Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe's recent visit to the Yasukuni Shrine has been denounced by the Chinese and South Korean governments as a neo-fascist homage to war criminals while the U.S. government expressed "disappointment" at an ill-advised action likely to "exacerbate tensions." In fact, Abe's visit was perfectly timed given China's increasingly aggressive attacks on Japan's economy, soil, and sovereignty.
Since the end of World War II, Japan has been a model of pacifism and a beacon of both free trade and liberal democracy. In contrast, since its birth in 1949, the People's Republic of China has been a bastion of authoritarian rule while behaving much like the bullying imperialists that its leaders are so fond of denouncing. Just consider this brief history of Chinese violence:
In 1949, the People's Liberation Army invaded the East Turkestan Republic; it did the same to Tibet a year later. In these once independent countries, China has killed millions and stripped both the Tibetans and Uighurs of their cultures and religions. Communist Party leaders have also flooded these territories with Han Chinese explicitly designed to "breed out" the natives; and this outrage continues to this day.
During the Korean War, China killed or wounded tens of thousands of American and allied troops. It now protects one of the world's worst rogue nations in North Korea from any type of democratic reform even as millions of North Koreans starve.
During the Vietnam War, Chinese weapons not only killed thousands of American soldiers. In a fact many Americans are unaware of, Chinese soldiers shot down hundreds of American pilots while manning many of the Chinese-made anti-aircraft guns ringing Hanoi.
Meanwhile, Mao's Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s led to famine and floods that killed millions of Chinese citizens while the 1960s Cultural Revolution put thousands of innocents in forced labor camps. Those hapless souls who managed to survive would later be joined after the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre by thousands more political prisoners.
In addition to this legacy of mayhem and murder, the Chinese military invaded India in the 1960s and Vietnam in the 1970s. It has been a one-million man wrecking crew in the South China Sea as well -- literally gunning Vietnam out of the Paracel Islands and driving the Philippines off Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.
While the 1990s were marked by a period of apparent "peaceful rise" as the Chinese economic juggernaut took momentum, China of the 21st century has shed any pretense of "biding its time" or "hiding its capabilities" as Deng Xiaoping once famously advised. Indeed, today, the world is bearing witness to the most rapid military buildup of an authoritarian regime since the 1930s; and a pacifist Japan is now bearing the brunt of much of China's increasing assertiveness.
Chinese fighter jets now regularly encroach on Japanese airspace; and Chinese ships -- both military and civilian vessels -- regularly violate the territorial waters of Japan.
In 2010, and again in 2012, to press its illegitimate claim to Japan's Senkaku Islands, the Chinese government provoked fierce anti-Japanese protests. These riots featured the beating of Japanese citizens, the destruction of Japanese property, the closure of Japanese plants, an economic boycott of Japanese goods, and a government ban on the export of "rare earths" critical to Japan's high tech manufacturers.
Meanwhile, in July of this year, a Chinese battle group steamed for the first time through the Soya Strait between northern Japan and Russia's far east -- just because it could.
Most recently, China unilaterally established an "Air Defense Identification Zone" as a backdoor means to further establish "new facts on the ground" to bolster its bogus Senkaku Islands land grab.
In the face of these "in your face" provocations -- and China's relentless military buildup -- Japan is now faced with two options. It can continue, as it has for more than 50 years, on its pacifist knees and kowtow to China. That will mean not just eventually surrendering the Senkaku Islands but also turning Japan into a vassal state subject to the whims of a country run by a group of dictators who regularly stir up anti-Japanese sentiment to bolster their own illegitimate regime.
The second option, which Prime Minister Abe is clearly choosing, is to rearm Japan and reassert Nipponese prominence in East Asia. To that end, in visiting the Yasukuni Shin, Abe was clearly sending a message to Beijing: "We beat you once and we can surely do it again if you insist on continually humiliating us."
This, then, is the underlying Tragedy of the Asian Commons: If China wants a remilitarized, nuclear-capable, and reinvigorated samurai Japan on its flanks, it should keep doing exactly what it is doing.
Peter Navarro is a business professor at the University of California-Irvine, and the director of the documentary film Death By China.