Northeast Asia like Europe in 1914

Kia Ora

A couple of months ago, I alluded to the rising tensions between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, tiny specks of land that both countries claim ownership of. The combination of Japan refusing to acknowledge its war-time past, and Chinese nationalist sentiment has the two regional powers on a collision course that is raising concern in other countries around the world. To add to the problem, South Korea has indicated that it would pre-emptively strike North Korea if the latter shows signs of readying a nuclear weapon for use.

Neither a Sino-Japanese confrontation or a restart of the Korean War is a welcome prospect. Both have the potential to drag in any one or more of China, Russia, Taiwan, the United States or Japan. In some respects, this is similar to the situation just before World War One started in Europe. Essentially there are two armed camps, each with a complex arrangement of alliances and a set of sensitive trip wires that could easily cause one or both camps to mobilise militarily.

We will call the two camps, Camp A and Camp B. Camp A has China, North Korea and possibly Russia. Camp B has the United States, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. But both camps have their distractions, which are worth examining.

In Camp A, China is in a bind. It has a despotic North Korean regime on its border, whose sheer unpredictability make make it as big a liability as it is currently an ally. Could China really rein in North Korea if it was forced to do so? If that proved impossible, would China accept the risk of North Korea collapsing and a democratic state on its border? Given how keen the Chinese Government appears to maintain its one party state, acceptance of a democratic Korea appears unlikely, lest infiltrators start spreading dissent.

Camp B also has its problems. Japan’s steadfast refusal to properly apologise and acknowledge its wartime past has long been a source of contention with China, but it is also a source of contention with South Korea. Prior to the Japanese invasion in 1905, Korea was a single entity. When World War 2 ended 40 years of exceptionally brutal Japanese rule, the Americans and Russians divided the peninsula in two along the 38th Parallel. South Koreans want an apology like the Chinese do, and that is highly unlikely to happen under the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a conservative.

Both sides most definitely want to avoid war. There would be nothing to gain from an economic confrontation, much less a military one. The effects if one or the other started to impose sanctions as an alternative to military action would send shock-waves rippling through markets all over the world.

So, how does this affect New Zealand?

At this present time, it does not. The problems start if or when one of the two camps decides on actions with consequences. Sanctions will affect demand for New Zealand goods, which might not be an altogether bad thing, but when coupled with a volatile dollar, possible spikes in fuel prices and travel warnings, the problems could be considerable.

However, we might not have the luxury of waiting until then. It is not for New Zealand to really get involved in Chinese-Japanese, Chinese-Korean or Japanese-Korean affairs but a really good way of taking some of the irritation out of this problem would be to get the Japanese to acknowledge their war time history. None of the nations in a position of influence appear able or willing to say this. Should New Zealand?

With that said, the time is approaching when New Zealand will need to decide whether it is in the Chinese or American camps of global influence. Sitting on the fence as the two camps get more and more edgy might not be such a desirable strategy for much longer. If any good ever comes of these tensions, it might be that New Zealand is finally forced to decide which camp it wants to be in. Do we support Uncle Sam, despite our misgivings over U.S. foreign policy and the T.P.P.A.? Do we support China with it’s vast economic markets, but abominal human rights record? Or do we fly solo and come up with an entirely different solution?

Take Care,


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