“China and Japan are sliding towards war,” said the January 19th article in The Economist. It cited other news sources: “Japan, says the China Daily, is the “real danger and threat to the world”. A military clash, says Global Times, is now “more likely…We need to prepare for the worst.” China appears to be preparing for the first armed confrontation between the two countries in seven decades.”
Although this conflict might seem worlds away, it has even found roots in Saskatchewan through the diverse immigrant population here.
As news coverage reached Canada, Japanese students on the University of Regina campus faced antagonism – through name-calling and vandalism on chalk boards – from Chinese students wearing patriotic t-shirts, protesting the ownership of the islands.
Taka Fujimoto, vice president of the Japanese Students’ Society at the U of R, spoke with a student from Japan who told him he felt personally attacked.
“The way I see it is: them protesting on campus is they’re protesting directly at us,” Fujimoto said, recalling this student’s experience.
While it is shocking to hear of foreign cultures clashing here in Regina, it does not mean the animosity is indicative of all Japanese and Chinese people.
Fujimoto said that the voices of Japanese nationalists who are for military confrontation with China are widespread on the web. However, they are a minority – and more talk than action.
“The people on the internet bash about it. So what, right? Like, do you even know how it started? Do you even know what this is about sometimes?” he asked.
Helen Gao, a reporter covering the conflict from Beijing, reflects a similar notion from the Chinese public. The internet has allowed a new form of expression for both extremist citizens and many residents who do not want war with Japan.
The Chinese Communist Party itself – as patriotic and aggressive as it is – is not so eager to go to war.
“I don’t really think they want war at this point, because they know Japan is too important for China, and the two countries are too interdependent on each other,” Gao said. “So I don’t think they will go to war actively.”
There is a warning. The increase in aircraft and naval activity near the islands from both nations may lead to a confrontation.
“As these activities increase, there is always danger of clash. If two ships run into each other, it might kindle something larger,” Gao said. “That said, I think that’s a development neither country wants to see.”
Western news media has done a good job building on existing tension between China and Japan. However, a war of nations as inevitability is an illusion.
With every news headline, the situation in Korea seems to inch closer to an armed confrontation. But if the situation cannot be fully understood from the outside, like in the islands conflict, than perhaps South Korea's allies – we too – can sleep more soundly.
For now, we can only wait and see if the media has got it right this time.