Forbes Asia – 2013-12-19 19:07:57
(December 17, 2013) — Historians will write volumes about the momentous geopolitical and military/strategic changes happening now in Northeast, East, and Southeast Asia. We have the luck (or will it be misfortune?) to be living them.
Items from the past few weeks and days:
* On December 5 as Vice President Joe Biden was being hosted for lunch in Beijing’s Diaoyutai Guest House by Chinese vice president Li Yuanchao, and a day after Biden’s exceptional five hour closed door meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (during which the topic was “operationalizing a new type of great power relationship”), the USS Cowpens guided missile cruiser was forced to take evasive maneuvers to avoid colliding with a warship accompanying the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning in the South China Sea. The Chinese ship had positioned itself in the Cowpens’ course.
Yesterday, the Chinese government went public in accusing the US Navy of “harassing” Chinese naval vessels. Meanwhile, Chinese jet fighters will begin routinely “scrambling” to intercept US and Japanese military surveillance aircraft that have heretofore operated extensively within what is now the Chinese air defense identification zone (ADIZ).
* In Tokyo meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo on December 2-3, Vice President Joe Biden pushed for Tokyo’s approval for building a massive new US airbase in Okinawa, taking advantage of the need to relocate (or close) the cramped and dangerous Futenma US Marine station. The US Department of Defense has informally told Japan there should be no restrictions on the base’s use.
* Responding to US pressure, the Abe government has deployed an array of carrots and sticks to induce Okinawa governor Nakaima to approve beginning work for the new base. An Asahi Shimbun poll of voters in Okinawa prefecture published December 17 found that only 22% want Nakaima to approve the work, while 64% want him to reject it. Nakaima is expected to consent this week or next.
* Last week Japan established a new National Security Council — patterned on the US NSC — within the Prime Minister’s office and appointed its first head.
* Today (December 17) the Abe Cabinet and the new NSC approved a ten-year National Security Strategy (NSS) and medium term (FY2014-18) force structure and weapons procurement plan that clearly posits threats to Japanese territory from China, as well as missile attacks from North Korea.
* The NSS sets out a new “combined mobile defense” concept in place of the “active defense” concept of the strategy adopted under the Democratic Party of Japan government in 2010. It conceives of multiple and varied threats requiring coordinated response from Japan’s air, land, and navy forces. Against attacks to remote islands (read: Senkaku/Diaoyus) it establishes a new amphibious attack and recovery force modeled on the US Marines.
* Japan will augment forces with more amphibious attack vehicles, ships, and aircraft. The ten year NSS calls for force levels of a 159,000 man army, wielding 300 tanks; a navy with 54 warships, 22 submarines, and 170 naval attack aircraft; and an air force with 360 attack aircraft including 280 jet fighters.
* The medium term plan goals are, for the army, 99 armored attack vehicles, 17 Osprey multi-mission tilt-rotor vertical take-off and landing aircraft built by Boeing BA -0.24% (NYSE:BA), and 52 amphibious vehicles; for the navy, 2 Lockheed Martin LMT -0.51% (NYSE:LMT)-built Aegis Weapons System equipped frigates, and 23 P1 patrol aircraft; for the air forces new acquisitions will be 28 F35 fighters (also produced by Lockheed Martin), ten C2 transport planes, four new model early warning aircraft, and three new model inflight refueling aircraft. A joint service will operate three new Global Hawk drones manufactures by Northrup Grumman (NYSE:NOC). The procurement budget for five years is set at roughly JPY 24 trillion (USD 235 billion).
(For the record, as stated below in reply to the comment from Tim Ferguson, I do not consider augmentation of Japan’s defenses to be a bad thing. On the contrary, the interests of both Japan and the United States — and, indeed, of China — will be best served when Japan becomes fully self-sufficient in its defense. This would help to justify the effective scrapping of the US-Japan alliance, which will be necessary within a viable, stable US-China “new style great power relationship.”)
* While many world leaders gathered in Johannesburg for the Mandela funeral, Prime Minister Abe hosted in Tokyo leaders of the ten ASEAN countries at a special Japan-ASEAN summit. Abe seized the occasion to propound “China threat” themes. The joint meeting statement issued December 14 highlighted concern for “maritime security and safety, freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce, exercise of self-restraint and resolution of disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law.”
* Of equal or greater interest to the ASEAN leaders (not including Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra who understandably demurred so as to remain in Bangkok and deal with the throngs of demonstrators calling for her resignation) was Abe’s pledge of JPY 2 trillion (USD 19.5 billion) of official development assistance over the next five years. In the past year Abe has implemented what might be called a Japanese “pivot” to Southeast Asia in Japan’s pursuit of economic engagement and competitive positioning. The competitor would be China.
* In addition to the above, we have the dramatic, almost surreal, events in North Korea, with Kim Jong Un adopting the style (if not mentality) of 19th century emperors, at whose pleasure courtiers’ lives depended, having his uncle-in-law, Jang Song Thaek, considered the second most powerful man in the country, executed for treason. The bloody purge of Jang’s associates will surely continue. Of great importance was Jang’s former role has the main counterpart and contact with the Pyongyang regime for China. China’s influence seems now to have been critically degraded.
Becoming prime minister in 2006 after several years of icy political relations between China and Japan under governments headed by Koizumi Junichiro, Abe took the initiative to travel to Beijing in repair the relationship. He was well received by Hu Jintao. Out of the visit came a joint declaration setting out a framework and principles for positive, constructive, mutually beneficial Japan-China relations.
One of the key elements of this framework as acceptance of the principle or believe that China is not a threat to Japan.
From the words and deeds of Japan, China, the US and others over the past month, we have little choice but to admit that past agreements and understandings are null and void. We are entering uncharted and very dangerous territory.
I will end with a comment on the USS Cowpens incident. Some months ago, I believe at the Sunnylands Summit, Chinese president Xi proffered to President Obama the commonsensical and correct notion that “the Pacific Ocean is wide enough” for both the US and China.
The incident in the South China Sea resulted from Chinese impatience with the close in intelligence-gathering and surveillance shadowing of its ships by the USS Cowpens and other US naval vessels. US naval protests of having been in “international waters” notwithstanding, the word “harassment” is not out of place in describing the Cowpens’ actions — the kind of actions developed during the Cold War against Soviet ships.
We see from this that the spirit of what President Xi said — that the US and China can and should coexist on the high seas without trying to intimidate or dominate the other — seems to have been lost on the Pentagon, if not on its commander-in-chief, President Obama. Until Washington gets, reads, and acts on “the memo” — i.e., on the substance of what will needed for a successful “new type of great power relationship” — expect many more of these incidents.
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