Have a happy Mukden Incident Day

“On September 18, 1931,” we are told, “a small quantity of dynamite was detonated by Lt. Kawamoto Suemori…” It was Japan’s pretext for the invasion of Manchuria. Aside from (probably) marking the beginning of World War II in Asia, the 9-18 incident is noteworthy for three reasons. First, it is one of those occasions when the image of China as a poor, helpless victim of foreign bullying – so important to Beijing when it is not snatching bits of the Philippines and Vietnam – is a reality. Second, it made the incompetence and weakness of China’s government in the face of foreign aggression obvious to the whole country, not for the first time. Third, the anniversary is tomorrow, just as demonstrations and even riots are breaking out in the Mainland against Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, and with the national leadership transition due to get underway. Hong Kong’s own anti-Japanese activists are setting up shop on the walkway outside Exchange Square, home of Tokyo’s local consulate.

When the nationalist governor of Tokyo announced a plan to buy the islands from their legal, private owner, the Japanese government felt it had no choice but to purchase them itself. Otherwise, the militantly anti-Chinese mayor would have used municipal ownership of the property to provoke Beijing, for example by brazenly building structures there. The Chinese leadership should have been grateful that Prime Minister Noda stepped in to ensure that this didn’t happen. Instead, someone in Beijing decided that this (inevitably) hurts the feelings of the Chinese people, and sent the word out through the media that Tokyo is trying to grab the territory. The result is Shenzhen erupting in fury, with citizens attacking Seibu department store (correct) and the city government offices (not correct).

One theory is that this is part of a factional power struggle, with outgoing President Hu Jintao stirring up trouble to justify his continued chairmanship of the Central Military Commission after Xi Jinping (‘I once was lost but now am found’) takes over from him, assuming that’s what’s going to happen. (Another explanation for Xi’s two-week disappearance: he was ‘on strike’ in protest against Hu’s efforts to retain influence.) Another theory is that the People’s Liberation Army is stirring things up in order to gain more clout in the new administration. Both could be correct, or neither.

Some parts of the Mainland state-run media have been criticizing Hu recently for his lackluster performance while in power, while the South China Morning Post reports anti-Japan demonstrators carrying pictures of Mao and Bo Xilai and placards calling for political reforms. It is often said that if the Chinese people ever rise up against their government, it will not because of economics, corruption or persecution, but because the leadership betrayed the nation by failing to defend its territorial integrity against dastardly foreigners – in other words, lapsing into the old bullying-victim model.

As in the past, it will all blow over – but not before everything has been ratcheted up another notch, with the Chinese people more convinced than ever of the rightness of the cause. One of China’s problems is that legally Japan has a half-decent claim to the islands in terms of treaties and recentness of the exercise of sovereignty. Beijing can argue a fairly good moral case: Japan took over the uninhabited rocks at a time of imperialist expansion, and a simple glance at a map suggests they would otherwise be Chinese territory today. It could also point out that under international agreements on the sea, such specks of rock are not entitled to a 200-mile economic zone. But the parallels with the Paracels and Spratleys in the South China Sea start to get too close for comfort. If China owns dots on the map that are close to China, so Vietnam and the Philippines must own their nearby dots as well. And we can’t have that. So we stick to lame arguments about thousand-year-old fishing practices and rely on volatile public emotion to make diplomatic points. Meanwhile, we wait to see if Hong Kong activists manage to get that rickety old fishing boat seaworthy enough to make another trip to the scenic outcrops.

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12 Responses to Have a happy Mukden Incident Day

  1. Bela Baedeker says:

    In the Muslim world people go out onto the streets in religious indignation, when really they just want to give the Americans a good kicking.

    In Hong Kong and China, people go out onto the streets complaining about Japan, when really they just want to give their own Government a good kicking.

    Many revolutions begin with a relatively minor incident with a recognisable aim. The powers that be nod indulgently. Then suddenly, the mob changes direction, the aristocrats (and immigrés) are up against the wall, pleading for their lives.

    The Chinese Communist Party however likes to play with fire because firstly, passively holding Great Power is rather boring and, secondly, the consequences don’t matter as they have all the guns.

    Above all else though, it is important to celebrate and nurture the twin national passions: playing games rather than getting things done; and wallowing in a glorious soya vat of poignant nostalgia.

    Hong Kong is now a big Red amusement park. A pimple turned into a peep show for jaded cadres. The White people are the freaks.

  2. PropertyDeveloper says:

    The Chinese attitude to these rather attractive looking desert islands is don’t do as I say, or left hand not knowing what the right is doing, ie it’s all ultimately special pleading, half-specious arguments that can never be reciprocated.

    Japan is just doing what China did to the Paracels: a mere administrative measure, adjusting the status without affecting the sovereignty, except in a symbolic, needling way. They should of course have done it quietly a few months ago, in the dead of the night.

    And it works. Much of the world believes HK Island was only leased, in an “unequal” treaty. Even the BBC calls any area that the Chinese press claims “disputed”, but never Tibet, Sansha “City” or the parts grabbed from India etc.

    I suppose they’re just imitating US anticolonialist hypocrisy (cf. Guam, Samoa, etc.) and supposing that they can rewrite history, since power grows out of a gun barrel.

  3. Will.I.Are says:

    Hemmie has finally outed himself. Who’d-a-thunk… Neville Chamberlain still crowing about Peace in Our Time. Congrats for making it this far Neville. And not one iota learned from history I see. Lot of good all that living has done ya.

  4. Prodigal_Son says:

    The US’s anti colonialism mostly sprung up as a reaction to how impressively rubbish they were at the whole exercise. It would be interesting to see how long it takes the CCP to throw its toys out of the pram should it ever be demonstrated to the proletriat how poorly they have controlled and pacified HK.

    “Never wanted it in the first place.”
    “HK Chinese not real Chinese. Don’t get any funny ideas about what should be going on here”

  5. Walter De Havilland says:

    There are media reports, accompanied by photographs, that Chinese officials orchestrated the protests and in one instance a senior official is shown directing the action. Of course, as pointed out by others, the danger is when it spins out of control and turns on the officials. No doubt the Chinese will seek to calm matters after this weekend’s excesses. Of course, the Japanese public could decide to do their own protesting and attack Chinese businesses. If that happens all bets are off. Let’s hope moderate voices prevail.

  6. PCC says:

    Hmm, the Japanese public (or the Vietnamese or The Philippines’ public or whomever) giving Chinese businesses or tourists a taste of their own puerile medicine? Now that I’d like to see.

  7. arm bears says:

    What Bela said, particularly:

    “Many revolutions begin with a relatively minor incident with a recognisable aim. The powers that be nod indulgently. Then suddenly, the mob changes direction, the aristocrats (and immigrés) are up against the wall, pleading for their lives.”

    Indeed, that is the problem with mobs. Note their targeting of the Shenzhen city government offices. Not an obvious symbol of Japan, that one.

    The subStandard had an intelligent quote on the topic, for a change:
    “Protester Shang Dali, 21, said: “If Japan does not back down, China must go to war.”

    But another said: “The acts committed by protesters are irrational. Most of them have been upset by severe social conflicts in the city and they only resort to violence to express their outrage. I believe the government should handle the social problems well and people should not resort to violence.””

    Well, I suppose that would be one approach for the CCP to take.

    Or else the Party could concentrate on get rich and stabbing each other in the back in opaque power struggles and making sure their spoiled chubby kids get overseas educations (and passports, and so much money so that they can crash Ferraris while getting blow jobs), and not give a shit about the masses, other than to shoot at them from armoured vehicles when protests get too noisy.

    That would be another approach.

  8. So So Thirsty says:

    How goes the mooted Chinese plans for a manned expedition to the moon anyone? One can only assume that, should they succeed, they will no doubt claim it as Chinese; an inalienable, sovereign territory of the great and glorious etc. etc. and one of their ‘core’ interests.

    After all, they will claim, the moon has shone on China for millions of years, and everyone knows China is the cradle of mankind. Moreover, ancient texts will show that they have written poems that mention the moon for at least 1,500 years. Goodness, they even hold festivals for it! Therefore, as any reasonable person would concede, the case is unarguable and the moon belongs to China.

    Oh, yes. There is already someone elses flag there, but they didn’t claim it and besides, it was clearly a foreign imperialist/colonialist plot to foist an unequal ‘treaty’ on the Chinese people (whose feelings are still hurting), by sending a mission to the moon at a time when the great & glorious etc. etc. were far too busy sending out squads of school children to beat reactionary grannies to death, to be able to compete.

    Well, that’s got that off my chest. Have a good week everyone

  9. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Apparently there was a coordinated move to indicate to the revolting masses that certain companies, consulates and marks were Japanese (although Chinese-owned and -run Japanese restaurants also suffered). And they’re not beyond fine-tuning protests by allowing or disallowing key phrases on the social media.

    Bela’s point — like his posts recently — is valid, but to reach the catastrophe theory cusp/the tipping point, there has also to be a long and large buildup of resentment at the government. Baiting foreigners is an effective safety-valve for popular unrest. In China’s case, my impression is that revolution would not happen without a severe recession… or a lost war.

  10. Real Schnapps Purveyor says:

    Take a look at just how widespread the demos have gotten:


    You can’t go past the image of the sobbing woman holding her flag after returning from the protest to find the mob had smashed her Japanese-made car – delicious.

    Also closer to home, I’d like to remind everyone that Michael Chugani is a real person and actually really does have a career in journalism, this isn’t some mass hallucination, that’s really him hosting that show last night on ATV, sweating profusely under the studio lights and with that “i smell shit” grimace on his weasely little face.

  11. Real Scot Player says:

    Just as a related note of perspective, China is the largest direct colonial power of the 21st century by sq km and bodies. Denmark comes close by sq km bu then again, Greenland, nuff said.

  12. Walter De Havilland says:

    The inevitable call for calm has now gone out from the Central Authorities. It’s all unfolding according to the usual script.

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