The Drudge Report revels in juxtaposing high-contrast headlines. By visually grouping conflicting storylines, the website's digital editors have made the ironic jolt an editorial art form.
Last week, on Sept. 19 (the date will prove to be important), a trio of Drudge-linked articles delivered a geopolitical jolt, of the dry throat and think-about-it variety.
The headlines, in Drudge jolt order: (1) Panetta: New Asia Focus Not Aimed to Contain China ... (2) Chinese General: Prepare for Combat With Japan ... (3) Beijing hints at bond attack on Japan ...
The common theme is obvious: a looming, perhaps immediate, conflict in Asia pitting Japan against China, with the U.S. backing Japan. If Headline One is a pulled punch (Drudge links to an AP story where U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta tries to convince Chinese diplomats that the U.S. isn't trying to contain China, even though it is), Headline Two certainly isn't. Prepare for combat sends an electrifying message. Click the link, and The Washington Free Beacon says Gen. Xu Caihou, China's top military commissar, sees China's escalating maritime dispute with Japan over three uninhabited islets as casus belli. (The Chinese call the islands the Diaoyus; the Japanese the Senkakus.)
Headline Three suggests China may crush Japan via economic strangulation, a morally superior form of devastation, in lieu of high explosive bloodshed. Indeed, the linked Daily Telegraph essay notes China is Japan's biggest creditor. Chinese financiers boast they can "punish" Japan for several things. (Remember the date, Sept. 19?) The essay also suggests China is probing the resiliency of the U.S.-Japan alliance. (Re: Headline One.)
Last week's China-Japan saber-rattling percolated beneath U.S. major media's belated focus on the 9-11 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the Obama administration's unraveling (and utterly wrong) initial explanation of that tragic event's cause.
The Mideast is dangerous. Iran's murderous government, which seeks nuclear arms, is a major problem. Arab Spring democracies are fragile. But a major East Asian war would send the world into a sustained economic depression -- and for that matter, a Sino-Japanese economic war might, as well.
With China and Japan -- and the U.S. -- engaged, bet that North Korea's nutcase regime attacks South Korea. And the chain-reaction continues.
Southeast Asia: China has quarrels with several nations over South China Sea maritime boundaries, and its disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines could quickly turn violent. What does Taiwan do?
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 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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