Japanese interrupt China’s live-fire exercises

The Chinese Defence Ministry has made a formal diplomatic complaint to Japan over its military’s recent interruption of live-fire exercises held by China in the western Pacific.

From Reuters:

Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said that a Japanese naval and air patrol disrupted a Chinese live ammunition military drill last Friday, without giving the precise location.

China is moving towards more naval activity in the Western Pacific, even while the Senkaku-Diaoyu island dispute continues.
Abe in a recent speech and interview has singled out the need for Japan to “contribute” to regional security by countering
China. China, as the country industrializes, has more desire to firm up its push its borders outward and secure its own
zone of security.

There has been speculation about Shinzo Abe reigniting Japanese nationalism (a la 1930s) as he tries to pull the country
back from its zombie-status. But Japan faces huge demographic challenges. It’s a country that in the past two decades has
had trouble creating inflation, so a kind of 1930s-style militarism seems a bit far fetched, at least now.

Across the East China Sea, Xi Jinping’s reform agenda has run into trouble. Sure, economic reforms are on the cards – but
the increasing demand for political reforms seems to be going unheeded. Some Westerners speculate that Xi will rely on a
kind of neo-Maoism, popularized by pretender-to-the-Politburo Standing Committee, fallen politician Bo Xilai.

If that’s the case, the question is, how much does neo-Maoism rely on a war-like view of the outside world.

None of this takes away from that fact that China really was victimised by foreign forces from the 1840s onwards, with
Japan at the forefront in the 1900s. So the grievance is real.

But the question is, where does China’s leadership take that? Obviously, with $300 billion in trade with Japan on the line,
a lot is at stake. And China and Japan have made gestures that indicate a willingness to talk about the issue. But as this
Reuters article noted, it’s wasn’t China’s foreign minister approaching Japan’s foreign ministry over the latest incident.

It was China’s defence ministry.

From Reuters: “Diplomatic complaints are normally lodged by the Foreign Ministry, so the Defence Ministry’s unusual move signals the military’s anger.”

That signals that like many a developing country, China’s military is its own political entity. Whatever discussions
between Japan and China at the diplomatic level may even not matter when it comes to a military to military dispute.

China and Japan Diaoyu-Senkaku tensions rising

The Japanese and Chinese escalating war of words over the Diaoyu-Senkaku islands are coming at an incredibly delicate time in global politics. Obama’s recent no-show in Asia (thanks to the Tea Party-driven government shutdown) only contributed to the sense of a power vacuum arising from the US’s absence. While the US is an ally of Japan, it has also said it doesn’t take side in the dispute. It’s leverage as a steadying force may be weakened by the perception that, like in the Middle East, the US is pulling back. 

We are also in the middle of the ongoing Snowden fallout, in which wearing on long alliances. I suppose it could further make the US’s ability to cobble together a multi-lateral agreement. The past month or two in the White House must feel like a rollercoaster with no handbrake.

Conspiracy theories and China

This article about an interesting investigation into conspiracy theories and democracy brings to mind an element to China rise story that I often think about. How an authoritarian state that limits access to information contributes to a sense of conspiracy among its people. 

But first, about the BBC article. As Brian Wheeler notes

We live in a golden age for conspiracy theories. There is a growing assumption that everything we are told by the authorities is wrong, or not quite as it seems. That the truth is being manipulated or obscured by powerful vested interests.

Increasingly, in democracy growing parts of the public disbelieve facts that don’t suit a view of a grand sinister design for the
world. There is less faith in mainstream media, which itself is diminished. Just glance at Wikileaks, for example, which is founded on the principle that government power is a form of conspiracy and which, through the Cablegate leaks, showed that, well, the State Department, while keeping private discussions private, basically has the same policies behind closed doors as the ones it espouses to the public. Ironically, even as MSM shrinks, it’s held up as part of a sinister plan by outsider groups.

In any case, the air of conspiracy abounds. 

Given that this is the situation in the free West, imagine what it must be like in China, where the machinations of the
Chinese Communist Party really are in manipulating people’s lives. The CPC has a strong hand in who profits, who loses, and who can walk free. In fact, for a lot of smart Chinese people, it must be difficult not to see a setback as a result of an unseen force conspiring against them. Leadership and decision-making is famously opaque. The legal system bows to patronage. Freedom of the press bows to the wishes of the state. The princelings (children of the revolution) confer legitimacy on politicians, business leaders and businesses.

It’s no wonder there is a sense in China that the US is somehow trying to trap it at its most exposed point of expansion, where it can be again exploited by Westerners. If the government is comparatively opaque, and the real power struggles occur behind closed
doors, why wouldn’t people in China view global affairs as a matter of conspiracy, designed to hold their country back?

Of course, the West has to contend with the impact of an overflow of information, of a convergence of facts that too much
like a pattern. But in China, until real, painful reforms in governance are made, it seems like the air of conspiracy will only grow thicker – and having a population incredulous that their fate really is in their own hand only adds to the geopolitical risk. Because the tendency will be to look elsewhere for the great malefactor causing the nation’s ills.

Tea Partiers weaken US in Asia

Ex-Australian PM Julia Gillard, in comments in Washington, said that Obama’s absence at two Asian Summits on what would have been a four-country tour have sent the wrong message (i.e. that the US doesn’t care about Asia).

From IBT:

Mr Obama has previously pledged to focus more on Asia, but as the news of a U.S. government shutdown was threatening to cripple government operations, he cancelled what was supposed to be a four-nation trip including two Asian summits.

Ms Gillard said at the Center for American Progress in Washington DC that she was with other world leaders in the APEC forum in Bali when it was announced that Mr Obama had cancelled all his prior engagements in Asia.

Ms Gillard said “you could hear the painful thud” when news broke about Mr Obama’s non-attendance. According to Ms Gillard, there were other countries in this region that were working out plans for long-term alliances.

For a little background, as China grows more powerful, it’s looking to assert itself through the region. In response, Obama
has pledged more US engagement in Asia – that means everything from more attention, to more trade deals, to more military
coordination, to more diplomacy. Many other Asian nations fear China’s rise because of the lawless, feudalism and the scale
of the country – not to mention historical enmity.

But instead of Obama representing the US in Asia at this crucial time the US had to send John Kerry. So, now, the Tea Party-driven shutdown has had the effect of sewing seeds of doubt among the US’s would-be partners and allies in Asia.

But it’s this line, from AFP, which should alarm even the most radicalized Obama-hater: 

US allies largely refrained from publicly criticizing Obama’s absence, which came as President Xi Jinping toured Southeast Asia and stressed Beijing’s growing trade and investment.


That’s right. The president of China was on tour in the region, even addressing the Indonesian parliament. Obama’s absence was certainly noticed in the region: Here is an editorial from the Jakarta (Indonesia) Post, called: Who leads the 21st Century Asia Pacific? Certainly not the US.

I suppose if you’re a Tea Partier and you want to hurt and cripple the Obama White House, you can be happy with the results of the shutdown, which are undeniably dragging the focus back home.

Nonetheless, Obama, as President of the US, represents the America abroad. And so, whether the intention was there or not, the Tea Party “urge,” let’s call it, has frustrated the US’s ability to send consistent signals about US friendship in a highly contested part of the world. 

This is what Obama means when he said the shutdown has “emboldened our enemies.” Believe me, this is shifting the calculus
in Asia.