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China: Japan's Imaginary Enemy

Territoriality over the waters between China and Japan continues to limp along after yet another Chinese fish boat captain, Zhang Tianxiong, was arrested this past weekend for drifting into Japanese waters and then leading that country's coastguard on a four-hour high speed sea pursuit. It ended when the Chinese boat was rammed and its crew of ten were taken in for questioning.

By most accounts, Zhang was fishing well inside an area where he would have known he ought not be, but the chance to make the incident a nationalistic showdown was too good for some to pass up. Or, as military affairs commentator and magazine editor Wu Ge wrote [zh] on his blog:


This sort of incident always inevitably end up affecting relations between the two countries, leaving the diplomatic services no choice but to address it from above, to work to together and diffuse the situation. But then the big problem comes along. Quite a few Chinese citizens automatically escalate (unfriendly, defiant and sometimes even provocative language included) all incidents of this sort into a matter of national honor or this large's country's status, taking a hard stance, even delving into whether the two countries need to go to war.
Television news screenshot

Television news screenshot

And yet Zhang's arrest, sanctioned as it might be by international law, also happened to coincide with Chinese media reports, which cite Japanese media as saying that a large joint Japan-US naval drill will take place off Kyushu this week. Not only will this reportedly be the first of several large defensive drills to come, but Japanese media are now widely said to have alleged that China will serve as the imaginary enemy.

On that, Phoenix blogger Jin Zishan writes [zh]:



Japanese media are playing up China as “the imaginary enemy”, but we don't know if that represents Japan's official stance. It could be that Japan is using its media to say what it's not convenient for the state to say itself, or it could be that Japanese media are just trying to throw fuel on the flames. People will see what they want to see. At the official diplomatic level, though, and when it comes to military drills, the convention is that the term “imaginary enemy” just doesn't get used so overtly so easily.

It makes no sense to have China be the “imaginary enemy”, and especially not so “overtly”. The forward game between China and Japan is played out in areas surrounding the Diaoyu islands and the East China Sea, yet China has always managed to maintain a certain amount of restraint, and seldom takes an aggressive stance. Considering this, how is it that China has ended up listed as “the imaginary enemy” in Japanese media?


Declaring China the “imaginary enemy” is unquestionably just another attempt at perpetuating the so-called “China threat theory”. Giving China this groundless “threat” label is merely an attempt to manipulate Japan's unhealthy domestic political environment, as well as to tarnish China's image on the international stage. It's an attempt by Japan to gain the upper hand over China in competition between the two countries, a beneficial move with which it also intends to conceal its own “fangs” from the world.


Setting China up to be the “imaginary enemy” allows Japan to build up its military and war capabilities, allowing it to shape policy in the region, and gradually lead to action. It's no secret that Japan, which possesses great nuclear strength and a nuclear stockpile, has always sought to strengthen its defense capabilities, and takes every opportunity to steadily extend those beyond its borders.

This November 3 was the 65th anniversary of Japan's ratification of its post-war “Peace constitution”, which the country's right wing took as an opportunity to demand that the “Peace constitution” be amended, that its “Self-Defense Forces” be renamed as its “Army”. Japan also plans to “give names” to 39 offshore islands before the end of this year, and, in violation of international law, even expand its offshore exclusive economic zone.

It's becoming increasingly evident that Japan intends to expand and extend its reach to the edge of the South China Sea.

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