No room for negotiations on Senkakus: Japan

The newly elected Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has reiterated that Tokyo sees no need to negotiate over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, according to this article from JiJi Press.

“The Senkakus are our territory, so there is no room whatever for negotiations,” Abe said on a television program.

“It was the first time since Abe took office last week that he has ruled out negotiations with China over the Japanese-administered islands.”

Contrast this with comments from the Chinese foreign ministry that Japan should meet China halfway to improve relations between the two countries.

Meanwhile, the Japanese are urging the United Nations to rebuff an argument that the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands are, if nothing else, the geological property of China.

Also from JiJi Press:

In the petition submitted to the commission in mid-December, China argued that geographical characteristics show the continental shelf in the East China Sea stretches naturally from the country’s mainland and that China’s continental shelf includes the Senkaku islands and extends to the Okinawa Trough off the southernmost Japan prefecture of Okinawa.

And so it goes… You will recall that during the Cold War, East Germans referred to West Germany as “so-called West Germany.” Things can get this petty. And again, it’s preferable to a hot war.

Stealth fighters to face off over the Pacific?

From Wired: “the clock is counting down to a stealth warplane showdown over the Western Pacific.”

The article discusses the deployment of US stealth planes over the Pacific while the Chinese potentially develop their own stealth fighters, which bear an uncanny resemblance to their US counterparts. (What is thought to be China’s J-31 fighter pictured below).

ImageBut this is a feature of China’s strategy, I would venture. Why reinvent the wheel when you can bootleg it? 

From the article: it’s possible that all three radar-evading planes [the F-22, B-2 and F-35] could be flying together over the blue waters of the Pacific as early as five years from now. By that time China might have built and deployed combat-ready versions of its own J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters. That doesn’t mean the two aerial armadas will be fighting each other, of course. Conventional war with China is, and will likely remain, unnecessary and unlikely.

Crucially, and wisely, Wired’s David Axe notes that the point of such deployments on the side of China and the US are about demonstrating, rather than exercising power. I.e. Cold War-like posturing.

He writes:

For both sides the planned stealth strike forces are all about showing off, and impressing your rival so much that actually fighting him seems unthinkable. And that’s a good thing.

Fiscal cliff shows primacy of politics over markets

There is no doubt that the fiscal cliff tug-of-war, in the short term, is not good for brand America. A country that is supposed to be an economic leader should not put its partners, let alone global markets, through this kind of uncertainty. The event does contribute to the primacy of politics over economics, which is a theme of the period we’re in. It comes after the twenty years when economics clearly drove political thinking. (See China’s accession to the WTO, for instance).

But there is a time warp in parts of American politics. The core of Tea Partiers and anti-tax advocates still operate under the assumption of the US’s undisputed power and influence. The genius of the Obama Administration is to recognize that the US is facing vastly changed economic circumstances today than two decades ago, and it’s positioning the US economy accordingly.

Not only two decades of so-called “free trade” have helped spur growth in and competition from nations like China, Brazil, India and Indonesia. But the nature of the global economy has changed too, with products and services on offer across borders. The brain race is well and truly underway. Obama understands this.

But it’s worth noting a couple behind the scenes trends highlighted by the fiscal cliff drama.

1) It shows that the US is serious about its debt problems.

2) The fact that Republican House Speaker John Boehner suffered a revolt by Republicans over his Plan B, shows the Republican party is increasingly in disarray. What’s important is that whatever platform is rebuilds itself around takes into account the vastly different situation the US finds itself in now compared to the early 1970s when it last created an image of itself. 

3) The Republican instransigence also highlights the last-standism of parts of the white America. This is difficult to write about for the mainstream media but there is an element of right wing behavior which traces back to the culture of the Lost Cause of the South’s defeat from the US Civil War, mingled of course with rigid views on religion and race.

For these Americans it’s a matter of honor to fight to the end. Make no mistake, these are the Americans who conquered the frontier. They fought to the death at the Alamo. If you’re in combat, you want these guys by your side. But during negotiations about the finances of the USA, they don’t understand the basic ingredient of American democracy: compromise.

If not war, then….

An alternate vision of the China-Japan “war”


An interest take by Lowy Institute’s Rory Medcalf’s on Hugh White’s Big Call. While Medcalf downplays the prospect of imminent war he notes….

it would be folly to count on a prolonged crisis simply fizzling out. But both China and Japan are more than capable of strategic patience. Neither wants to force the issue in the immediate term. Each government has an interest in trying to exert greater control over the various institutional players — not just navies but also civilian maritime agencies — whose operational decisions could make the difference between calm and crisis.

It points to the beginning of a struggle for influence in the seas between China and Japan, backed by the US. But should the dispute linger and harden into a kind of DMZ-type situation, how difficult is it to imagine the struggle for influence transfering to other areas of competition? Already there is a race between China and Japan and South Korea to secure the resources needed for the economies. What if the polarizing effect of the island dispute seeps into other areas of deal-making? Already manufacturers routinely add other countries besides China to their supply chain to try to miminize disruptions related to a total reliance n China?

What if that kind of polarization begins to shape the regional economy? If it takes hold in Asia, which is the strongest region in the globe, it could have follow-on effects elsewhere. Already China’s Internet is not exactly the same thing as the Grown Up Internet, which the US and Japan share. If the Internet becomes Balkanized, why wouldn’t that extend to technology and technological standards, too? In this way, if the Internet is like a universal language, we are seeing the emergence of regional dialects (China’s internet, Iran’s , Thailand’s internet), and not because it makes sense economically, but becuase it makes sense for nationalistic reasons. This is the stuff of science fiction, to be sure. But it wouldn’t be the far off either. Some anthropologists theorize that the development of language is as much to facilitate communication within a given community as well as blocking it out with others. Transfer this notion to the world technology, economic, etc… Basically, anything to avoid a war while doing anything to avoid cooperation between the world’s second and third largest economies. This could be a new kind of sectional Cold War.