Diaoyutai

Anti-Japanese sentiments in China are strong these days. Recent developments were long time coming, the result of the buildup of years and years of resentment, layered over a tempestuous history, spurred on as younger generations grow increasingly frustrated with the complacency of their elders and the political leaders who represent them. Some of the mob actions are borderline barbarous and contemptuous, but only confirm the hostility that still runs rampant since the end of the war.

The latest battle over Diaoyutai/Senkaku certainly looks to be a political maneuver; the location and potential for resources are a great draw for all parties involved. However, the reasons behind China’s actions may be more domestic in nature. Recent “weak” displays in foreign policy leave the Chinese leadership in an uncomfortable situation, desperate to prove to the restless masses that they are not still struggling to find their footing on the international playground. There is a lot of concern that China does not command respect from her peers, that she has not displayed the same sort of presence that her gigantic population, economy, and bed of resources ought to. Internally, the party still struggles with inconsistency, corruption, and the like, truths which cannot be veiled simply by economic success in numbers.

Ultimately, there is still something to prove. Enough dissidence shake people in their Feiyue boots, and a broiling tide of discontent struggles beneath the curtain of censorship and state media. Picking a fight in the East China Sea seems a logical outlet, a way to redirect the flames, especially when the enemy is a well-known and equally well-hated one. This was going to be a domestic success before it even started.

Still, the act cannot shake the appearance of comedy. Like an overgrown schoolyard bully who picks a fight because his new physical prowess grants him the right, China is obligated to flex her muscles, but immature for fulfilling the stereotype. And why is the US playing such a provocative part in all this? Stoking the fire for yet another confrontation only feeds our characterization as a warmonger, and goes nowhere in changing the ugly, ugly Sino-Japanese reality that the US played a large part in building.

Nippon

Having first heard the news some days ago after a terrifyingly busy day at work, during which I was blissfully unaware of the situation overseas, it took a moment for me to orient myself.

Japan. Halfway across the world. As the initial reports of the earthquake flooded in, the number injured and dead seemed relatively controlled, in the hundreds, well below what a disaster of that magnitude seemed to forebode. But then, as more time passed, and those numbers mounted, worsened by the tsunami and aftershocks, when thousands and tens of thousands added themselves to the list of missing or dead, even more people displaced from their homes and lives, and the fear escalated, suddenly compounded by the potential addition of a nuclear disaster on top of all these other layers of horrible horrible things.

But wait, Japan is not really halfway across the world. The distance from Beijing to Tokyo is what? A measly 2100km? Only about two hours by plane. An earthquake of that magnitude had shockwaves that traversed mere thousands of miles. And yet, even in the midst of all this — all these people dying just a breadth of sea away — I could still only think of my own safety. I thought of nuclear fallout. I thought of fleeing Beijing if I had to. Having absolutely lacking internet connectivity, all I had in those moments, days even, was hearsay: damage, explosion, meltdown, Chernobyl. It seems silly how fear escalates much quicker than sympathy.

The first thing I did Monday morning was to fully inform myself about the situation, and subsequently call my uncle, who lives in Japan, to ascertain his safety. Having returned to sound mind, I busied myself once again with the trivial tasks of day-to-day life, while just thousands of kilometers away, people’s lives were being destroyed and rebuilt.

Location: Beijing, China