal lives are inextricably bound, whether we like it or not, with both Japan and China. Now, the two countries stand at a precipice, with neither willing to walk back because of national pride. While people tend to think that wars start over large issues, in truth more often than not they begin over issues as trivial as a Japanese private, wandering in the dark, as he went out to go pee near a bridge in the suburbs of Beijing. There are dark forces at work in the world today, looking for even the smallest pretext as an excuse to steal, kill, and destroy. Sometimes, the only thing that can be done to avert catastrophe is for God’s people to pray.