Posts on Sino-Gist over the last few days have focused on the building tension between China and Japan- hopefully, a piece on a different subject will present itself on this blog later on Friday. However, it is worth alluding to Xinhua's latest offering on the disagreement over the contested islands in the East China Sea. As well being a clear warning shot of the potential long-term consequences if Japan continues to detail the Chinese fishing trawler's captain, it is interesting how this article (a first for Xinhua's coverage on the issue) refers to the Shenyang railway incident of September 1931, when Japanese troops destroyed a section of the track and used this purposeful sabotage as an excuse to attack Chinese forces. The event is also seen as being the pretext for the larger-scale Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the Imperial Japanese Army's further occupation of large swathes of Chinese territory (an occupation that only ended in 1945).
Xinhua quotes comments from Jiang Yu (a spokesman for the foreign ministry) which called on people to look at history and learn lessons from it. By highlighting the Shenyang example as symbolic of Japan's subversive foreign policy, Beijing is appealing to China's 'victim identity' (seen by many as a common feature throughout much of the country's 20th century history). Such a tactic reflects the growing political importance of the East China Sea issue- it has been used previously to fire Chinese nationalist sentiments and provide a definite mandate for the CCP's rule, and its deployment here once again illustrates how useful a tool China's recent history is in providing support for the government's actions. Relations with Japan have entered a new stage as the controversy has escalated from being a routine spat to one where both nations' pride is at stake. Jiang's call to learn the lessons of the past is a possible sign that China is positioning itself to take increased action if its detained citizen is not released- the example of Shenyang will play no small part in justifying this move.