Belmont Club

China Nights

With tensions increasing between Japan and China, America has a plan to fix the problem. The relations between the two Asian giants have been sinking to a post-war low and naturally the administration has been looking for a solution.

“BEIJING/CHENGDU, China, Sept 16 (Reuters) – Chinese protesters took to city streets for a second day on Sunday to denounce Japan in a row over disputed islands, prompting the Japanese prime minister to call on Beijing to ensure protection of his country’s people and property.”

In the biggest flare-up, police fired tear gas and used water cannon to repel thousands of protesters occupying a street in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.

The protests erupted in Beijing and many other cities on Saturday, when demonstrators besieged the Japanese embassy, hurling rocks, eggs and bottles, and testing cordons of police.

Demonstrators have looted shops and attacked Japanese cars and restaurants in at least five Chinese cities. Protesters also broke into a dozen Japanese-run factories in the eastern city of Qingdao on Saturday, according to the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

The Washington Post says “Anti-Japanese sentiment, never far from the surface in China, has been building for weeks, touched off by moves by Tokyo and fanned by a feverish campaign in Chinese state media. Passions grew more heated this past week after Japan’s government purchased the contested East China Sea islands — called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan — from their private Japanese owners.” Recently the Japanese have even expressed doubts over whether the US will defend its ally in the Pacific.

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.”

Even Australia is beginning to doubt America’s future in the region. John Lee at the Wall Street Journal writes:

In a matter of weeks, the Australian government will release a White Paper entitled “Australia in the Asian Century.” According to my sources, the report will look at how Australia can best exploit future economic opportunities in the region focusing on China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and India. Conspicuously absent from the primary analysis will be America.

This should raise alarm bells in Washington and the region. It signals that America’s staunchest ally in Asia may be losing faith in the revival of the U.S. economy. If so, steadfast support for the alliance will not be far behind.

With the stakes so high the Administration’s ongoing solution is brilliant. It is going to build a closer military alliance with China. “(Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will look for ways to deepen military relations with China during a visit to Asia this week, even as he works to bolster U.S. alliances in the region as part of a strategic shift that Beijing views with concern.”

The United States is officially neutral on the territorial disputes and has urged the parties involved to settle their disputes peacefully, a point Panetta said he would raise in Beijing.

“The United States does not take a position with regards to territorial disputes, but we do urge not just China but the other countries that are involved to engage in a process in which they can peacefully resolve these issues,” Panetta told reporters on his plane en route to Tokyo.

He said he would encourage China to engage in the dispute-resolution process promoted by ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in an effort to try to resolve the disagreements peacefully.

“What we don’t want is to have any kind of provocative behavior on the part of China or anybody else result in conflict,” Panetta said. “And my purpose will be to urge that they engage in the effort by the ASEAN nations to try to work out a format for resolving these issues.”

What could go wrong? Not everyone is convinced. Dean Cheng, a China analyst at the Heritage Foundation think tank expressed his doubts.  “The relationship is not in the deep freeze, but there is, at best, limited evidence of any kind of progress,” he said. “The Chinese military remains averse to transparency as the West understands it and remains hostile to things like U.S. military ships transiting China’s EEZ (exclusive economic zone) without prior permission.” Nothing that can’t be fixed with a really sincere apology from the administration.

America is an interesting strategic situation. A large ground force is in a landlocked country where it can only be supplied through Pakistan, Russia, or Iran. It has withdrawn from Iraq. It’s energy policy has just refused a Canadian oil pipeline which is now purposed for China. Its defense expenditures are sequestered. It is going to share missile defense information with Russia. It is working to dismantle its nuclear weapons. It’s foreign policy has arguably lost the Middle East and is adding Syria to the list of Jihadi controlled countries. It has broken openly with Israel. It has refused to enforce its immigration laws. And it may re-elect the President responsible for all of this.

They may re-elect him in the name of “cool”. In the name of sophistication and enlightment. Under the banner of “it’s for the unions” or “it’s for the children”.

And now the question is: what is the administration up to in Asia?

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