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5 Things You Should Know About the China-Japan Territory Dispute

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The latest chapter in a centuries-spanning conflict threatens to embroil the US.

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4. Both countries' governments are being provocative. Tokyo Governor Shoharo Ishihara, an outspoken character with a long history of anti-Chinese comments, sparked the dispute by launching a public fundraiser to buy the islands from their private owners, forcing the Japanese government's hand as China fought back against Ishihara's bid.

The ownership debate in Japan has many scrambling for answers, while Ishihara continues to make inflammatory remarks: In response to news that Chinese patrols were circling the islands, he said, "We'd better shoo off those who walked into someone's home in dirty shoes; we should shoo them away." Meanwhile, China's government is publicly urging its citizens to remain calm and express "rational patriotism," but many independent reports paint a different picture with stories of Chinese police walking alongside demonstrators and actively encouraging the vandalism of Japanese businesses.

5. It could have a major effect on the US presidential race. More and more American politicians, especially those on the right, have been spinning some pretty harsh anti-Chinese rhetoric for a while, and that's only increased since this dispute started. Mitt Romney claims that he will declare China a "currency manipulator" if he's elected, and China is therefore as suspicious of the United States as it is angry at Japan.

American fears about China are largely over-hyped, but this is a moment at which relations between our countries are particularly volatile; the territorial dispute, the Communist Party's leadership transition, and the global economic crisis have combined to form a perfect storm. The recent US decision to expand its shared missile defense system with Japan by installing a new high-power radar system right in China's backyard is just the icing on a very precarious cake.
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