The Cold War Daily

Notes on the new great power struggle.

Tag: Japan

South Sudan, China, Japan – four things to know

  1. China intervention While China has long professed its non-interventionist intentions in the developing world, including Africa. But now is attempting to broker peace in the South Sudan, where a political struggle in the world’s youngest nation threatens to descend into civil war. For China, the decision to get involved is likely less geopolitical than geo-economic. China buys an estimated 80 per cent of South Sudan’s oil exports. Anything that blocks energy access to China is a threat to the Chinese Communist Party, because it could upset the economy and by extension society in China.
  2. China confidence Quite possibly China feels emboldened to test its hand at intervention in African affairs as it perceives a power vacuum in South Sudan and a US that is absorbed by problems in the Middle East. As the Globe and Mail writes, the US has been blamed for being “far too indulgent” to the human rights abuses and corruption in South Sudan. Meanwhile:
  3. China has already been “making mediation efforts,” the Chinese minister told a news conference, calling for an “immediate cessation of hostilities and violence.” He is expected to meet delegations from both sides during his visit to the Ethiopian capital….By taking a role in the South Sudan crisis, Beijing could help to weaken U.S. influence in the oil-dependent country.  That would seem to be a bonus to China’s goal of assuring steady supply of oil.

  4. Japan in Africa Japan is ramping up its diplomatic and aid efforts in Africa as well. As Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi tours Ethiopia, Djibouti, Ghana and Senegal, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visits Mozambique, the Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Oman, according to AFP. Abe will have officials from 50 Japanese companies pledge $577 million worth of loans to Mozambique for infrastructure supporting Japanese mining.
  5. Japan’s peacekeeping Japan’s participation in peace-keeping operations in the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) and anti-piracy missions in Africa give Japan a laboratory to showcase the use of its military in modern way. That is, well within the bounds of international norms. This in turn helps advance Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s goal to revise the nation’s constitution to allow its military to function normally, free of the purely-defensive constraints imposed on it, after WWII. Currently, the Japanese Self-Defense Force isn’t legally allowed to use force to defend South Sudanese civilians, for example.As Jeremy Taylor and Michael Walsh at the US-based Nation Bureau of Asian Research write:

     “UN-sanctioned operations in East Africa continue to provide Abe with a distinct political advantage in pushing forward military normalization measures. The product of the policy decisions of five separate administrations, these missions remain difficult to politicize given that the two dominant parties have endorsed them.”

    Importantly, Japan’s deployment in South Sudan gives Japan an opportunity to demonstrate a central plank of its new National Security Strategy. Japan says it’s seeking to be a “proactive” contributor to peace “based on the principle of international cooperation.” The strategy should hardwire Japan into multilateral arrangements such as these. The flap over the ammunition sent to South Korean troops notwithstanding, Japan’s participation in the UN Mission runs counter to the notion of a remilitarized nation acting as a destabilizing force.

Why Americans don’t care about China’s tensions with its neighbors

US media coverage of the USS Cowpens incident with China’s nascent aircraft carrier group has been half-hearted at best. For much of the US, foreign policy is synonymous with the Middle East. That means for the US’s Asian pivot to have it’s full effect, Americans will have to begin thinking about Asia in a way they haven’t done since the Vietnam War. That’s a big ask of a people who are clearly war weary after the Iraq disaster and the War in Afghanistan.

Peter Beinart, famous for his change of heart on the Invasion of Iraq, makes some revealing and valuable observations about where the China Challenge sits in the US political spectrum. The bottom line is, as he says,

Were the neo-imperialists [in US politics] able to turn toughness on China into a Republican cause célèbre, liberals might respond. But without the familiar cast of Bush-era villains to rally against, it’s hard to get progressive pundits interested.

The isolationist urge is on full display in the US these days, attractive to both Democrats who questioned the rashness of George W. Bush’s terms and Republicans who hold isolationism as a core principle. Beinart writes that the most strident voices in US politics today will be the ones questioning why the US has be involved in the region (although I don’t think that’s exactly true).

On both left and right, the voices gaining the most traction fall into a third camp, which questions why America needs to be patrolling the Western Pacific at all. To people like Greenwald and Paul, who have expended vast energy battling post-9/11 infringements on personal liberty, tension with Beijing must look like another excuse to rev up the national security state. That means they’re unlikely to focus much attention on what happens in the South China Sea, either.

So the Obama administration finds itself in the odd position of making hugely consequential decisions about how strongly to resist China’s expanding reach in the absence of virtually any high-profile debate in Congress or the media. Would more public discussion improve Obama’s policies? Who knows? But it would force the administration to explain publicly why it’s worth risking war to ensure American access to bodies of water most Americans have never heard of. We’re better off hearing those arguments presented—and challenged—now, while our ships and theirs are still 200 yards away.

On a recent trip to the US, I was struck by how little Americans were aware of the tension between China and it’s neighbors and how blind Americans were to the reasons behind a possible China-Japan conflict. Yet, the Chinese style of engagement is to consistently apply pressure – so it may be for Americans that China only comes on the radar if it continually causes friction with the US in a variety of areas. But I don’t see that happening. Until, of course, there is a full-blown international crisis.

%d bloggers like this: