We have been very critical of Japan in this affair, but other interpretations are possible.
Sure, it was a private Chinese fishing vessel that rammed into the Chinese Coast Guard near the Senkaku Islands. But the Chinese Government seems to have been encouraging Chinese fishermen to move into this area. May be they want to achieve de facto control. May the Chinese were spoiling for a fight with the Japanese.
Why would the Chinese want to pick a fight with the Japanese Government? The usual argument would be to show a sign of toughness against the background of political infighting within the Chinese Communist Party. The Party is rife with factional infighting, with two main groups being the Shanghai gang represented the anointed future Present Xi, and President Hu Jintao's candidate Mr Li who lost the internal battle and will only become Premier in two years time. Could Hu Jintao be waging an internal battle and, as part of that, be flexing his muscles vis-a-vis the Japanese?
Another scenario is that the muscle flexing is designed for domestic public opinion. Attacking the Japanese stokes nationalism and is a good distraction from complaints about bribery, low wages and environmental damage.
In the face of such provocation it only makes sense for the Japanese to bite the bait. This is a good way of provoking Japanese public support for the UA/Japanese Alliance, the only realistic means of defense for Japan.
Another scenario is that China provoked Japan as a means of sending a message to the Americans. The Chinese are incensed by Hilary Clinton's offer to help mediate the disputed islands in the South China Sea, an area which Chinese considers its own. China would prefer to negotiate with the ASEAN countries one-by-one, rather than having an open and transparent multilateral process, such as through the East Asian Summit.
Thus, attacking Japan through the Senkaku amounts to "killing the chicken to scare the monkey". Could Russian President Medvedev's visit to the Kuril Islands, the sovereignty of which is still disputed by Japan and Russia also be designed to tease the Americans? The timing is indeed good, with President Obama presently on the ropes with his mid-term elections.
The China/Japan affair is far from finished. Last weekend's shenanigans over the cancelled meeting between the Japanese and Chinese Prime Ministers show that this affair is still alive. The Chinese have demonized Japanese Foreign Minister Maehara, and seem to want his skin!
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