Saturday, February 19, 2005

Nippon Wakes with a Start

After decades of resisting any external projection of military force or policy, Japanese leaders appear on the verge of a sudden sea change in Japanese foreign policy.

A leaked draft declaration by US and Japanese ministers disclosed yesterday that Tokyo for the first time will join Washington in identifying security in the straits dividing China and the island democracy of Taiwan as "a common strategic objective".

The statement will be released after talks in Washington today and will include a pledge that Japanese units will assist US operations in Asia.

It is not expected to lead to the deployment of Japanese combat units should China attack Taiwan. But it could result in the use of Japanese logistical and medical units,.

Shinzo Abe, a senior figure in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying: "It would be wrong for us to send a signal to China that the United States and Japan will tolerate China's invasion of Taiwan.

"If the situation threatens our security, Japan can provide the US with support."

Tokyo's decision to make such an open declaration - in the face of what is certain to be Chinese anger - underscores the extent to which the normally diplomatic and cautious Japanese now see China as a direct threat to Japan. Flushed with cash from its rapid economic surge (fueled in large part by American free trade policies), China has been rapidly building up its military - in particular, it's navy. In Senate testimony last week, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warned that the Chinese military buildup posed a serious challenge to Pacific Ocean security.
"It is an issue that the department thinks about and is concerned about and is attentive to," Rumsfeld said Thursday when asked at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about intelligence projections that the size of the Chinese fleet could surpass that of the U.S. Navy within a decade.
That expansion is just one aspect of Beijing's buildup that U.S. analysts are watching. Rumsfeld noted that the Chinese military budget had experienced double-digit growth in recent years. Rumsfeld's comments came as he has agreed in principle to pay an official visit to China this year in what many analysts have interpreted as an effort toward mending military ties damaged after a U.S. Navy surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet collided in international airspace in 2001.
But a recent Chinese policy paper challenging the U.S. military presence in the Pacific, and the Bush administration's concern about China's military buildup across from Taiwan, has prompted some statements of tension.
The rate of Chinese military spending and expansion have raised eyebrows among military leaders and analysts.

According to military analysts, China is rapidly expanding its submarine force to about 85 by 2010, about one-third more than today.

"They want to become the dominant power in the western Pacific, to displace the United States, to kick us back to Hawaii or beyond," said Richard Fisher Jr., who studies Chinese naval strengths and strategies for the International Assessment and Strategy Center, a Washington research institute.

China is embarking on a $10 billion submarine acquisition and upgrade program and is buying destroyers and frigates and equipping them with modern antiship cruise missiles, according to Eric McVadon, a retired U.S. Navy admiral who served as defense attache in Beijing in the early 1990s.

"The Chinese are converting their surface navy into a truly modern antiship cruise-missile surface navy," McVadon, now an East Asia security consultant, said after attending a naval review conference in Hawaii. "The modernization of their navy has taken a great leap forward. Their nuclear sub program has taken off like wildfire."

In contrast, Russia, which once had 90 submarines in the Pacific, has mothballed all but 20. Japan has 16 submarines and no plans to buy more. The U.S. Pacific Fleet has 35 submarines, with many considered to be the most modern in the world. "We don't have to worry about losing control of the seas anytime soon," Richard Halloran, a military affairs analyst based in Honolulu, said by telephone. "But the Chinese are moving a whole lot faster on military modernization than anyone expected a short time ago."
While the US continues to expend billions of borrowed dollars and hundreds of soldiers' lives on democratizing the Middle East, China has been concluding agreements with Zimbabwe and Sudan to ensure a continuing flow of oil and output market for Chinese manufacturing. If Washington continues to push the policy of democratizing the world, non-democratic nations may be pushed into alliance with China. This is why the US willingly allied itself with so many Third World despots like Marcos and Suharto during the Cold War. They were vicious thugs, but had they allied themselves with the Soviets, the West's position would have been made all the more precarious. China, of course, doesn't much care for democracy and seems intent on co-opting the nasty regimes spurned by the US, turning them into potential Chinese allies. This leaves the US in a vulnerable position. First, US military forces are stretched thinly across the world engaged in democracy building (Iraq and Afghanistan) and peace-keeping roles (Kosovo) with very long and expensive logistical support lines. Chinese military forces, on the other hand, remain concentrated around China, with only the Pacific as its primary theater. Second, the US has ceded so much of its industrial base to China and other East Asian economies, that its ability to stay ahead of a sustained Chinese arms build-up may be in question. Finally, the US's soaring budget deficits - largely subsidized by China - will make it very difficult for the US to outspend China as it did the USSR. If American foreign policy remains motivated solely by democractic idealism instead of the realpolitik goal of containing China through strong alliances, the US may find itself out-maneuvered on the world stage.

Worse, some of America's traditional allies seem pleased by China's emergence. The EU has informed the US that it will proceed with arms sales to China, despite Washington's insistent pleas. Even the UK has signed on to the arms sales. The US must make clear to the EU that arming a potential US adversary is not acceptable and impose strong consequences on Europe (including, possibly, the removal of US forces and protection) if it goes through with the sales. The US faces no military threat from Europe, but it faces a growing menace from China.

Today's era of carefully negotiated port calls and surreptitious surveying reminds some historians of an earlier era.

"In the 1920s American military and Japanese military had to size up each other to see what the challenges were," Daniel Martinez, National Park Service historian at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, said in an interview in Saipan. "You could see today the potential of what was happening in 1930s, when the U.S. and Japan sought to spread influence throughout the Pacific." Japan's influence is eroding with new air links from here to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

"The Chinese influence in the Pacific islands will be very, very big, bigger than Japan's today," Hiroshi Nakajima, executive director of the Pacific Society, an academic group, predicted in a recent interview here. Eventually, Nakajima said, "Chinese interests and the American interest will clash."


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