No one doubts that a war would be bad for China and Japan.
It wouldn’t be reasonable to put the nation’s dramatic growth and development at risk by sparking a military conflict with Japan, particularly one that would get the US involved. After all, Japan has been keeping up its end of the bargain with the US since the end of WWII. There would be nothing at all reasonable about China starting a war with Japan. But history shows that when it comes to war, what’s reasonable is not always the determining factor.
Commentators have noted a victim mentality in China, even as it rises. James Fallows noted a few months back that the hatred of Japan was increasing among China’s youth. Maybe the widening gap between China’s wealth and development and its 20th Century experience triggers calls for revenge. This is unreasonable for so many political, economic, and diplomatic reasons. Ultimately, war could come, not because of the facts surrounding the Diaoyu Islands, but the uncontrollable feelings around them. And I hate to say it, but possibly part of the maturation of China, its true entry into the modern world, would be a post-war period when it really puts in place the diplomatic, political and even cultural bulwark to prevent feelings from driving foreign policy. Like Japan.