Stephen M. Walt, “National Stupidity,” Foreign Policy, 14 January 2014
From Sea to Chinese Sea
… But that same force is also leading China to engage in a number of foolish and self-defeating behaviors. In particular, its aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea, its recent unilateral declaration of an offshore “air defense identification zone,” and its hard-line stance in the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute have discredited Beijing’s earlier assurances about a “peaceful rise” and alarmed many of its Asian neighbors. Whatever one may think of China’s claims, this behavior is dumb, because it encourages China’s neighbors to balance more vigorously and makes them eager for more U.S. protection. It would be smarter for Beijing to play the long game and refrain from such demands until China is much stronger than it is today. But given national feeling in China itself, it is not clear that China’s leaders can maintain such a wise and patient approach.
Ironically, Japan offers an even more vivid example of counterproductive contemporary nationalism. Tokyo has been equally uncompromising about its claims to the Diaoyu/Senkakus; even worse, Japan continues to quarrel with South Korea over the Liancourt Rocks, an even less important set of tiny islands. Some Japanese leaders — including current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — have also said disturbing things about Japan’s actions on the Korean Peninsula during World War II, including denying its use of Koreans as “comfort women” for Japanese troops. News flash for Tokyo: China is a rising power, and it is a lot bigger than you are. Japan is going to need as many friends in Asia as it can get if it wants to maximize its freedom of action against its larger Chinese neighbor. Obvious conclusion: pointless quarrels with South Korea are counterproductive — even foolish — and so are those visits to the Yasukuni Shrine that your politicians keep taking in order to appease right-wing nationalist sentiment.
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