Lonely Islands

Unless you've been under a rock the past couple months, you've heard about the violent and quite literally fiery protests in China over a couple rocks. On October 8th, 2012, the Philomathean Society hosted a panel of three professors to discuss the contested Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea in College Hall. The panel included Associate Professors Frederick Dickinson of Japanese History, Avery Goldstein, the David M. Knott Professor of Global Politics and International Relations and the Director for the Center for the study of Contemporary China, and Yuhua Wang of Political Science.
After the panelists introduced themselves, co-hosts MD and Sean of the Philomathean Society opened the discussion with a general question: Why is this dispute here now, and not 5 years ago or 5 years from now?

The discussion overall was interesting and most of the panelists had prepared with some well chosen words and humorous interjections, such as Professor Wang insinuating he had perhaps been brainwashed, Professor Dickinson that as a history professor he doesn't keep up with current events, and Professor Goldstein that he doesn't know anything about China. Of course all joking aside, the discussion didn't ever produce the clear-cut answer to a question many people had: who has the better claim? China or Japan?
Anyway, the panelists concurred that it doesn't really matter in the physical sense. The islands are of negligible strategic military and economic value. However, China is currently in the middle of several territorial disputes, none of which it is particularly eager to resolve with the 18th congress fast approaching. However, as Professor Wang duly noted, with the protests has been a surge in nationalism promoting everything Chinese.
This nationalism has been seen in China before and was used to help China grow, but Wang warned that too much nationalism can be a bad thing. The same people protesting against Japan have also been venting their displeasures with socioeconomic inequalities by smashing expensive cars owned by their fellow countrymen. Albeit China does enjoy increasing leverage on the international stage with its growing economic might, its people have possibly rediscovered the power of protest for and against the government. The Chinese government doesn't usually allow protests. China also has a long glorious history of Emperors exploiting peasants, which inevitably leads to the peasants replacing said Emperor. If the Chinese people find they enjoy protesting so much, no Xiaohuangdi is going to be able to stop them.

F. Miller SAS '13