As China flexes its military might, with huge increases in defence spending and increasingly assertive patrols in disputed territories, Japan has compared the tensions to those between England and Germany before the First World War.
So far it has been a war of words.
However, historian Niall Ferguson has warned that US President Barack Obama’s policy of non-intervention, or, as he puts it, his being “resolved only to avoid being George W Bush”, also resembles the incoherent foreign policies of British Liberals a century ago before the First World War.
Against this background, a dispute over five uninhabited islands and three barren rocks looks increasingly dangerous.
China views the “nationalisation” of what it calls the Diaoyu Islands by the Japanese in 2012 as a serious provocation and will do whatever is necessary to assert its sovereignty.
Japan, meanwhile, which calls the territory the Senkaku Islands, is using an ever increasing number of naval ships and warplanes to guard them and is trying to involve the US.
If war were to break out, the US is bound by treaty to come to the aid of Japan.
President Barack Obama has already reaffirmed his recognition of Japan exercising its administrative rights over the Senkaku Islands.
The mounting unease between the two nations was made abundantly clear at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used his keynote speech to take a very public jab at China.
He didn’t name Japan’s old rival, but called for restrained military expansion in Asia.
China has had double-digit increases in defence spending each year for the past decade, but Abe warned: “The dividend of growth in Asia must not be wasted on military expansion.