[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

Old Enemies; A New Round?
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2004


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] In my recent novel, Conspiracy, a Japanese candidate for Prime Minister urges his country to remilitarize in view of the threat being faced by an increasingly powerful China. A number of readers sent me e-mails questioning whether this scenario was realistic. After all, one wrote, "haven't Japan and China put all that behind them like France and Germany?"

Without delving into Franco/Germanic relations, which is another topic, the fact is that the enmity between Japan and China has continued to simmer. Some recent events are threatening to convert smoldering ashes into a raging bonfire.

The most striking event was instigated by Beijing last week. A group of Chinese civilians eluded Japanese coast guard vessels to land on an uninhabited island with the objective of claiming Chinese sovereignty. The island, part of a group in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, has been under Japanese control since 1895 after the Sino Japanese war. Police, flown in from Japan by helicopters, arrested the intruders and carried them off to a prison on Okinawa.

There is no doubt that Beijing authorized and supported this overtly hostile act toward Japan. Those arrested had sailed in a 100 ton boat that had departed from Zhejiang China. In a well coordinated operation, they left the boat on rafts equipped with sophisticated electronic equipment which enabled them to dodge the Japanese ships.

The rhetoric on both sides since the incident has been surprisingly strident. In Beijing, for several days Chinese demonstrators burned Japanese flags outside of the Japanese Embassy. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, called the arrests "a serious provocation against China's sovereignty and territory, and Chinese citizens' human rights."

Japan has responded by lodging a strongly worded official complaint with the Chinese Ambassador. It also deported seven Chinese citizens, while complaining publicly that Beijing was arousing anti-Japan sentiment in China.

This incident follows a number of others which underscore the hostility between the two countries. Last October, after Japanese students staged a lewd prank in Xian China, interpreted as a Chinese slur, a series of anti-Japanese riots hit the city. This followed earlier anti-Japanese protests in China sparked by a sexual orgy involving Japanese businessmen and Chinese prostitutes.

The Senkaku incident at first blush appears to be nothing more than an assertion of Chinese national pride. It seems reminiscent of Argentina's attempt to seize the Falklands from Great Britain. After all, these islands are uninhabited.

But on further digging, there is something more here. This chain of islands, which stretches between Taiwan and Okinawa, has strategic significance in controlling sea lanes carrying oil from the Middle East to both China and Japan. Even more important, surveys have shown potentially lucrative oil deposits in the area.

China and Japan, the world's second and third largest consumers of oil, are now clashing more and more openly for access to this precious limited resource, which now drives both of their economies. The Chinese are furious at Japan for persuading Russia to cancel a 1,500 mile pipeline project which would have brought large quantities of oil from Eastern Siberia to China. Instead, the proposed pipeline will bypass China and go to the Russian part of Nakhodka on the Sea of Japan from which oil can easily be transported to Japanese refineries.

Startled by the Russian abrupt change of position, leaders in Beijing found that a critical commercial deal they believed to have been concluded suddenly disappeared. A combination of Japanese money, marketing muscle and economic sophistication carried the day.

The Chinese are already in an increasingly difficult oil supply situation. Power shutdowns have become common as China's oil demand has skyrocketed. It seems inevitable that a military clash over oil will eventually occur between these two old enemies.

Currently Japan's Prime Minister, Koizumi, has vowed to alter Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, drafted after the Second World War by the United States occupying Army, which forbids the development of an offensive military. Even without that, Japan has demonstrated its military preparedness by dispatching so-called "Self Defense Forces" to Iraq.

China, for its part, according to world oil experts, has begun stockpiling oil, which accounts to some extent for high prices paid by Americans at the pump. It doesn't take much imagination to guess why a nation with power outages is stockpiling oil. It wants to be ready for war. There is a real possibility that these two old enemies decide to square off again.