The fires of a long-standing territorial dispute between Japan and China have been rekindling as multiple anti-Japanese protests have taken place recently in China. The territory under question is a few small uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. China claims long-standing historical ties to the territory. However, Japan held jurisdiction over the islands starting in 1895 and lasted until 1945 when the United States took occupation of the islands. The United States gave the islands back to Japan in 1972. China has never been accepting of this Japanese control and still claims the islands. Just this past month, the Japanese government decided to purchase the islands from the private Japanese citizens who owned them. This purchase has been the direct cause of the recent anti-Japanese protests in China.
As of the writing of this article, the protests have begun to die down. Protesters were seen destroying Japanese goods, cars, and even demanding economic sanctions on Japan. Besides the territory in question, the protests seem to have some clear political causes as well. There is a leadership transition underway in China and no leader wants to appear submissive to Japan.
There has been a near media frenzy in covering this story. Authors from the New York Times to The Economist have belabored how important it is that China and Japan continue to trade, and the drastic consequences that would result if these countries came to war. However, despite the media attention for the protests, there are no signs that these protests will lead to any major consequences. The islands in question are described as natural gas rich, but the resources in question certainly are not enough to make a difference for China. More importantly, the Chinese government has more than enough problems at home to keep it occupied. Why would it need to acquire a few islands?
While anti-Japanese protests in China might seem to have the potential for dire consequences, it is important to look at the situation in practical terms. These protests have a political flavor, but are very unlikely to gain traction. The potential for war and economic sanctions from these protests seems almost nonexistent.