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The Sino–Japanese Standoff - Japan and China inch toward war — but how close are they?
National Review Online ^ | January 28, 2013 | Michael Auslin

Posted on 01/28/2013 3:06:44 PM PST by neverdem

It’s been easy of late to get hyperbolic about the chance of conflict in East Asia. China appears to be the first serious military challenger America has had since the Soviet Union, and it is clearly beginning to throw its weight around in the waters of Asia. Especially raising tensions in the region is a passel of territorial disputes over islets that has pitted China against countries in southeast and northeast Asia and put Japan at odds with all its major neighbors. But the one key disagreement is between Japan and China in the East China Sea. There, an archipelago called the Senkaku Islands is claimed by Japan, Taiwan, and China. The islands sit near rich undersea oil and gas deposits, but, being situated just northeast of Taiwan, they also are in a crucial strategic location. They form the southernmost link in a chain of islands (including Okinawa and others) held by Japan that separate the East China Sea from the Pacific. The chain that ends with the Senkakus thus acts as a defensive barrier that conceivably could be used to prevent Chinese naval vessels from entering the wider Pacific.

Thus, Japan’s control of the islands presents a problem for Beijing. The history is murky, but Japanese control really didn’t start until the late 19th century. In 1945, the U.S. took over the Senkakus, and it returned them (along with Okinawa) to Tokyo’s administrative control in 1972. In recent years, however, basically since oil and gas were discovered nearby, China has reasserted a historical claim to the islands. Since the possibility of extractable energy reserves was discovered a decade ago, both Japan and China have tussled over whose islands (and resources) they really are. Half-hearted attempts at joint explorations for oil and gas have foundered due to mistrust and nationalistic intransigence.

Then the situation exploded over the summer of 2012. Japan’s government, controlled by the now-opposition Democratic Party of Japan, decided to buy three of the islands from their private owner, in a bid to forestall Tokyo’s nationalistic governor from purchasing them for the metropolitan government. This set off massive protests across China and a several-week-long boycott of Japanese goods; major Japanese businesses operating in China temporarily closed their doors last autumn.

What was more dangerous, however, was a game of chicken that began in the waters off the Senkakus. Beijing dispatched private fishing boats and maritime patrol vessels on a near-daily basis to the islands, and Japan responded with its coast guard. The two countries have now faced off regularly in the waters around the Senkakus, sometimes with a dozen ships or more.

Beijing’s goal seems to be to undercut Tokyo’s claim of administrative control over the islands. That would then invalidate Japan’s right to expel ships from the exclusive economic zone around the Senkakus. In recent weeks, though, the Chinese have become more aggressive, and very visibly escalated tensions. For the first time ever, they have flown maritime patrol planes into Japanese airspace around the islands. A predictable cycle thus emerged: The Japanese responded by scrambling F-15s, and last week, the Chinese sent two J-10 fighter jets to “monitor” Japanese military aircraft, according to the South China Morning Post. Now, the new Japanese government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is preparing to go one step further: giving Japanese pilots the authority to fire warning shots with tracer bullets across the nose of any Chinese aircraft that doesn’t heed warnings to leave Japanese-controlled airspace.

It was barely a dozen years ago that the U.S. and China faced a crisis when a hotshot Chinese pilot collided with a U.S. electronic-surveillance plane over the South China Sea, crashing both aircraft. Japan and China are now on a metaphorical collision course, too, and any accident when tensions are so high could be the spark in a tinderbox. It’s not difficult to see Beijing issuing orders for Chinese fighters to fire their own warning shots if Japanese jets start doing so. Even though leaders from both countries promise to meet and keep things cool, a faceoff at 20,000 feet is much harder to control than one done more slowly and clearly on the ocean’s surface.

This Sino–Japanese standoff also is a problem for the United States, which has a defense treaty with Tokyo and is pledged to come to the aid of Japanese forces under attack. There are also mechanisms for U.S.–Japanese consultations during a crisis, and if Tokyo requests such military talks, Washington would be forced into a difficult spot, since Beijing would undoubtedly perceive the holding of such talks as a serious provocation. The Obama administration has so far taken pains to stay neutral in the dispute; despite its rhetoric of “pivoting” to the Pacific, it has urged both sides to resolve the issue peacefully. Washington also has avoided any stance on the sovereignty of the Senkakus, supporting instead the status quo of Japanese administration of the islands. That may no longer suffice for Japan, however, since its government saw China’s taking to the air over the Senkakus as a significant escalation and proof that Beijing is in no mind to back down from its claims.

One does not have to be an alarmist to see real dangers in play here. As Barbara Tuchman showed in her classic The Guns of August, events have a way of taking on a life of their own (and one doesn’t need a Schlieffen Plan to feel trapped into acting). The enmity between Japan and China is deep and pervasive; there is little good will to try and avert conflict. Indeed, the people of both countries have abysmally low perceptions of the other. Since they are the two most advanced militaries in Asia, any tension-driven military jockeying between them is inherently destabilizing to the entire region.

Perhaps of even greater concern, neither government has shied away from its hardline tactics over the Senkakus, despite the fact that trade between the two has dropped nearly 4 percent since the crisis began in September. Most worrying, if the two sides don’t agree to return to the status quo ante, there are only one or two more rungs on the ladder of military escalation before someone has to back down or decide to initiate hostilities when challenged. Whoever does back down will lose an enormous amount of credibility in Asia, and the possibility of major domestic demonstrations in response.

The prospect of an armed clash between Asia’s two largest countries is one that should bring both sides to their senses, but instead the two seem to be maneuvering themselves into a corner from which it will be difficult to escape. One trigger-happy or nervous pilot, and Asia could face its gravest crisis perhaps since World War II.

— Michael Auslin is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @michaelauslin.



TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Japan; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: china

1 posted on 01/28/2013 3:06:56 PM PST by neverdem
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To: neverdem

Whatever happens it’s reassuring to know that we can count on Obama to back the wrong side.


2 posted on 01/28/2013 3:14:28 PM PST by MeganC (Our forefathers would be shooting by now.)
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To: neverdem
" Asia could face its gravest crisis perhaps since World War II"

We're not 'due' for another GREAT war for another 7 years(2020). Things will probably simmer and gradually escalate until then. This is certainly well worth watching.

3 posted on 01/28/2013 3:16:26 PM PST by KoRn (Department of Homeland Security, Certified - "Right Wing Extremist")
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To: neverdem

No one trusts the PLA. They are picking fights with all their neighbors.

The People’s Liberation Army is on the same track as the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army at the beginning of the 20th century. Any victory they have will only wet their appetite for more. Each victory they gain will not only be a victory over a foreign competitor but will also be a victory over domestic civilian rivals. That means that any victory for the PLA will also be a defeat for the CPC and the Chinese people.


4 posted on 01/28/2013 3:17:09 PM PST by ckilmer
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To: neverdem

No one trusts the PLA. They are picking fights with all their neighbors.

The People’s Liberation Army is on the same track as the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army at the beginning of the 20th century. Any victory they have will only wet their appetite for more. Each victory they gain will not only be a victory over a foreign competitor but will also be a victory over domestic civilian rivals. That means that any victory for the PLA will also be a defeat for the CPC and the Chinese people.


5 posted on 01/28/2013 3:17:28 PM PST by ckilmer
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To: KoRn
This is certainly well worth watching.

My youngest daughter is teaching English in Japan, and on our Sunday Skype with her yesterday, she mentioned this, as the Japanese have put some fishing vessels and people on this island recently.

6 posted on 01/28/2013 3:41:49 PM PST by LibertarianLiz
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To: LibertarianLiz

I’d be interested to hear some opinions from Japanese citizens. Are they worried?


7 posted on 01/28/2013 3:55:19 PM PST by Viennacon
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To: Viennacon

My sense of this from listening to my daughter is that, yes, the Japanese people are worried. The Chinese are becoming a bit aggressive, and they are worried.


8 posted on 01/28/2013 3:58:43 PM PST by LibertarianLiz
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To: Viennacon

” I’d be interested to hear some opinions from Japanese citizens. Are they worried? “

I have lived in Japan for 27 years . Worried ? Perhaps , but I don’t hear talking about it much . Too busy trying to eak out a living in this crap economy we’re stuck with , and higher consumption and other taxes on the horizon .


9 posted on 01/28/2013 4:54:53 PM PST by sushiman
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To: neverdem
'Be Ready for a War in 2013 and Also Win it', China Tells its Soldiers
Daily Bhaskar ^ | Jan 18, 2013
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/2979921/posts

China Warns Citizens To 'Prepare For The Worst' As It Sends Fighters To East China Sea
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/2977235/posts


10 posted on 01/28/2013 5:55:20 PM PST by familyop (We Baby Boomers are croaking in an avalanche of rotten politics smelled around the planet.)
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To: neverdem

The rape of Nanking, the “comfort women”, etc. etc.

Right now we see the Chinese as the bad guys (and no doubt they are) but it wasn’t THAT long ago that the Japanese wore the black hats. And to a country like China that sees things against the perspective of a 5000 year history, those things could have happened just yesterday.


11 posted on 01/28/2013 6:08:26 PM PST by 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
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To: 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
And to a country like China that sees things against the perspective of a 5000 year history, those things could have happened just yesterday.

Think about what you wrote. The Chinese government is not as foolish as you think. They are thinking long term, and can wait to initiate war at a future time when they are stronger. They remember their history, when they were beaten down by foreigners in the 19th century. Japan beat China in the 1890s. Japan would have taken the entire country except for the intervention of western powers that restrained Japan. Japan got a second chance in WWII and again got defeated by western powers.

China is still weak, but growing stronger. Japan is strong, but growing weaker. China will not let this escalate to war at this time. They will wait, perhaps ten to fifteen years when they are very strong. I know it sounds crazy because of all this talk of China getting strong economically, but China can lose a war at this point for various reasons.

12 posted on 01/28/2013 6:43:36 PM PST by roadcat
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To: roadcat

Does China have all the time in the world? China could fractionate or Japan could go nuclear and fortify defense treaties with India and Southeast Asian nations to prevent Chinese hegemony in the area. If China gets aggressive it will lose a lot of investment and access to markets that it needs for the constant economic growth its population demands to stay pacified. I’m not saying China is harmless, but it has its own strategic concerns that might force it to act in the near term.


13 posted on 01/28/2013 7:18:06 PM PST by Sawdring
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To: neverdem
China has reasserted a historical claim to the islands

Why I never waste my time on NRO:

The Chinese have never before in history made a claim on the Senkaku Islands until now. Why would they have? Useless unpopulated pieces of rock far outside the Chinese sphere of interest. Only now, when oil and gas resources have been confirmed offshore these islands, does China "reassert a historical claim." The author is a liar and NRO is bullshit heaven. Once again.

14 posted on 01/28/2013 7:21:51 PM PST by hinckley buzzard
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To: ckilmer
Perhaps we ought to sell the Japs a couple of Carrier Battle Groups.

They could probably take out the Chinese Navy quite handily. On land, "The Human Wave" thing could be a problem. The Chinamen took 1.5 million casualties in Korea just to prove a point. However, more recently they had their ass handed to them quite smartly in a small war by of all people, the Vietnamese.

My vote for the next war is Korea.

15 posted on 01/29/2013 3:54:21 AM PST by Kenny Bunk (Say, what the hell happened to Reggie Love? Who's in the playroom with Barry now?)
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To: neverdem

Free Traders are nervous. I do know this: If Free Traders have to choose between Japan and ChiComs, they’ll pick the ChiComs. Can’t interfere with trade. Those container ships gotta float.


16 posted on 01/29/2013 4:01:51 AM PST by central_va ( I won't be reconstructed and I do not give a damn.)
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To: roadcat

What you say makes a great deal of sense *except* look at the actions China is taking now. They are rattling every saber they have in their display case. According to the WSJ they are flying fighter sorties over the islands, as well as the actions they have taken on water, as well as the anti-Japanese demonstrations in the cities, actions against Japanese countries and the list goes on and on.

As the WSJ points out the potential for a real flashpoint keeps getting higher and higher.

I don’t see either side handling this from a purely strategic point of view. Too much raw emotion on both sides. Which was exactly my original point.


17 posted on 01/29/2013 10:36:42 AM PST by 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
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To: 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
Too much raw emotion on both sides.

Yes, that's always the danger. China is rattling their sabre to distract the home crowd from economic and other issues. Refocus the citizenry away from complaining about their government, to a common external enemy. But sometimes things get out of control. That's what happened over a hundred years ago in the 1890's, similar sabre rattling on both sides and when an important guy working for Japanese interests got offed, the war was on. That time, the fighting was over control of Korean land. And the Japanese won, but western powers stopped the Japanese from taking China. This time around, the western powers are not on China's side. China will be careful, but as you say a powder keg can explode for tiny reasons.

18 posted on 01/29/2013 1:52:05 PM PST by roadcat
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To: Sawdring
China could fractionate or Japan could go nuclear and fortify defense treaties with India and Southeast Asian nations to prevent Chinese hegemony in the area.

Anything is possible, yes. Lots of possibilities, and something unexpected could happen. India is a wild card, and you're right, they are competing with China. And China thinks it has a manifest destiny in controlling the region, for the best interests of Asian nations (as did Japan in the 1930s). Pass the popcorn around, this will be interesting to watch over the next ten years.

19 posted on 01/29/2013 2:03:42 PM PST by roadcat
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To: roadcat

Basically what we’ve got is the Hatfields and the McCoys having another go and the sheriff is drunk in another county.


20 posted on 01/29/2013 2:08:46 PM PST by 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
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To: 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
Basically what we’ve got is the Hatfields and the McCoys having another go and the sheriff is drunk in another county.

Absolutely. We in the west, are in very young countries. Many western countries didn't exist until the 19th century. Japan and China have tangled with each other for thousands of years. The Japanese remember when Chinese Mongols invaded with 4000 ships and nearly 140,000 men more than 700 years ago, and the Japanese were nearly defeated before storms drove the attackers off Japanese beaches (1274 and 1281 - origin of the term Kamikaze or "divine wind"). Ever since then, they've been wary of attacks from China.

21 posted on 01/29/2013 7:27:26 PM PST by roadcat
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