Paul Lachine

Dignity or Decline?

Japan's government showed its inexperience and ineptitude in its handling of the recent dispute with China over the detention of a Chinese trawler captain whose ship rammed two Japanese patrol boats. That episode was not only a diplomatic defeat for Japan, but also provided China with an opening to blackmail Japan economically.

TOKYO – Kokka no Hinkaku, The Dignity of a State, is the title of a recent book by the Japanese mathematician Masahiko Fujiwara that has sold three million copies. Talk about the book in Japan is so fervid that the term “dignity” (hinkaku) has become a buzzword.

That Japan’s dignity is now a central issue should surprise no one. For this is a moment when Japan must chart its course – either decline or dignity – as a “state” (kokka) in relation to its giant neighbor, China.

The issue of relations with China crystallized in September, when the Japanese Coast Guard arrested the captain of a Chinese trawler after his ship hit two Japanese patrol boats near the Senkaku Islands, which are part of Japan and within its territorial waters. Tension between Japan and China – which claims the islands – immediately soared.

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