Dean Rohrer

Asian Nationalism at Sea

East Asia's maritime disputes both reflect and reinforce a dramatic rise in extreme nationalism in China, Japan, and elsewhere. It is time for all countries in the region to remember Winston Churchill’s famous advice: “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

CAMBRIDGE – Will war break out in the seas of East Asia? After Chinese and Japanese nationalists staged competing occupations of the barren landmasses that China refers to as the Diaoyu Islands and Japan calls the Senkaku Islands, angry demonstrators in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu chanted, “We must kill all Japanese.”

Likewise, a standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea led to protests in Manila. And a long planned step forward in cooperation between South Korea and Japan was torpedoed when the South Korean president visited the barren island that Korea calls Dokdo, Japan calls Takeshima, and the United States calls the Liancourt Rocks.

One should not be too alarmist. The US has declared that the Senkaku Islands (administered by the Okinawa Prefecture when it was returned to Japan in 1972) are covered by the US-Japan security treaty. Meanwhile, the standoff over the Scarborough Shoal has calmed down, and, while Japan recalled its ambassador from South Korea over the Dokdo incident, it is unlikely the two countries would come to blows.

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