October is now upon us, evident by the crisp cold air of fall and the exciting conclusion to the first of three presidential debates. As I sat in the Barnes & Nobles Café with my hot cup of coffee trying to look as studious as possible (while reading the most recent issue of ESPN) I tried to reflect back on the month of September. It was a little surprising to realize that we had three major riots occur during the span of two weeks in different locations: the Middle East/North Africa, China, and Spain.
I paid close attention to China in particular because of my familiarity with anti-Japanese sentiment on a national scale. Growing up as a Korean-American, my grandfather’s life mission was to make sure I didn’t buy a Japanese-made car. This was, perhaps, more important to him than me getting good grades or finding a Korean wife. Sometimes, our conversations (which usually took place during dinner) would eventually spill into his Toyota Camry as we made our way to the grocery store (oh the irony Grandpa). But I understand the anger in China over Japan’s buying and claiming the Senkkaku islands (known as the Diaoyu in China) as their own.
South Korea and China both share a history of Japanese invasion and imperialism as well as horrible atrocities committed against their people in the form of human experiments, rape, and massacres. Even as the Chinese battle for the Diaoyu islands, South Korea is battling for the rights to Dokdo, a small group of islets lying smack in between the peninsula and Japan.
It is imperative, however, that we do not mistake the riots in China as only an expression of patriotic anger. Many local Chinese citizens watching or taking part in the riots observed that the leaders of the riots were often police chiefs of the city. Sui, a Chinese student, also observed that pictures and coverage of the protests were made searchable on Chinese websites – quite unusual for a government that cracks down on and censors most protests/riots (observers.france24.com). What we can take away from this is that the Chinese government had an interest in encouraging and using the riots for a specific purpose. Some say it allowed the government to divert the public’s attention from domestic issues (corruption, social inequality, etc.) and some say it was purely to scare Japan.
As the presidential debate on foreign policy draws near, I think it is crucial for the next president and us as informed citizens to refrain from making assumptions in the complex internal affairs of other states. Simplifying the causes of such events can lead to ignorant thinking and dangerous policy-making. When riots responding to an ignorant film mocking Islam spread across the Middle East, Americans and the media were quick to identify all Muslims as radical and hating the United States. It was only after careful analysis and observation that we discovered most of the embassy attacks and violent protests were carried out by proponents of a movement in Islam known as Salafism (Avaaz.org).