"Time Is On Our Side" - A Chinese Look At New Japan-China Cold War

Anti-Japan rally in Shenyang, China
Anti-Japan rally in Shenyang, China
Zhang Jianjing


In China, anti-Japanese sentiment is running very high. The call for a military occupation of the Diaoyu Islands is popular among the public. Managing Sino-Japanese relations and maintaining peace in the East China Sea has become a matter of urgency.

China and Japan’s conflicting claims over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands have always been a fundamental difference. But for a long time this disagreement did not affect the development of the two nations’ relationship. From the beginning of China-Japan diplomatic relations, both countries have had a certain interest in “shelving” the dispute. The consensus maintained the status quo: although the Japanese controlled the islands de facto, the Chinese took no measures to seize or occupy the islands.

Nevertheless, China has sovereignty over these islands. Any display of words and deeds as to the sovereignty or rule of the islands without agreement from China is a violation of China’s interests.

So why is it getting more and more difficult to maintain the status quo?

First, the involvement of non-governmental forces continues to affect the status quo. Historically, Japan has always encouraged its citizens to explore overseas whereas China had a ban on maritime expansion. However times have changed and in the future it will be normal for citizens of the two nations to encounter each other at sea.

Second, the balance of power in East Asia is changing – it is tilting in favor of China. Many Japanese are anxious about this. Japan has a powerful incentive to seize the initiative, taking advantage of the current situation, consolidating its position so as to reinforce its bargaining position in the future.

China needs to respond calmly, without haste or rush. As long as China sticks to market-oriented reforms and opening up its economy, its technology level, economic strength and international influence will continue to improve, and China will ultimately achieve a dominant position relative to Japan.

Military conflict

Many people believe that with China’s current strength it can take over the Diaoyu Islands and recover sovereignty and control over the islands. This would mean the outbreak of a China-Japan military conflict.

Is the military solution the best choice? No. Is Chinese military occupation of the islands a permanent solution? No. Will Japan throw in the towel if China wins? No.

The conflict would be prolonged and intense. In history, examples abound where “the war was won, but the peace was lost.” This is the precise reason that the Japanese right wing continues to provoke. China should use its best diplomatic, economic and political means to deal with the issue so that China’s overall strategic situation is not affected.

China should take the long view in dealing with this dispute. In modern times, China has handled most of its territorial disputes with the diplomatic measure of “non-recognition.” This has solved most of disagreements between China and its neighboring countries and also with countries that had overseas territories in China.

The best way to safeguard China’s interests is for it to adhere to the principle of the maintaining the status quo, resolutely refusing to recognize attempts to change the status quo, and simultaneously fighting back against such behavior. A military conflict should be a last resort. This position, in line with international justice, is bound to gain the favor of international opinion.

Japan and China can't be real partners

In these circumstances, China should handle its relations with Japan by focusing on two points.

First, a bilateral strategic dialogue has to be enforced. The fundamental reason that disagreements continue to emerge between the two nations is that from a strategic point of view they have identified few common interests.

During the Cold War, China made peace and normalized its diplomatic relations with Japan because of common strategic needs. In the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese technology and capital, as well as China’s opening market, encouraged the two nations to maintain a good relationship.

However, these factors have changed. On a global level, Japan cannot become China’s strategic partner. In East Asia, considering historical issues, Japan alone cannot become China’s preferred partner; on other issues there exists a certain strategic competition between the two nations.

So China-Japan relations remain at a lukewarm level, and can never be upgraded to a strategic collaboration level. The two countries’ future relations need hard work to find common strategies as well as consensus.

Second, Japan must face the emerging security framework in East Asia. The current core of Japan’s security structure is the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, a legacy of the end of World War II. This agreement safeguards Japan, but it also isolates it from other countries of the region and makes it difficult for Japan to be integrated as a completely Asian country.

As Japan’s neighbors are growing increasingly strong, its strategic position in comparison has become more and more irrelevant, a reality Japan has not encountered before and needs to face. It needs to learn from Germany to completely abandon its imperial dreams and become a humble Asian citizen.

U.S. policy regarding the islands

The message released by the Obama administration over the dispute is that it is between China and Japan and has nothing to do with the U.S. This is quite intriguing.

America is taking an “equidistant” diplomatic route to avoid making efforts for others. This more or less implies that it is urging Japan to ease its stance. If Japan insists on military conflict with China, the United States would be forced to fulfill its defense commitments. Obviously, America does not wish to be hijacked by a few reckless Japanese, and forced into a conflict that would damage its standing and interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

The low-key approach of the U.S. has deep-seated considerations. First, it wants to let the balance of power play its natural role. Second, if the U.S. takes sides, it would present a huge risk for America’s Northeast Asian strategic zone. Third, the crisis over the Diaoyu Islands and Huangyan Island, also known as the Scarborough Reef, has prompted the United States to reassess the risks behind its "Return to Asia” strategy.

We believe that in the short term the U.S. does not want to convey a radical signal which would mislead other countries into believing that its "Return to Asia" would bring a revolutionary adjustment of its regional strategies. China should make full use of this policy and conduct active diplomacy towards the U.S.

Old hatreds die hard

Due to Japan's invasion of China in 1931, many Chinese people have a strong hatred of Japan or harbor anti-Japanese sentiments. In Japan, some people know little about the atrocities of the Japanese invasion and lack both reflection and repentance. Meanwhile the right-wing forces in Japan still try to obscure this part of their history. This is to be resolutely condemned and boycotted.

However, it should be noted that today's Japan is no longer a belligerent country. Inside Japan there are powerful forces that contain the resurgence of any militarism. These forces are constitutional as well as institutional.

From a historical point of view, it was only when China was in civil unrest, divided, closed, and backward that Japan had the opportunity to test their ambition of dominating the continent. When the country is united, prosperous, reformed, and open, it is impossible for Japan to pose a threat to China.

As China grows increasingly strong after more than 30 years of reforms, its relations with the world are changing. Relations that were originally certain have become uncertain. Countries where China had no stake are now very important. Issues that were ignored are now controversies. As one of the bigger countries, China has the most difficult strategic situation. It has many land neighbors and a very long maritime border, requiring large forces to guard its territory. Other countries have an opportunity to find an operational opening.

China is facing a specific “security dilemma” during the process of its rise as a great power. If China does not display its military strength and its will when it is provoked, other countries will continue to be tempted to erode its interests; whereas if China does display its military power and its will to use it, these countries will proclaim that "China does indeed pose a threat."

Such a "security dilemma" will continue to accompany the rise of China for a very long time. Therefore China needs to take action to build a multilateral security system and to find a way of handling differences with an open attitude and through negotiations.

This is the new reality China must face squarely.

Considering this new reality, China’s most important task at the moment is to reach a consensus on major strategic interests between the ruling class and the public: the consensus that, for a long time yet, development is China’s primary goal, and that domestic reform and development are its top priority.

Setting development as its primary goal requires China to maintain strategic restraint for the long term so as to create the essential conditions for domestic reform and development.

Otto von Bismarck said that a nation sails on the river of time. The competition between China and Japan can be regarded as a race against time. If the current trend is not reversed, time is no doubt in China’s favor.

However, it is difficult to use linear equations to derive the complexity of the competition between countries. Experience of history tells us that a country's development has ups and downs, and that a country often declines for internal reasons.

In this sense, internally, China also has a race against time. Because increasingly powerful interest groups have a fear of further reform, China might misuse its "time window," squander a historic opportunity and miss out on the reform process. Compared to this challenge, the Sino-Japanese race against time is trivial.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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