6 Ways to Prevent a Conflict Between Tokyo and Beijing
Image Credit: U.S. Navy (Flickr)

6 Ways to Prevent a Conflict Between Tokyo and Beijing


The ongoing crisis over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands may be bringing Asia to the cusp of war. Trefor Moss recently wrote that a Japan-China war over these disputed islands is very unlikely. That could be right. Or it could be wrong. But even a very small chance of a Sino-Japanese war breaking out in 2013 is enough reason to work to try to prevent it.

What follows is a six-point plan to seek to deescalate the dispute in the short term. It is no doubt flawed and incomplete, but international diplomacy is never perfect, nor does it have to be. However imperfect a resolution to this dispute may be, it is almost certainly preferable to war for all parties involved.


The following recommendations are directed at Chinese and Japanese decision-makers:

1. Remember the price of war.

Looking at a two-dimensional military map, drawing arrows and moving colored chips across it is the highest possible abstraction of war. The strategist’s viewpoint reduces lives to tokens, dehumanizes war, and gives the mistaken illusion that killing and dying is as simple as a game of chess. Always remember the costs of war when making decisions of such gravity. Transport your mind into that of the soldiers and sailors you are sending to their graves. Ask yourself, as the philosopher does, what becomes of your humanity “while half a pound of lead, sent from the distance of a hundred steps, pierces my body, and I die at twenty years of age, in inexpressible torments, in the midst of five or six thousand dying men…” As an unnamed source put it, “there’s some 24-year-old kid in the Japanese Coast Guard who has a family and friends. At some point he’s going to take a .50 caliber round over this.” Always bear these images in your mind before you commit lives to the horrible business of war.

January 28, 2014 at 22:12

Let’s dispense with the political correctness and be clear: China is quite eager to go to war, and the benefits of war to China are numerous and vast. (The “costs” of war are likely far outweighed by the benefits, particularly on the Beijing side of the equation).

China is suffering from a massive deflationary overhang of productive capacity in a world of dwindling demand. Her labor force is underutilized, as is her industrial capacity. Socially, Chinese society is fragmented and unstable. The one-child policy of the last several decades has created a massive gender imbalance. (Social stability in a world with tens of millions of unmarriable, impoverished men is a pipe dream). Wealth inequality has skyrocketed, and the pantheon of Beijing elites is increasingly under fire.

While perhaps an uncomfortable truth it must be noted: An external enemy solves a multitude of problems — particularly a well-armed one. China is surrounded on all sides by nations of inferior military capacity. And to top it off, China is seeped in cultural belief in Chinese manifest destiny, and a deep-rooted cultural hatred of Japan — making wars extremely easy to sell.

Selling ‘peace’ when the economic, social, cultural and political benefits to war are clear will be next to impossible. Particularly in a world of increasing instability outside the context of war.

October 1, 2013 at 06:04

For Japan, the most sensible is to remember how bad the Japanese economy was before expanded trade with China, and how animosity of the Chinese consumers, per se, will erode trade. Few Chinese will buy a Lexus if the tires need to be replaced monthly; how easy it will be for China to roil up and rev up such animosity. By 2035, when waves of unarmed Chinese boat people start to attempt to land on the islands, what could Japan respond with preserving trade mind?

For China, the most sensible is to know that it is 11 times the size of Japan. China is growing faster by wide margins and its advantages are just beginning to accumulate, but at present it has no more than parity with Japan. War comes with too many ramifications; pressure with the threat of war will be very effective, eventually.

I see this as a Chinese strategic rout over Japan; the USA will not interfere when a war has not started but is very possible. I see China refraining from being too assertive too soon. Conflict now is very unlikely because China is winning, as the Chinese leadership clearly sees.

Japan and China are just two different stages; Japan is much smaller developed country while China is an immense and rising country. It will be just a matter of time while China’s advantages will be overwhelming, and very effective against Japan.

Two non-parallel straight lines intersect only once; why focus on the intersection?                        

The USA will not have a major role when a devastating war has not happened but is possible, eventually, and can materialize if the USA sides with Japan.

The Japanese also need to consider the distant future, say 60-80 years from now, as the US declines and China rises more. The US role will be even less in the distant future. The Japanese are very myopic.

robert crowson
June 28, 2013 at 07:57

There is a way out of this. Its call the natural land rule. All land once connected to a mainland that has been put under water or seperated by it is still part of the same. Not the sea over it but the floor. Now 18000 years ago one could walk out far to the east China sea. Thus far enough to drill oil and gas from Chinese dry ground. And on the other hand Japan has the Island chain property. Everybody gets to drill save face be happy make money.

Taro Ishihara
April 5, 2013 at 07:16

@ Kangmin Zheng,

Japan is forced to be peaceful for last 70 years after US put ball and chain on Japan's 4 limbs and a leash on Japan's neck. The disputed island matter is not as simple as what you claim. Your history rewritting symdrome just shows up to the public again.

Don't try to pull Russia into Japan's broken pants. Two clowns (Japan and US) in one pair of broken pants is outrageous enough, not to mention Japan's attempt to pull Phillipines and India in too (In that situation, 4 clowns in one pants). Stop making Japan funny and silly.

How long can Japan kept kowtow to United States? I also want to ask you. Fix this national scar of Japan first before you pick on China.


April 5, 2013 at 06:46

@ JBond,

Don't waste your time on China. Your real concern should be fixing Japan's forever breaking up Nuclear Plant crisis and Japan's perpetual breaking up economy and politics.

Continuous changing of Prime Minister and unlimited mass money printing just help shorten your days in this world, Japan.

April 3, 2013 at 16:19

Kim's Uncle,

China has a long history and always face invasion. Japan is isolated islands and does not show up to world stage until late 19th century.

It is Japan which has been kow towing A LOT for the past almost 70 years. And history already slapped Japan around like a rag dog. Just to imitate your rap.

I bet you are a Japanese, who usually don't study history and learn from history.


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