China has a few harsh words for every country that tries to tame its ambitions to dominate the South China Sea and reunite with what it calls Taipei, its breakaway prefecture.

So one day, the strong words targeted the Philippines over sovereign rights, followed by a few strong words against Vietnam the next day and against Japan, the old enemy, the third day. 

In two Global Times editorials posted last week, China told Japan to stop "playing with fire on its reckless moves over [the] Taiwan question" and that Tokyo needs a "head blow to wake up." 

Beijing's harsh words against Tokyo came after reports in the Japanese media that Japan is planning to step up its intelligence-gathering operation in Taiwan by having an incumbent official with the Japanese Ministry of Defense stationed in Taipei this summer. 

The editorials quoted Chinese military expert and TV commentator Song Zhongping saying that "no matter the status of the Japanese military officer stationed in Taiwan, it is clear that Tokyo keeps making more and more reckless moves over the Taiwan question."

Zhongping warned Tokyo that "if it dares to provoke China and interfere in China's internal affairs, particularly the Taiwan question, it had better get ready to suffer a blow from China."

While the editorials didn't specify what kind of actions Beijing could take, it isn't hard to guess. Japan has an extensive presence in the Chinese market, both as a seller and local manufacturer of consumer and capital goods, which could be targeted by Beijing. It happened before when relations between the two countries soured, and it will happen again. And it's something Tokyo doesn't need as it tries to shake off its three decades of stagnation.

"The fundamental problem is that China has become such a big, strong, influential country in recent years, and no country could ignore its existence," Tenpao Lee, economist and professor emeritus at Niagara University, said. "They were forced to make adjustments to compete and deal with challenges created by China." 

Lee thinks it is a bad idea for Japan and its allies to try to contain China by playing the Taiwan card.

"We need to excel ourselves rather than ask China to slow down. Nor do we wish for confrontations among China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet. The sanctions on Russia have demonstrated an ineffective policy to a larger country with its strengths in the global economy. Plus, China is the second-largest economy in the world, with nuclear capabilities," he explained.

What's the alternative?

"We need to acknowledge China as a partner and work with China to make the world better, peacefully," he added. "We must realize that an unstable China will make the world 10 times worse than the Russia-Ukraine war has."

Retired Vice Admiral Robert B. Murrett, professor of practice and deputy director of the Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law, takes a different approach.

"It is difficult to overstate the critical importance of Japan with respect to security in East Asia and our overall allied posture with regard to China," he said. "Japan has gradually assumed a more vigorous posture in relations with China over the past few years, and this trend is likely to continue."

He thinks Tokyo is "unlikely to get rattled about statements from Beijing that they are 'playing with fire over Taiwan' — as they will continue to balance their economic interests with a firm policy stance on regional security issues." 

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