China ceding moral high ground with latest navy manueuvres

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.

Senkaku/Diaoyu issue triggers a spat between China, Singapore

Quotes from a speech by Singapore’s Prime Minister have infuriated China, or at least the editorial writers at the China state-friendly Global Times.

The Singapore PM pointed out that a tactical victory in the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute could damage the China brand elsewhere.

The key quote at the center of the disagreement between the Global Times and Singapore is taken from a speech Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong given in Japan (from the South China Morning Post):

What you [China] gain on the Senkakus [Diaoyu Islands] or the South China Sea… you lose in terms of your broader reputation and standing in the world, you have to make that calculation very carefully.”

There is an entire debate about how the quotes were reported and what their original source was, which the SCMP article explains.

Nonetheless, the anger is instructive. It shows how sensitive China is about its claim and how sensitive Singapore is about being seen as partisan in the issue.

Singapore is considered something of a leading light for Asian’s political evolution. In fact, around the time of China’s leadership transition, there was discussion in China of Singapore being a possible model for the kind of political structure China could ultimately adopt.

Meanwhile, between China and Japan….

The Chinese weren’t happy with the conclusions of the latest Japanese defense white paper, saying China’s military is “strongly discontented and resolutely against” the accusations contained in the paper.

And those accusations?

(from Reuters) The defense ministry report said: “China has attempted to change the status quo by force based on its own assertion, which is incompatible with the existing order of international law,” echoing recent comments by Abe and his cabinet.

“China should accept and stick to the international norms.”

The takeaway is, as the NYTimes writes:

Experts said the strongly worded statements on both sides may be

a precursor to worsening dynamics between the two countries as

each tries to outmaneuver the other in the region and talk each

other down in diplomatic settings.

Hotlines across the South China Sea and East China Sea

After the most recent ASEAN meeting in Brunei, China has ignored the prodding of the US to sign on to a Code of Conduct aimed at preventing maritime disputes from escalating.

However, the Christian Science Monitor notes that China has established hotlines with Japan and Vietnam, aimed at diffusing tensions. It’s not clear what level of the bureaucracy these hotlines are plugged into among the nations.

But it’s been noted elsewhere that the China-US hotline does not function as particularly smoothly during crises both because the consensus-nature of China’s leadership, which makes snap decisions difficult. Moreover, in times of crisis, China has been known to not pick up the phone in protest.