As China decries Japan’s rising  ‘Voldemort’, the UK remains quiet

The dispute over islands in the South China Seas is increasingly bitter

Share

Not that long ago, the Prime Minister would demand from military and intelligence chiefs at meetings of the National Security Council that “something must be done” about Syria; this apparently rose in volume and urgency in the sessions after Samantha Cameron had visited a refugee camp across the border in Lebanon.

All that stopped after the Government’s Commons defeat on military strikes due to take place after Bashar al-Assad’s crossing of the ‘red-line’, the chemical attack in Ghouta. Since then, Britain has scaled back on the supply of even ‘non-lethal’ supplies to the opposition as well as refusing to take its share of refugees from Syria – people driven out of their homes in an uprising this country repeatedly encouraged, those whose plight had so distressed ‘SamCam’.

Syria is not the only place about which Downing Street is now lukewarm. Little mention is made about what will happen in Afghanistan when troops pull out, or of the return of al-Qa’ida in Iraq, something directly linked to the Syrian violence; no real interest in the states collapsing in Africa; hardly any reference to the vision of Britain’s role in the changing global order the Coalition was so enthusiastic about when it came into office

Mr Cameron is now firmly focused on the strategic menace posed by Romanian and Bulgarian beggars. His last ‘hotline’ call was not to Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, but to his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, to be told off about the threat to withdraw child benefit from Polish immigrants. His ministers, meanwhile, are busy attacking Blackadder’s lack of patriotic fervour for the First World War.

We need to turn from Blackadder to Voldemort to look at a far more important unfolding scenario in geopolitics. The evil wizard with whom Harry Potter regularly does battle was used by Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the UK, to describe the malignant spirit of Japanese imperialism, part of a round of increasingly bitter accusations and recriminations between the two countries.

Mr Liu’s attack, in a newspaper article, came after the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, visited the Yakusuni shrine in Tokyo, where convicted war criminals are honoured. The shrine, according to Mr Liu, was a veritable horcrux (a place in which the character of Lord Voldemort hides pieces of the soul to prolong his life).

After decades of approaching the media in a stilted, formulaic way akin to meeting targets for tractor production in a five-year plan, the Chinese foreign ministry has made a great leap forward on public relations. Its diplomats are now far more proactive, armed, as we see, with a lexicon of popular Western culture. The Japan’s ambassador Keiichi Hayashi was not to be outdone, insisting that it was, in fact, Beijing which was the real “Voldemort in the region by letting loose the evil of an arms race and escalation of tensions.”

It is not just a Sino-Japanese problem in the Far East. The cause of discord – ownership of islands in the South China Sea and maritime boundaries – also involves Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia. Countries outside the region, the United States and India, have also been drawn in, forming, in Beijing’s view, a hostile coalition.

The territorial claims have been couched in terms of historic sovereignty. There are, of course, strong commercial imperatives: resources underwater, gas, oil and fishing, as well as control of some of the busiest international shipping lanes in the world.

Japanese rearmament and the flexing of its military muscle, along with the American military’s expanding presence in the Pacific Rim, are pointed out as a source of grave concern by the Chinese. Mr Abe has pledged to make changes to the post-war constitution restricting deployment of forces abroad. He has offered the Indians the US-2 amphibious aircraft for sale to entice it into an alliance; Japan has recently launched a helicopter-carrier, and announced that its ageing F-4 and F-14 fighter-bombers will be replaced by the American F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The US has moved marines to Australia, announced new plans to send warships and combat aircraft, carried out exercises with states in dispute with China and, along with Japan, tested Beijing’s newly set up ‘Air Defence Zones’ with overflights.

All this does not mean that we are about to see, as Mr Liu may put it, the ultimate Battle of Hogwarts. For all the talk of Japanese militarism, its forces are small compared to those of some of its neighbours, the army – half the size of South Korea’s and a tenth that of China, which also has an air force and navy, three and four times larger in size.

The advantage the Chinese have on quantity is lost on quality. Their equipment is far less advanced than the Japanese and are not in a position to embark on even a limited conflic at present: the odds become insurmountable with American involvement.

The offensive by both Tokyo and Beijing is rather one of diplomacy and propaganda. The Japanese Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida, went to Spain and France last week to drum up support and he is expected to visit UK in the near future. Similar overtures to the West are being made by the Chinese, with the carrot of possible trade deals as the economy heads towards being the largest in the world.

Mr Cameron has made two trips to China to try and drum up exports. But there are a whole host of issues in this region with which other countries are becoming engaged – Japan for example is offering to work with France in Africa. The question for the UK is whether it wants to look back on 1914, or face the challenges brought by the 21st century.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power