Austin Bay

Central and South Asia: Does China's regional rival, India, react? The border dispute that provoked the 1962 Sino-Indian War is not fully settled. What about Russia?

Pacific Ocean and Beyond: If the U.S. backs Japan, does the war go global and nuclear?

These are just a few of the geopolitical questions and prospective calamities stirred by "Chinese General: Prepare for Combat With Japan."

So this week the Sept. 22 issue of the eminent Economist Magazine made a China-Japan war its cover story, asking the question: Could China and Japan go to war over a handful of tiny, uninhabited islets? On the magazine cover, a giant sea turtle, its head poking through the ever-so-slightly disturbed Pacific surface, answers, "Sadly, yes."

Don't diss the turtle. As insane, destructive, impoverishing and stupid as this war would be, the Economist notes that naval confrontations easily escalate. Two opposing warships collide, and then someone shoots. The Economist knows diplomacy, aimed at resolving island sovereignty disputes, can fail, and that deterrence has a role. Recall Drudge Headline One, where Panetta says the U.S. pivot to Asia isn't really 21st century containment.

Such a tangled mess of disputes, intertwined economies and conflicting interests. Add historical grudges.

Sept. 19, 1931: On that day, the morning after what became known as the Mukden Railroad Incident, Japanese soldiers attacked the Chinese garrison at Mukden (Shenyang), and then invaded Manchuria. You can make a case that Japan's Mukden aggression was the first bloodletting in what we now call World War II. A lot of Chinese think so.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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