All the Asian Rage

By Ferguson, Niall | Newsweek, October 8, 2012 | Go to article overview

All the Asian Rage


Ferguson, Niall, Newsweek


Byline: Niall Ferguson

It's not just the Middle East. China's on the march.

Rage is all the rage. As we all know, radical Muslims are enraged about blasphemous videos and cartoons--so much so that an American ambassador to a country liberated by the United States was murdered by a howling mob in Libya.

I worry about that. I worry even more about this administration's lame response to it. But perhaps we should all worry the most about a very different kind of rage: the Chinese rage that takes the form of a hyperventilating nationalism.

Another American ambassador recently had an encounter with Chinese rage. Fortunately, he was unharmed. Still, if I were Gary Locke--the U.S. ambassador in Beijing--I certainly would not have enjoyed being surrounded by 50 Chinese-nationalist protesters chanting: "Down with U.S. imperialism! China will win!"

You may well wonder what the protesters were on about. The answer is a group of tiny uninhabited islands, called Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. There are five in all, plus three rocks, and their total surface area is less than five square miles.

Sounds absurd, right? A bit like Canadians mobbing U.S. embassies over the ownership of the Alaskan islands of Chichagof and Baranof, which, if maps were neat, would be part of British Columbia. But before you zone out, let me remind you that some very big wars have been fought over some pretty small places. A dispute over the ownership of Bosnia and Herzegovina was what started World War I. Ground zero for World War II was Danzig/Gdansk and a thin strip of West Prussia.

The historical record suggests that the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands were the property of imperial China until the Japanese annexed them after their defeat of China in 1895. Administered by the United States after 1945, the islands were handed back to Japan in the early 1970s. Some reverted to their prewar private owners, the Kurihara family. But neither the People's Republic of China nor Taiwan accepted this arrangement.

The Japanese government's recent decision to purchase the islands is just the latest in a series of perceived affronts to Chinese national pride. The protesters who mobbed Ambassador Locke on Sept. 18 were milling around outside the Japanese Embassy when they spotted his America-flagged limo. Theirs was one of a spate of anti-Japanese protests in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenyang.

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