For the past several months, China and Japan have been locked in a standoff over a set of tiny islands located in the East China Sea. Both nations claim ownership of the uninhabited islands, and they have sent war ships and jets to provoke each other.
The reason for this childish game has nothing to do with the islands themselves. “What is really driving things is raw nationalism and fragmented political systems, both on the Japanese and even more so the Chinese sides, that is preventing smart people from making rational decisions,” said Thomas Berger, an associate professor of international relations at Boston University. “No Chinese or Japanese leader wants or can afford to be accused of selling out their country.”
The tussle is being driven by a growing disparity between China and Japan’s military strength. Though Japan is far richer than China on a per-person basis, its economy has been stagnant for two decades. China has had double-digit growth for many years now, and it is close to the point where its superior size will allow it to overcome the sophistication of Japanese weaponry and training.
Most experts believe that the Chinese military wants to avoid armed conflict over the islands, but when military jets are sent to face each other every few days, a mistake will eventually occur. Because U.S. forces have to stand ready to defend Japan, a major war is unlikely to take place.
The longer-term goal of the Chinese is to pressure Japan to give up its administration of the islands. Because this chain of islands is close to China’s mainland, they remain a security risk to China’s growing ballistic submarine fleet. Since Beijing is working to build 18 overseas naval bases, it doesn’t make strategic sense to have enemy-occupied islands on their door step.
The bad blood between China and Japan goes back through many centuries of conflict. During the 30s and 40s, the Japanese military invaded China and committed acts that would horrify the Nazis. The Rape of Nanking stands as one of history’s worst mass murder events. Some Japanese officers had contests between each other to see who could kill the most Chinese.
American’s occupation of Japan and the Cold War covered up the scars from the Japanese Imperial days. Now that China is becoming a military superpower, the stage is set for a contest that will show who is now the leading nation in the Asian pecking order.
Time is certainly on China’s side. Japan has a massive national debt, while China has the largest cash reserves of any nation on earth. Another disadvantage for Japan is its aging population. Just recently, it was announced that more adult diapers than baby diapers are sold in that nation. China, on the other hand, has a much younger population that is 10 tens larger than Japan.
For China to emerge as the leading power in Eastern Asia, all it needs to do is wait for Japan to collapse. China can speed up the process by forcing the Japanese into an arms race–which is taking place right now. After a decade of cuts in its defense spending, the island standoff has forced Tokyo to increase its military budget. Last year, Japan’s defense spending increased at just over 6 percent.
I look for Japan to someday become subservient to China. The reason I don’t foresee war between these two nations is the prophecy passage in Revelation that calls for an army of 200 million soldiers that will invade the Middle East. Right now, China is the only nation that can pull off this huge task. The Bible’s use of “Kings of the East” seems to imply that a group of Asian nations will work together to build this army. This current conflict may be the catalyst that sets this prophetic event into motion.
“And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men. And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them” (Revelation 9:13-16).
“And the sixth angel poured his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared” (Revelation 16:12).