Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A new Sino-Japanese war in the offing?

A little too early to seriously worry about that, but this bears watching:
Japan's prime minister issued a new warning about Beijing's military build-up Sunday, two days after his government made a fresh protest over a Chinese ship's entering waters near a chain of islands claimed by both countries.

In an address to graduating cadets of the Self Defense Forces, Prime Minister Yoshiko (sic) Noda cited China and North Korea as the main military challenges Japan faces in Asia.

"Circumstances in our surrounding regions are increasingly severe, complicated, and remain uncertain, as depicted in moves by North Korea including nuclear and missile issues, and China, which is reinforcing its military capabilities and continuing activities in surrounding waters," Mr. Noda said in his speech at the National Defense Academy in the Tokyo suburb of Yokosuka.
As Walter Russell Mead correctly points out:
Those are tough words from a political culture that is often mealy-mouthed, and even more striking because the current Japanese government took office amidst talk of hoping to distance itself from the US and seek a more “balanced” relationship between the US and China.

Noda’s latest remarks (which reflect his longtime personal views) came after an incident last week in which a Chinese ship entered what Japan claims as its territorial waters around a disputed island chain that Japan controls but China claims. Chinese aggressiveness — and its failure to rein in its awkward and embarrassing North Korean sidekick — is steadily alienating the ring of countries around it and continues to drive them into Uncle Sam’s embrace.
In China, these assertive policies sometimes seem to originate without the blessing or even the knowledge of the Foreign Ministry, longtime observers tell Via Meadia. It is not just that the People’s Liberation Army generally takes a harder line, and its leaders have less time abroad and less understanding of the regional and global realities that shape China’s options; it is that often sub-agencies like the equivalent of the Coast Guard take provocative steps on their own authority without clearing it with higher ups. When the incident — like a decision to send a ship into disputed waters — blows up into a public controversy, nationalist opinion inside China makes it hard for the government to back down.
It’s no way for a great power to run its foreign policy in a volatile region, and this policy of random pinpricks has not served China well. It has, however, considerably added to America’s power in Asia: solidifying its alliances, encouraging allies to step up their military spending, and providing strong arguments to those in the US who believe that China’s growing assertiveness justifies high military budgets here.
China is starting to look a lot like Japan in the 1930's.

Similar to Mead's discussion of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, Japan's imperial government had completely lost control of the Imperial Japanese Army. The drive to war in China was led not by the Japanese government but by Nihon Rikugun's Kwantung Army. Assigned to Manchuria (allegedly) to protect the Japanese railway, the Kwantung Army manufactured an incident at Mukden in 1931 to justify the complete takeover of Manchuria. The much later incident at the Marco Polo Bridge does not seem to have been instigated by the Japanese but instead by the Chinese Communists to start a war between Japan and the Chinese Nationalists, but Nihon Rikugun ate it up like a plate full of warm cookies, executing an invasion of China in a ruthless, murderous and barbaric fashion, and demanding that any price be paid to win (or at least not lose) the war in China -- any price, including war with the United States and Britain.

As the tensions mounted, Japanese civilians across east Asia began behaving in a more arrogant and belligerent manner, especially towards Europeans, proclaiming their right to Asian conquest. The Chinese seem to be following suit, especially towards Americans. Make no mistake: the Chinese now want their own version of "the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere."

Like I said before, the Chinese are not our friends. Fortunately, this time any reconstituted Japanese Carrier Striking Force Kido Butai (remember the Japanese now have two aircraft carriers: Hyuga and Ise) would be on our side.

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