Japanese officials have announced they will release the Chinese fishing boat captain whose two weeks of detention had sparked an increasingly volatile diplomatic fight between the two nations. When China retaliated by blocking the export of rare-earth minerals to Japan, it raised concerns in the U.S. about how far China was willing to take its fight against America's closest ally in East Asia. Will Japan's release of the captain resolve tensions or is it too late? The row over the detained fisherman is widely seen as an expression of deep and complicated Sino-Japanese hostility, so there's no easy solution. Here's what people have to say.
Ends Current Standoff, Makes Future Conflict More Likely The New York Times' Martin Fackler writes, "The decision to free Mr. Zhan appears to end a heated diplomatic standoff that had seen top Chinese leaders make increasingly insistent demands for his release. China had also used its growing economic clout to ratchet up the pressure on Japan, cutting off ministerial-level talks, freezing talks on joint energy development and curtailing tourism and other economic links. However, the release left unresolved the broader issue of how countries in the region will respond to an increasingly powerful and assertive China. In Japan, there was already mounting criticism that by appearing to give into China’s demands, Prime Minister Naoto Kan would only encourage Beijing to become more forceful in the future."
- China Proved Economic Dominance The Christian Science Monitor's Peter Ford writes, "This might have been an unnerving prospect for Japanese economic policymakers, given China’s importance, as export-dependent Japan’s biggest trading partner, to Tokyo’s growth prospects. 'The Japanese economy’s future seems to depend on whether the problem is solved quickly,' Japanese Economy Minister Banri Kaeda told a press conference earlier Friday, before the prosecutor’s announcement."
- China Developing 'Economic Warfare' Forbes' Gordon Chang warns, "there is a far more important lesson to be learned here. The West had assumed that China could be integrated into the global system of commerce and, once so enmeshed, it would become benign. Yet nine years after the accession to the World Trade Organization, Beijing appears not to have been constrained by its participation in global trade. During this period, China has become economically powerful, and now, it is using that power to achieve geopolitical goals—in this case to demand from Japan territory over which it has exceedingly weak legal claims. So whatever we may think about free trade or open borders, we have to remember that every economic advantage we extend to China gives its leaders one more tool to advance their geopolitical goals."
- Why Sino-Japanese Instability Will Persist Foreign Policy's Daniel Blumenthal explains, "The key factor in Asia's underlying instability, then, may not be the perception of China's rise relative to the United States' decline. Rather it may be China's rise relative to Japan's decline. The Chinese economy has now overtaken Japan's. China spends more on defense than does Japan. And within Japan as well as the rest of the region, there is a perception that Japan cannot shake its stagnation. Great power conflicts often begin when a once stronger country believes it is losing its relative position to a rival. This is a more accurate description of Japan's attitude toward China than of the U.S. attitude toward China. In addition to this perceived change in power position is the emotional aspect. These two countries harbor great reservoirs of mutual resentment and hatred, which may not drive their disputes but certainly makes them worse."
- Chinese 'Special Interests' Playing New Role The New Yorker's Evan Osnos asks, "Who is piloting the boat? That is, in political terms, who is running China’s handling of the crisis? The Chinese military has been notably out front on this, which is a break from previous cases. ... The rise of special interests has become the signature issue of Chinese politics in 2010. ... If you want to prevent the next crisis with Japan from becoming something far larger and more dangerous, it will mean figuring out how to keep China’s power-players from being more powerful than their own system."