Since the dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea (which are known as the Diaoyu Islands in China), Japanese car sales have plummeted in China. Earlier this month, Toyota announced its Chinese sales have dropped by nearly half from the same month a year ago. Honda, Nissan and Mazda all reported their sales down by over a third. Those dropped sales, along with the vandalizing of businesses, street protests in front of Japanese stores, and lower sales of other Japanese goods make the purchase price of the three islands in the Senkaku chain, ¥2 billion from the government’s contingency reserves, look much, much more expensive.
In the current globalized marketplace, the economic effects of political disputes can be felt very quickly. In less than a year, Japanese automobile sales in China have been taken over by other countries. Germany’s Volkswagen and America’s General Motors have reported an expanded share of the Chinese car market, up to 15 percent each. The South Korean carmaker Hyundai, along with its affiliate Kia, has achieved a nine percent share of the Chinese market.
The Japanese rightist politicians and anti-China activists using the Senkaku Islands issue to arouse national pride have only ended up harming the nation’s economy. Japanese businesses that have invested a lot of time, money and effort into the Chinese market are suffering. If those people fanning the flames of this conflict with speeches truly loved Japan, they would think more carefully before not to undertake actions that could damage Japanese business interests and hurt the economy.
In an essay on the ongoing conflict between Japan and China, writer Haruki Murakami, said, “Anger-fueled disputes of this kind are not unlike getting drunk on cheap liquor — we become intoxicated very quickly; our voices grow loud and our words rash.” His metaphor of becoming intoxicated on national honor explains much about the causes of this conflict. The figures of lost car sales explain much about the effects.
Rather than being a flashpoint for simmering resentments and cross-cultural conflict, the islands could be turned into an example of reasonable mediation, calm diplomacy and Asian cooperation. Japan and China, along with South Korea and other countries, should see this as an opportunity to push for a better model of conflict resolution, one that takes all of the region’s economic, social and cultural interests into account. If that broader, longer-range view can be found, everyone in Asia can get back to what they do so much better than inflammatory rhetorical speeches: business.