Despite the unswerving support of the media for the Obama administration and their unending efforts to portray him as strong, decisive, and sagacious, nobody wants to share a foxhole with him. Time magazine reports that Japan is not sure what his word is worth:
When the U.S. defense secretary arrives in Asia this weekend, his biggest challenge may not be convincing China that America will give its full support to longtime ally Japan in the escalating dispute over islands in the East China Sea. His biggest challenge may be convincing Japan.
“There is a perception in Japan that the U.S. commitment is ambiguous,” says Yoichiro Sato, director of International Strategic Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, in southern Japan. “If China thinks Japan will hesitate to respond, or that America will hesitate, that will embolden the Chinese. It’s better that America sends a clear, explicit message now than have to respond to something worse later.”
In that case, get ready.
The tension is partly the consequence of China’s decision to increase its naval power. Dr. Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College points out that Beijing sees naval geography in terms of “three seas.” The “near seas” encompass the waters between the Asian coastline and the chain of islands which comprise Asia’s outer coast — the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Yellow Sea. It is all the space between mainland Asia and the Malay Barrier, Japan, and Korea.
All the space, in other words, between the China coast and the chain of islands which have since the Second World War constituted the American outpost from which the United States maintained its vigil on Asia.
But China’s new great-power status has impelled it to assert what some have called a 21st century version of the Monroe Doctrine.
The phrase “Chinese Monroe Doctrine” is singularly ill-suited. Whereas Latin American countries of the period saw it as a bulwark against further European colonization (a job performed by the British, since President Monroe had no navy to speak of then), the countries surrounding China want to be protected from expansion coming from the Middle Kingdom. The Monroe Doctrine only acquired its cachet of hegemony once America grew into the colossus of the New World. “The trouble,” as Holmes put it, “started in the 1890s, with the United States’ rise to hemispheric supremacy. Physical power tempts political leaders to use it.”
And power may tempt Chinese political leaders again, especially when there might be considerable mineral wealth in the waters disputed by China and its neighbors.