Islands of Nationalism

BEIJING – If the recent tension between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea is any indication, relations between the world’s second and third largest economies will not be smooth for some time to come, despite ever-increasing bilateral trade and investment. That is because both countries’ latest rush to affirm their sovereignty over the islands – called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese – reflects a sense of insecurity and a perception that the other side is taking an aggressive stand, which means that the issue is unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future.

On the Japanese side, there is growing anxiety over China’s increasing economic and military prowess, such that some nationalists would like to “settle” the matter in Japan’s favor as soon as possible. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara’s recent call for Japan’s government to “purchase” the islands from “private” Japanese owners can be explained in this context.