Thursday, January 9, 2014

Don't Meddle

At least that's what Beijing has told Washington in regards to increasing hostile relations between China and Japan. China and Japan are locked in a dispute over another set of islands (not the Kurils).
The islands located in the in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, have lately strained bilateral relations of the two leading Asian economies (  As I've already posted, China and Japan have no reason to be friendly after the atrocities in Nanking during World War II.

The US has increased troop strength in South Korea by sending 40 M1 Abrahams tanks and 800 soldiers from the 1st US Cavalry Division.  The troops will do a nine-month rotation but the tanks will remain as other troops rotate into theater.  According to, this is part of Washington's "pivot" to Asia.

"This addition of forces to Korea is part of the rebalance to the Pacific. It's been long planned and is part of our enduring commitment to security on the Korean peninsula," said Army Colonel Steve Warner in an article from Reuters.  But the numbers given hardly represent a increase of any significance.  As several others have pointed out, the move is more show than substance.  The real pivot seems to be in spending with funding switching away from the Army and more towards the Air Force and Navy (hence the huge build-up at Andersen AFB).

China's reaction is to criticize the "pivot" and increased military presence saying that it is straining relations between US and China.

China's Defense Ministry Spokesman Yang Yujun said, "the US is destabilizing the region by sending more troops, ships, and planes and strengthening its military alliances with regional partners."  PressTV.  China has criticized US military build-ups in countries besides South Korea such as Vietnam and Philippines.

All of this seems to indicate that the Obama Administration is not interested in fighting terrorism and focus more on regaining some type of global legitimacy.  The challenge is for the US to re-establish itself in Asia without being perceived as an even bigger threat by China.  And let's one forgets, the US has de facto diplomatic relations with Taiwan (under the Taiwan Relations Act 1979).  While the Taiwan Relations Act does not require the US to defend Taiwan per se, the US is able to provide arms to the Taiwanese government.  Of course, this means that the US views Taiwan as independent from China (something Beijing flatly rejects).

A conflict between China and Japan could be just the impetus for North Korea to attack.  Kim Jong Un is a young leader with some very disturbing tendencies (such as having an uncle and former girlfriend executed).  Young men tend to want to prove themselves and Kim Jong Un appears to have no problems with doing that.  Such tendencies could mean conflicts could break out with little to no warning.

What can we make of this?  Events in Asia are shaped by prior events going back 50 or more years in many cases.  In comparison, the events going on in Iran and Syria are far more recent.   The Obama Administration has been unable handle the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran nor keep his word of outing Asad should he use chemical weapons in Syria.  It is unlikely in the final years of his administration that the President will find the ability to negotiate his pivot successfully.  If nothing else, China merely needs to wait him out.  More likely, his actions will cause China to become more aggressive towards the next administration.  Should Hilary Clinton become the next President, I don't see her relaxing this approach to the region.

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