Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Energy Wars Loom


Japan announces today they will unilaterally drill for oil and gas where the Chinese have claims
By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan began allocating rights for gas exploration in a disputed area of the East China Sea on Wednesday, a move likely to rile China at a time when ties are at rock-bottom levels in a dispute over Japan's wartime past.

A senior Chinese official, calling the energy dispute one of the main problems plaguing Sino-Japanese relations, had warned Tokyo a day earlier not to award the test drilling rights and said doing so would "fundamentally change the issue."

Simmering tensions between the two Asian giants over a range of topics, especially what China sees as Japan's failure to own up to wartime atrocities, erupted in China at the weekend, with thousands of people taking part in protests that turned violent.

Some concerns have arisen about a Japanese backlash. In Tokyo on Wednesday, members of a right-wing group shouted slogans at the Chinese embassy, where security has been tightened, and dragged Chinese flags behind two vans, a witness said.

Some Japanese media said officials had pressed for a decision on gas exploration before Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura goes to Beijing for a planned two-day visit from Sunday to seek a solution to the broader diplomatic impasse.

Remember the Yosemite Sam cartoons? During the Gold Rush, people would stake claims and the one way claims could be defended or taken was through violence. The authority of the sheriff could be corrupted as bigger mine owners could steal the mines of lesser men through mob violence or assassination. The military would have to come in to restore order. The disorders and violence in boom towns out West was legendary and the grist for a million forms of entertainment. Truly, power and energy does grow out of the barrel of a gun.

Usually, when nations play this game, the danger of a nation acting like Yosemite Sam is lessened by the UN and the threat that all other nations will unite to stop an invasion bent on stealing the claims staked by other nations. Unfortunately, in our desire to Yosemite our way to wealth, we rashly invaded an oil pumping nation that was not menacing anyone, much less Yosemite USA. So we set the stage for an eruption of oil claim jumping that is now playing out across the planet.

Rationally, Japan has no ability to unilaterally seize oil claims. But something changed last week. Condi Rice visited Japan and had private conversations and since then, Japan has been increasingly the bully boy of Asia, openly defying the other nations, snubbing them by belittling them in history text books, refusing to apologize appropriately for WWII, denying the just claims of former sex slaves, and in general, thumbing the nose at the neighbors. Evidently, Yosemite USA gave them a green light to do this.

China, in particular, is upset about this. They were trying to draw closer and closer to Japan. True, the ultimate aim is to eliminate American military and financial power in Asia, but the Chinese were doing this in the legal and diplomatic way, following peaceful rules of conflict. Negotiations coupled with deal making.

But now Japan has decided, this very day, to do it the claim jumping way. The intention is to take and hold the claims and shoot anyone who interfers. This means, China must use some sort of club, too.

China and Japan are the two biggest traders with each other. This conflict has serious side effects, so many, I only can point to Germany vis a vis Britain in 1914 as a model and this is not a good thing.

What did Condi promise Japan? Blackmailing China by threatening them with nukes? Closing down trade with China? It takes the breath away. Wars are ridiculously easy to start. All you need is gross stupidity mixed with rash disregard. Yosemite Sam was a comic figure because of his bad temper and bull headed ways. Are we him now?

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