A military conflict between China and Japan is looming, with neither willing to back down over a disputed chain of islands, one of China's leading foreign policy experts has warned.
The spat over the Diaoyu or Senkaku islands has escalated dramatically in the past month with violent protests in China. But with a national election approaching in Japan, and a change of leadership in China, politicians on both sides have refused to step back from the brink, afraid of appearing weak.
"There is a danger of China and Japan having a military conflict," said Yan Xuetong, one of China's most influential foreign policy strategists, and a noted hawk. "I do not see either side making concessions. Both sides want to solve the situation peacefully, but neither side can provide the right approach."
He warned that unless one side backed down, there could be a repeat of the Falklands conflict in Asia.
"Generally speaking, according to the theory of international relations, unless one country makes concessions to the other, the escalation of a conflict between two countries will not stop until there is a military clash," he said.
He said that China was tolerant with smaller powers. "But the case of Japan is different. There is history between us. Japan is a big power. It regards itself as a regional, and sometimes a world power. So China can very naturally regard Japan as an equal. And if we are equal, you cannot poke us," he said.
Mr Yan is the dean of international relations at Tsinghua university, the elite college that schooled both China's president, Hu Jintao, and his likely successor, Xi Jinping.
He is also one of China's representatives to the Council of Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, a non-governmental body that coordinates security in the region.
Chinese and Japanese diplomats have met this week for talks over the crisis, but no agreement has been reached.
Yesterday, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry attacked Yoshihiko Noda, the Japanese prime minister, for telling reporters at the UN that the islands belonged to Japan.
In the balance is some €271bn of bilateral trade. Last year, exports to China accounted for 3pc of the Japanese economy.
Mr Yan predicted that if there was a military confrontation, the United States would not intervene physically. (© Daily Telegraph, London)