No, Harvard’s Niall Ferguson isn’t talking about the Middle East, though recent events there worry him. His latest Newsweek column focuses instead on another part of the world that could prove problematic for the United States.

[P]erhaps we should all worry the most about a very different kind of rage: the Chinese rage that takes the form of a hyperventilating nationalism.

Another American ambassador recently had an encounter with Chinese rage. Fortunately, he was unharmed. Still, if I were Gary Locke—the U.S. ambassador in Beijing—I certainly would not have enjoyed being surrounded by 50 Chinese-nationalist protesters chanting: “Down with U.S. imperialism! China will win!”

You may well wonder what the protesters were on about. The answer is a group of tiny uninhabited islands, called Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. There are five in all, plus three rocks, and their total surface area is less than five square miles.

Sounds absurd, right? A bit like Canadians mobbing U.S. embassies over the ownership of the Alaskan islands of Chichagof and Baranof, which, if maps were neat, would be part of British Columbia. But before you zone out, let me remind you that some very big wars have been fought over some pretty small places. A dispute over the ownership of Bosnia and Herzegovina was what started World War I. Ground zero for World War II was Danzig/Gdansk and a thin strip of West Prussia.