Front-page coverage of Sino-Japanese relations is fraught with reports of provocation. Incidents range from seemingly fortuitous encounters in the airspace of the overlapping air-defense zones to carefully planned military exercises in the waters surrounding the East China Sea and bear every semblance to open conflict. The principles guiding Japanese and Chinese foreign policy, however, speak a different and, in fact, surprisingly similar language, emphasizing shared concerns over the security of trade routes and regional stability which are key variables in the two countries’ economic growth equations.
Tag Archives | China-Japan Relations
Experts in international security view the latent India-Pakistani conflict as potentially one of the most dangerous worldwide. India and Pakistan desperately need to build a lasting peace, and must avoid further friction. Enter Modi, the newly elected prime minister of India. Modi, as president, is a potential nightmare for those hoping for a better relationship between India and Pakistan. This is mainly because of Modi’s controversial role in the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, which happened while he was the region’s Chief Minister.
The problem is that popular opinion among Pakistan’s political elites is that India just elected a prime minister who is responsible for systemically killing Muslims. Therefore Pakistan’s leadership is likely not only to mistrust Modi, but also to grow increasingly hostile towards the Indian population as a whole. In Pakistan, growing mistrust equals growing military influence, since the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) has historically always been able to use crisis atmospheres to increase their power. Between the US using drones in northern Pakistan with only partial permission from the Pakistani government, India turning to Hindu nationalism, and a failure to effectively eliminate domestic Taliban groups from ruling parts of Pakistan’s periphery, the ISI is bound to take charge sooner or later.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement at Davos that the relationship between Japan and China is the same as that between Great Britain and Germany prior to the First World War has drawn a sharp response from world leaders.
The political turmoil in the East China Sea between Japan and China has reached unprecedented heights to a level where leaders of both countries are not talking to each other. The situation is quite alarming considering the huge economic repercussions a conflict between the two countries could have on the world economy. The Japanese prime minister’s recent visit to the Yasukuni Shrine last year coupled with aggressive nationalist policies have worsened the situation. The recent air defense identification zone (ADIZ) declared by China over the disputed Senkaku/Daioyu Islands has caused the situation to deteriorate further as Japan considers these islands as part of Japan. Both the countries are playing a game of cat and mouse and testing each other’s capabilities and limits.
Japan fears China’s rise and its rapid military modernization in the region as a threat to its very existence. What Japan fears is that China might gain control of both the East China and South China Seas thereby holding Japan ransom and crippling its already struggling economy. Japan’s recent National Security Strategy clearly identifies China as the troublemaker in the region. In response to China’s military buildup, Japan has increased its defense budget to counter a perceived Chinese threat. The bulk of the defense budget will be spent on acquiring maritime surveillance units. Japan will spend around $250 billion USD over the next 5 years to keep Chinese forces in check. Concerns about China’s opaque decision-making process and its intentions in the region are troubling for Japan. China’s use of force and coercion to enforce its claims with blatant disregard for international law and order has propelled the Japanese government to have a look at its peace constitution, which enforces a ban on offensive military capabilities.
China’s economy requires increased access to resources, especially when managing the needs of approximately 20% of the world’s population.
China’s growing energy needs and overlapping territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea place their energy security on a collision course with its smaller, weaker neighbors. The most recent issue is China’s increasingly hard-lined approach to the Scarborough Reef, approximately 4 times farther away from China than it is to the Philippines.
China backs its South China Sea claims through a Chinese map produced in 1947, Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai’s 1951 statement, and the discovery of the Belitung Wreck in 1998. Please make your own opinions regarding the legitimacy of a map created in 1947 citing a historical claim. Minister Zhou’s statement denounced the San Francisco Peace Treaty – as China was not invited – and further declared Chinese ownership of the Spratly, Paracel, and Pratas Islands.
US President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan this week came at an opportune time, given the growing friction between Asia’s two largest military powers over disputed territories.
Just last week, Japan began its first military expansion in more than 40 years by breaking ground on a radar station on Yonaguri, a tropical island off Taiwan. Japan intends to send 100-150 soldiers to man its new military lookout station on Yonaguni, which is home to 1,500 people and just 150 km (93 miles) from the disputed Japanese-held Senkaku islands claimed by both China and Taiwan. Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, who attended a ceremony on Yonaguni island to mark the start of construction, suggested the military presence could be enlarged to other islands in the seas southwest of Japan’s main islands. Perhaps in retaliation, the Shanghai Maritime Court seized a Japanese vessel for failing to respond to a compensation order stemming from a wartime contractual dispute. The action was taken just prior to Obama’s visit and appears to be the first time that an asset of a Japanese company has been confiscated in a lawsuit concerning wartime compensation.
Faced with the dilemma of choosing sides during his visit to Tokyo, President Obama reiterated Washington’s backing of the US-Japan security treaty, stating “Article five covers all territories under Japan’s administration including (the) Senkaku islands,” referring to the archipelago which Beijing calls the Diaoyus and the Taiwanese refer to as the Tiaoyutai. Clearly not wishing to be drawn into a military conflict, Obama called for a peaceful resolution to the territorial dispute over the islands, adding “We do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally, and what is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan.”
I would recommend that readers who have not yet done so create a Twitter account and subscribe to my feed (@chinahand). To my embarrassment and surprise, I’ve churned out over 800 tweets since I started up my feed last November. Some of it is meaningless ephemera, of course. But sometimes the twitter stream carries in it telling or insightful tweets that illustrate the dynamics of debate over US foreign policy as it evolves over a month, a week, or maybe even a day and are worth retweeting. And, of course, I put in my own two cents worth, hopefully in a telling and insightful fashion, on subjects that are perhaps too fleeting or developing too quickly for a post, but are significant nonetheless.
For instance, I’ve become more attuned to the back-and-forth between US pro-Japan China hawks and the (relative) moderates in the Obama administration and the role of the Abe administration’s role as observer, participant, and victim or beneficiary depending on how the debate evolves. One set of my tweets addressed the PRC inserting itself into a spat between the United States and Japan concerning Japan’s footdragging in returning a few hundred kilos of weapon-grade plutonium.
The United States government, be it the White House, the security strategists, the civilian leadership, or the military brass apparently has no qualms about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to affirm Japan’s right to practice “collective self defense” or CSD.
In the face of public disapproval, resistance by the impotent political opposition, and gentle pushback from the LDP’s minority partner, Abe looks to implement collective self defense by asserting the government’s right to repurpose the provisions of the pacifist constitution without formal revision or reinterpretation, but through a simple statement by the Cabinet. US supporters have been cheering him on in this awkward process, like anxious soccer parents on the sidelines trying to will a clumsy toddler into nudging the ball into an empty net.
Whether or not this is a good idea, especially as it will permit Japan to restructure its security relationship with its future Asian allies without US mediation, history will, as they say, judge. But it looks like the United States is all in, on the basis that collective self defense will enable Japanese military forces to assist the US. I assume Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy (term as ambassador and, indeed, total public career to date: three months) lacks the political or foreign policy throw-weight to freelance on key US-Japan issues, so this statement of support for collective self defense is probably an authoritative indicator of Obama administration preferences:
In a rather unnoticed development, Shinzo Abe’s administration in Japan has been determinedly nibbling away at the Obama administration’s freedom of action in Asia, seeking to foreclose positions and options that fall outside the contain/confront China spectrum so desirable to Japan.
The United States may never fall into the “tail wagging the dog” relationship with Japan, at least in its own mind; but the cost of Asian security initiatives that are at cross purposes with Japanese desires will increase until, perhaps, they don’t seem worth it. And my feeling is, Abe’s getting more than a little help from the US defense/security establishment thanks to Abe’s effort to push the US-Japan security alliance closer to the center of the relationship. China hawks in Japan and the United States may also be drawing energy from President Obama’s evolving lame duck status, and the prospect that Hillary Clinton as president will be all in on a China-bashing strategy.
When a country has a security relationship with the US it not only engages with the US government from a position of strength as an ally; it can look to the full range of enthusiasts, activists, sympathetic theorists, and even paid apologists to lobby on its behalf, their advocacy energized by the money sluicing through the security/defense industrial complex.
And is Joe Biden the Designated Whipping Boy?
There has always been an implicit contradiction between Shinzo Abe’s declared desire to “bring Japan back” and the US wish to lead “Free Asia.” The divergence of aims has been obscured by the eagerness of the US defense establishment to encourage Japan’s increasing heft as a “security” “defense” “active pacifist”; well, let’s just say “military” power, in order to add to the credibility of US hegemony in the Western Pacific, and Japan’s awareness that US military backing - if properly exploited by invoking the US-Japan Security Treaty - can give Japan a significant leg up in its confrontation with the People’s Republic of China.
The Abe administration has performed exactly as desired by American military strategists, both in its willingness, nay eagerness to build up its military and endorse the concept of “collective self defense,” and on the highly contentious issue of shoving the Futenma airbase relocation down the throats of the resisting Okinawan people by a combination of financial blandishments and crude political pressure. However, there are signs that the are tensions in the US-Japan romance, largely because the Obama administration is serious about exploiting the potential of its “honest broker” role to carve out a role for itself as the even-handed interlocutor between Japan and China - a role that the PRC is encouraging in order to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Washington - and is therefore not giving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the full-throated support that he believes he needs and deserves.
China’s proclamation of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in an area that is mostly international airspace has sparked a round of tensions and uncertainty in the East China Sea.
The ADIZ, which includes the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands claimed by Japan, China, and Taiwan, overlaps with the existing Japanese and Korean ADIZs. While the world powers try to find a way to maintain a frail status quo, the question we should be asking ourselves is, what lies behind China’s provocations?
Some argue that the implementation of the ADIZ was an impulsive reaction to Japan’s threat that it would shoot down the next Chinese drone to appear in the skies over the disputed islands. However, the implications of the announcement by China’s President Xi Jinping of diplomatic, economic, and domestic agendas all seem to point to a more radical shift in the regional geopolitical balances whose roots go deeper than what appears on the surface.
For decades the Chinese government has deployed both soft and hard power to promote China’s influence and status, while at the same time discouraging interference in Chinese affairs.
China’s foreign policy has been premised on its desire to ensure uninterrupted economic growth while at the same time promoting political stability and prolonging the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. In doing so, China has portrayed itself on one hand as a good neighbor while at the same time pulling its weight and making sure its neighbors know who’s boss. China’s modern geopolitical psyche is characterized by the often used Chinese saying “hide one’s brilliance and bide one’s time.” China sees its return to global prominence as inevitable, based on its modern history as a global leader in such areas as trade, finance, and industrial production. Today China’s global strategy, and its path to global prominence, are to embrace multi-polarity while supporting the principle of state sovereignty and self-determination.
Multi-polarity generally works well for China in the international arena, where China has perfected the art of sitting on the sidelines and waiting for an end game to emerge, then swooping in and claiming the spoils. A good example of this was the Iraq War, where China did not participate in combat but aggressively pursued oil contracts, ultimately winning a large percentage of them. However, China prefers uni-polarity when it comes to its relations with Asian nations. While it maintains a veil of collaboration and cooperation with its Asian neighbors, in reality, China prefers that its neighbors snap to attention when China makes a proclamation, or takes action in the region. This is very much in evidence with the Senkaku and Spratly Islands.
“Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, in remarks published Sunday, that he expected his country to be playing a more assertive security role throughout ‘the entire world’ — and have a new constitution to back this ambition.” – Maxim Kniazkov, Agence France-Presse
Punch line is, this AFP article is datelined April 22, 2007, during Abe’s brief, first prime ministership. In 2007 PRC “assertiveness” was not on the table. In fact, at that time the George W. Bush administration was looking forlornly for the PRC’s help on the intractable North Korean issue. The problem, in other words, was not that China wasn’t being “assertive”; it was that the PRC was being insufficiently “assertive” in stepping up on the world stage and shouldering its “responsible stakeholder” obligations, a phrase that has rather ironically evaporated from the State Department’s China-bashing lexicon in recent years.
Without an easily exploitable China menace, Prime Minister Abe, in order to peddle his constitutional revision nostrums and enable the projection of Japanese power beyond the nation’s boundaries, had to lean on the relatively slender reeds of the a) the North Korean menace b) global terrorism.
Recently, the Japanese cabinet, in announcing plans to purchase 28 additional U.S. F-35 fighters (in addition to 42 already contracted), affirmed a policy of maintaining Japanese air superiority over China.
The F-35 may indeed contribute to Japanese air superiority in unexpected and to the United States in undesirable ways. I found it interesting that the Abe administration has gone all-in on the F-35, a U.S. “jack of all trades and master of none” fifth generation (stealth) multi-purpose warplane that gets no love from the zoom-and-boom crowd, and has apparently reconciled itself to not buying any F-22 Raptors.
The F-35’s development history (and cost and schedule overrun statistics) makes for sobering reading. The US fleet of 2,400 planes will cost $400 billion to develop and build—and another $1.1 trillion to operate over its projected 50 year life. It remains to be seen if the plane is remembered as a monument of sustained US pre-eminence-or a Great Wall of China-style tombstone for an empire-ending megaboondoggle.
Myth: Shinzo Abe is a leading member of the team of world and Asian democracies standing up to China in the name of universal values like “freedom of navigation” and to help ensure the shared peace and prosperity of Asia.
Reality: Shinzo Abe is a revisionist nationalist using friction with China to pursue Japanese national interests, put Japan on the right side of a zero-sum economic equation opposite the PRC, maximize Japan’s independence of action as a regional hegemon, hopefully peacefully, but if not…
Mission for the Western media: Manage the cognitive dissonance between comforting myth and disturbing reality for the sake of its faithful readers.
With Christmas and New Year cheer and optimism still bubbling away for most of us we now need to turn our attention to the major risk factors that are likely to impact upon the world economy and financial markets during 2013.
While the world economy is estimated to have grown by over 3 percent in 2012 overall and has enjoyed such a remarkable escape from the paralysis affecting some of its constituents like Europe, a major issue is whether this stable growth trajectory will continue for the foreseeable future. At the end of the day the global stock market has been a secular bear market for over a decade and we are now at the juncture of ascertaining whether the bear will have its final growl in 2013 or we will enter a new market phase.
The economic fundamentals are very strong for world economic growth, thanks to a relatively soft landing for China. However, a number of world risk factors prevail that could upset the world’s economic and financial stability. The major risk factor emanates from the global bond market where yields have been driven down to historic lows on both sides of the Atlantic due to Quantitative Easing [QE] or the printing of money. This has had a knock on effect in emerging markets, through the interest rate parity mechanism and emerging economy sovereign debt yields are also historically very low, despite their high level of political risk and this may be why emerging economies outperformed the world’s average GDP growth by around 2 percent because of lower financing costs.