100 Years Later, 1913 Rings Eerily Familiar

“2013 eerily looks like the world of 1913, on the cusp of the Great War,” claimed Charles Emmerson in Foreign Policy this month: There are plenty of distinct and plausible shocks to the system that could knock our expectations of the future wildly off course — and plenty of surprises that we can neither predict nor anticipate, but that we can indirectly prepare for by attuning ourselves to the possibility of their occurrence. To take an example of one of the more plausible shocks we now face, a miscalculation in the South China Sea could easily set off a chain of events not entirely dissimilar to a shot in Sarajevo in 1914, with alliance structures, questions of prestige, escalation, credibility, and military capability turning what should be marginal to global affairs into a central question of war and peace. While Emmerson concedes that China’s recent rise can’t serve as a perfect parallel to Germany in 1913, China’s foreign policy has grown increasingly aggressive as it pursues its national interests. And last week, the United States crept further into the fray when comments by Hillary Clinton about the disputed Diaoyu Islands set off media spin machines in both China and Japan. For the International Herald Tribune’s Rendezvous blog, Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote that Emmerson’s 1913 echoes with familiarity in Asia: Consider this: In Hong Kong over the weekend, Shotaro Yachi, the foreign policy adviser to the Japanese prime minister, accused China of “breaching the rule of international order” (his remarks were delivered by a former Japanese official, Takujiro Hamada, The South China Morning Post reported). “You will be a superpower — much feared but not much liked,” Mr. Yachi warned China at the third Sino-U.S. Colloquium, organized by the China Energy Fund Committee. China is asserting territorial claims by force, said ...
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