Japan/China

Gideon Rachman

(c) Getty Images

Here at Davos, I’ve just had the opportunity to moderate a discussion between the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and a group of international journalists. I asked Mr Abe whether a war between China and Japan was “conceivable”.

Interestingly, he did not take the chance to say that any such conflict was out of the question. In fact, Mr Abe explicitly compared the tensions between China and Japan now to the rivalry between Britain and Germany in the years before the first world war, remarking that it was a “similar situation”.

The comparison, he explained, lies in the fact that Britain and Germany – like China and Japan – had a strong trading relationship. But in 1914, this had not prevented strategic tensions leading to the outbreak of conflict.

Naturally enough, Mr Abe also made it clear that he would regard any “inadvertent” conflict as a disaster – and he repeated his call for the opening of a military-to-military communication channel between China and Japan. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Protesters in Shenzhen burn a Japanese flag during a demonstration over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands (Peter Parks/AFP/GettyImages)

Just when the Japanese thought it was safe to get back in the water, the news that high-level Chinese delegates have stayed away from the IMF meetings in Tokyo has underlined the fact that China is not letting go of the dispute over the islands variously known as the Senkaku or Diaoyu.

It is not just China that is the problem. In recent months, Japan has also clashed with Russia and South Korea over disputed islands. Japanese nationalists always demand a strong response in these cases. But even more moderate voices in Tokyo are worrying that the country’s neighbours now see Japan as weak – and liable to be pushed around. Read more