EAST CHINA SEA DISPUTE
Both Washington and China are steadily upping the stakes in their rivalry as China's provocations of U.S. friends and allies become more flagrant and America's commitments to support them become more categorical. Both believe they can do this with impunity because both believe the other will back down to avoid a clash. There is a disconcertingly high chance that they are both wrong. Asia today therefore carries the seeds of a truly catastrophic episode of mutual misperception.
This week, U.S. President Barack Obama is visiting Asia to meet U.S. allies and assure them of America's backing as China rises to become the dominant power in the region. In light of the West's weak response to Putin's takeover of the Crimea, some Asian allies are concerned about whether the U.S. will stand steady in the event a conflict breaks out between one of its allies and China.
Though mired in a thoroughly modern nation-state dispute with very real military consequences, both China and Japan also proudly draw their identities from continuous cultures that are not only thousands of years old, but also grounded in common civilizational roots. Perhaps if they peered far enough back to those common roots, they would not be so bent out of shape over who owns a few rocks in the ocean. Looked at differently, the islands very much resemble a dry zen garden where a series of mindfully positioned rocks rest harmoniously amid a meticulously raked gravel sea of nothingness. It is here that one contemplates peace.
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