The Wall Street Journal confirmed what’s been widely predicted: the Governor of the People’s Republic of China’s central bank has announced he won’t attend this month’s annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund because it’s being hosted by Japan.  Instead, the PRC will be represented by Zhou Xiaochuan’s seconds, neither of whom will have the authority—or the contacts or trust—necessary to conclude any substantive agreements.  Not that the PRC is interested.

The PRC’s cancellation is just an escalation of its protest over another territorial dispute: Japan refuses to acknowledge that its Senkaku Islands in the southern part of the East China Sea belong to the PRC.  Eswar Prasad, late of the IMF with the PRC portfolio and now with the Brookings Institution, has the right of it:

China clearly does not feel the need to be subtle or nuanced in making apparent its displeasure about the escalation of the territorial dispute with Japan.  China is making it clear that it puts territorial sanctity above all other political and economic considerations.

The PRC made its intentions clear with the threat it issued through Xinhua, which the PRC government routinely uses for its public communications. In the context of the IMF cancellations, the PRC said the dispute (over the Senkakus) was “now starting to weigh on the world’s economy.”

However, if the PRC were truly serious about its territorial sanctity, it would withdraw its forces back to within its own borders.  It would cease its grab for the South China Sea right up to the borders of Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia; it would cease its occupation of Tibet; it would acknowledge the independence of the Republic of China.  No, this is just another naked power grab, part of a collection of land and resource grabs the PRC feels safe in making in the growing power vacuum developing from the American military reduction.

In the end, the IMF meeting should—and it will—proceed, concluding such agreements as were on the agenda before the PRC’s withdrawal, as though China’s substantive presence does not matter.  Because it does not.  They’ve taken their marbles.  Let them stay home and play by themselves.

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