This is a calibrated crisis to test the strength of the US alliance with Japan. It reminds me of the Agadir Crisis in 1911, when Kaiser Wilhelm sent the warship Panther to Morocco to prevent French annexation, though there were a series of such seemingly preposterous episodes.He indicated that this incident could draw the US into a conflict that it doesn't want:
In a strict sense, the Kaiser was correct. The French were violating earlier accords. But his real purpose was to probe and weaken the British Entente with France (not quite a formal alliance) by picking on an issue where London had little natural sympathy for French actions.
The Japanese have walked straight into the trap. In fairness to the Democratic Party of Japan, it interceded to buy three of the five disputed islands to head off an even more dangerous move by the nationalist governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara.
And in fairness to Chinese government, they have sent paramilitary vessels to the islands rather than a naval squadron. That is a crucial difference.
Washington guarantees Japan’s defence under its US nuclear umbrella. It uses military bases on Japanese soil as an unsinkable aircraft carrier. It works hand in glove with Tokyo in a tight military alliance.On the surface, this sounds very scary. Also scarier the account of how an angry Chinese mob attacked US ambassador Gary Locke's car:
The question is whether Washington is really willing to uphold the Japanese alliance as the going gets tougher. Will it let America to be led by the nose by Japanese nationalists into a clash that is not obviously – or immediately – in US national interest?
A crowd of around 50 Chinese protesters surrounded the official car of the United States ambassador in Beijing, who escaped unharmed, a State department spokesman said.That headline sounds even more alarmist. Then consider this account buried in the same report [emphasis added]:
The melee occurred outside the gates of the US embassy on Tuesday and security guards had to intervene to protect Gary Locke, 62. The protesters caused minor damage to the vehicle, a statement from the embassy said.
“Embassy officials have registered their concern regarding today’s incident with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and urged the Chinese Government to do everything possible to protect American facilities and personnel,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, the protests against Japan have now evaporated. The road outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing has reopened and there was no sign of any discord.Then ask yourself, how serious is the Chinese government about this dispute if they are trying to rachet down the protests against Japan?
“It seems the protests in front of our embassy have subsided,” the Japanese embassy said in an email to Japanese citizens.
Beijing police sent out a mass text message telling the public not to stage any more protests, according to the Japanese embassy.
This is a tempest in a teapot. When tensions between China and Japan subsides, global risk premiums will fall as well and asset prices will respond accordingly.
Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. ("Qwest"). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest.
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