My sense of China is that it is one of the most xenophobic country with a new rise in jingoism among its leadership. Its most recent declaration of a new air defense identification zone which in effect requires Japanese and South Korean aircraft flying in their own territorial waters to identify themselves to the Chinese and seek their permission to continue on. Obviously neither country can be bound by it and keep face. The boldness of China telling other countries they can only use their airspace with China’s permission is as close to an act of war as you can get. Imagine Cuba telling the U.S. any flights over the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Texas or Mexico must be logged in with Cuban authorities.
What was the U.S.’s response to this? Secretary of State John Kerry responded to it noting the U.S. is “deeply concerned” with the action that will “only increase tensions” and while noting the U.S. would never do such a thing. He urges China “to exercise caution and restraint.” That doesn’t sound like much of a come back; it rather sounds like an acceptance.
Secretary of Defense Hagel stated the obvious that China’s “unilateral action” of declaring the air defense zone “increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.” Even these tepid remarks resulted in China shouting back at the U.S. and telling us to stay out of their dispute with Japan.
The U.S. then sent two B-52s over toward the zone. The U.S. said they flew through it but China said they skirted it. We who have no access to the actual flight path have to wonder what happened.
Next to happen looks like we raised the white flag. We recognized China’s right to do this. We told the U.S. airlines that they should comply with China’s new rules. How quickly we caved in. It also suggests to me that the B-52s skirted rather than challenged China’s new seizure of an expanded air zone.
Of course, you can’t pussy foot around with one country without damaging your credibility with another. Here where we recognized another of China’s bold acts, reminiscent of the continuing backing down to Hilter’s step by step aggression in Europe in the late 1930s, we have left our long term ally Japan, who we have a treaty to defend, in the lurch.
Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspapers noted: “U.S. State Department guidance to domestic airlines that they comply with China’s new air defense zone in the East China Sea has perplexed Japan, which wonders if it still has the full support of its ally in challenging Beijing’s claims to the airspace.” A comment to an Chinese article that told its readers of the U.S. decision to tell its airlines to respect China’s grab stated: “(President) Obama saved China’s honor,” said one posting. “Finally, the international community acknowledged China’s air defense zone.”
This type of response should be expected. “Chinese social media, official and semiofficial media are all playing up this dispute,” said Cheng Li, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The U.S. has failed to understand how much weight the sovereignty issue carries with Asian countries.”
That weight goes both ways. China made a grab that diminished Japan. Now both nations believe their honor is at stake. The U.S. rather than acting boldly has tried to steer a neutral course; it is wrong in doing this.
Susan Rice, of Benghazi fame, has asked:“all parties to reject coercion and aggression and to pursue their claims in accordance with international law and norms.” How does that make any sense? Only one party has taken steps to disrupt the status quo yet we can’t find the gumption to come out and direct our comments directly to them. Sometimes you have to stand up for a long term ally. What kind of message are we sending to others in the world?
What choice now for Japan when its long time ally seems to be taking a walk away from it? I’d guess the Obama administration’s policy of pusillanimity is going to require Japan to start depending more on itself and less on the U.S. It will result in a major change in the military balance in that area. Does Japan now have to develop its own nuclear weapons? If I was in its leadership I’d be given that serious consideration.
Has China taken the measure of the U.S.? Do we only stand up against those who can’t defend themselves? Japan is truly wondering about our ability to back up our words with deeds.