Longtime correspondent Cheryl A. asked me to comment on the dispute between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. I am happy to oblige, as this raises a great number of deeply intertwined issues that are playing out in Asia.
Let's start by noting the "stranger than fiction" absurdity of privately owned islands in ambiguous-nationality waters off China --the scenario of Bruce Lee's classic martial arts film Enter the Dragon . The plot revolves around an ex-Shaolin monk engaged in the drug and prostitution trade who has acquired a private island with murky nationality where he stages martial arts competitions of "epic proportions."
Despite the resemblance to fiction, the dispute is soberingly real, and rooted in chains of events stretching back to 1274 and 1592. Although ostensibly about rights to possible undersea oil/gas reserves, the conflict is about more than territorial or mineral rights.
Japanese fear of Chinese domination can be traced back to the 1200s, when two massive fleets under Mongol leader Kublai Khan attacked Japan in 1274 and again in 1281. The four thousand-ship fleet carrying nearly 140,000 men is said to have been the largest naval invasion in history, eclipsed only in modern times by the D-Day invasion of France (Normandy landings) in 1944. The Mongol fleet was twice dispersed by timely typhoons known in Japan as the "divine wind" ( kamikaze ).
If you visit Korea, you will notice a curious repetition in the placard descriptions of the historic temples and palaces. Each description includes the phrase, "burned by the Japanese in 1592."
Hideyoshi, the feudal daimyo of Japan, seeking some project to occupy 200,000 battle-hardened samurai and soldiers who had been engaged in decades of feudal-fiefdom warfare in Japan, decided to invade