The Chinese authorities are doing two things: scuttling official contacts and public events and sending official vessels, six of them, simultaneously, into the territorial waters of what Google Maps judiciously calls “Senkaku Islands / Diaoyudao / Diaoyutai.” So the Japanese Government might as well have saved its money by letting the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buy them and given a Gallic shrug when Governor Ishihara made landfall. Now, if the Japanese Government registers its usual protests but fails to take substantive action, the Chinese vessels will become a regular feature of the Senkaku seascape and Japan’s “effective possession” will vanish, pouf, just like that.
But what? And at what cost? Just spiffing up the old lighthouse would invite a massive boycott from the Chinese public and the Chinese authorities could just let it happen without officially lifting a finger. True, Chinese joint venture partners will lose money and Chinese employees will lose their jobs, but the political downside will be strictly limited. The truly essential stuff, the things that go under the hood, inside factory walls, they wouldn’t have to be affected. It’s much harder for the Japanese public to respond in kind. Even if Japanese public became sufficiently incensed, what is it going to boycott? Lenovo laptops and what else? How do you boycott all the things that are hidden behind the label, inside the kitchen? Asymmetric warfare, economic version, that’s what this is.
Perhaps, then, the Noda administration will keep “surveilling” those Chinese vessels until they go away, like they usually do. After all, they do need to replenish their fuel and supplies, don’t they? But what if the Chinese authorities bring in replacements? Entirely plausible. The Noda administration better have a Plan B, even though it will be a painful one for Japanese businesses. Otherwise, the second phase of the Noda administration will be short, brutish, and nasty.