When the Japanese government announced earlier this month that it had purchased three islands from a private Japanese citizen, it set in motion a row with China that’s yet to fully subside. The islands are part of a string known in Japan as the Senkaku and in China as the Diaoyu, the status of which was left unclear after WWII. Many in China took the Japanese government’s purchase of the islands as a nationalist provocation, and responded with raucous protests that had at least tacit approval from the Chinese government, if not encouragement. The dispute has also flared at sea, where both countries have had ships poised near the islands.
The protests in China, which had included the vandalizing of Japanese-owned businesses, appear finally to be subsiding. Renewed calm would come as a relief to those who note the widespread economic harm that would result from any prolonged dispute between the deeply interdependent China and Japan, Asia’s two largest economies. In fact, there is speculation that concern over its softening economy inspired the Chinese government finally to tamp down the protests. Even still, with both countries experiencing political transition, and the launching this week of China’s first aircraft carrier, observers note that an end to the protests shouldn’t be taken to signal an end to the conflict.
To military strategist and historian Edward Luttwak, China’s clumsy handling of disputes like this comes as no surprise. In Luttwak’s telling, the obvious indiscretion of allowing citizens to vandalize businesses owned by one of the country’s largest trading partners would be but another example of what he calls “Chinese autism.” That’s the term Luttwak uses to describe China’s low level of awareness of the effects its actions have on other countries.
In his new book, The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy, he argues that the inexorable rise many forecast for China will actually be undercut by this inability of its leaders to think strategically. Essentially, China is attempting to grow its military might in step with its economic power, a double-pronged advance that Luttwak says belies the logic of strategy. He explains further:
One of the most important ramifications of China’s trouble with strategic logic, according to Luttwak, is the manner in which it steers other Asian nations towards alliance with the U.S. Certainly something for the world to watch.