China ceding moral high ground with latest navy manueuvres

by Chris Zappone

The latest maritime accusation on the high seas between China and Japan, involves the ‘interruption’ of China’s naval manueuvres by the Japanese. Yet, according to this piece of analysis by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, one can argue that it is China who has taken a more provocative tack in the affair.

As the Rory Medcalf writes:

The PLA Navy has made a point of holding the exercise in the western Pacific, apparently somewhere south of Honshu, as part of a deliberate demonstration of its ability to ‘dismember’ the so-called ‘first island chain’ (which includes Japan and Taiwan).

He points to an October 23 comment on an official China ministry of defense website, which discusses the naval exercises. It quotes a senior researcher with the PLA Academy of Military Science, Sr. Colonel Du Wenlong:

the location of the exercise is one of the most sensitive sea areas with the most potential conflicts. The PLAN must be prepared for any unexpected combat operation in such an area.

According to Du Wenlong, breaking through the island chains has been quite normal for the PLAN. As far as the three major fleets of the PLAN are concerned, the “first island chain” [Japan and Taiwan] has already been “dismembered”. Moreover, he is looking forward to the three major fleets’ passing simultaneously through the Bashi Channel, the Osumi Strait and the Miyako Strait.

“The PLAN has cut up the whole island chains into multiple sections so that the so-called ‘island chains’ are not longer existent. As a geographical mark of trap and blockade, the mark of island chains has disappeared into history”, Du added.

And while discussing China-Japan disputes, it’s worth remembering that although the global media frequently refers to the September 2012 purchase of the three of the Senkaku/Diayou Islets by the Tokyo government as the escalation of their most nettlesome maritime dispute, that event really only marked the point when it rose to the global media’s sustained attention.

In 2010, for example, a Chinese fishing boat collision with Japanese patrol boats near the disputed islands.

Later, China and Japan had discussed a deal over the islands, which, according to an article in the Asahi Shinbum fell through as the members of negotiations on the Chinese side lost sway over the matter in the time of the Chinese leadership change. That underscores the still-developing nation status of China – the inability for the nation to split its foreign policy options from domestic concerns.

None of this, of course, excuses Japan for its actions in the past towards China. But the prospect of rise-and-avenge path for China doesn’t inspire much confidence in the region.