Tensions Rise in East China Sea

FP:In the East China Sea, Beijing’s Big Ships Push the Envelope
China has begun sailing bigger ships — old navy vessels nominally now serving as Coast Guard ones — near islands that Beijing and Tokyo both claim, as well as carrying out provocative flights with advanced jets overhead. Those aggressive tactics have alarmed Japan and raised the risk of a potentially violent incident between the two — and unlike in the South China Sea, where the United States has been vague about its readiness to help the Philippines in a dispute with Beijing, Washington has made clear it will honor its treaty obligations to come to Japan’s rescue.

The spat will be high on the agenda when President Barack Obama visits Tokyo this week, and Japan will be looking for the United States to repeat its reassurances that Washington stands by its mutual defense treaty commitments.

China’s bold tactics at sea, its growing military punch, and the nationalist rhetoric surrounding the feud in both countries arguably pose a more dangerous threat than the simmering disputes in the South China Sea. In Southeast Asia, Beijing is a heavyweight that wields overwhelming military and economic power compared with its smaller neighbors like the Philippines and Vietnam.

But in the East China Sea standoff, Japan, after decades of indifference and official pacifism, is flexing its military muscles and showing a determination to counter Beijing’s attempts to assert its territorial claims. Tokyo is investing record levels in its military, especially the navy, building up amphibious forces, bolstering missile defenses, buying stealthy F-35 fighter jets, and increasingly taking part in big military exercises with the United States and other countries. Next month, Japanese forces will join ships from the U.S. and Indian navies in a drill in the East China Sea.

CFR: Why Donald Trump's Plan for Japan Would Be a Nightmare for Asia
Should the US simultaneously end its longstanding alliances with both Japan and South Korea, as Trump has suggested, Northeast Asia would be transformed. Popular sentiments in both Japan and South Korea have become very sensitive to each other, and a potent cycle of reactive nationalism could result.

Seoul’s choices would feed into the Japanese debate. Seoul might see acquiring nuclear weapons as its only path forward for coping with a nuclear North Korea. Or it could seek greater accommodation with Beijing. A South Korea under the protection of China would strengthen Japanese calls for an autonomous military capability, including discussion of a nuclear option if Tokyo planners felt the Seoul-Beijing links were antagonistic to Japan.

Greater strategic cooperation between Beijing and Tokyo could also result, with a condominium of China, South Korea, and Japan emerging to challenge US interests in the Pacific.

Whether nuclear proliferation would result, or whether America’s non-nuclear allies would seek nuclear protection elsewhere, Asia’s geostrategic balance would undergo tremendous change.

The Diplomat: Donald Trump: A Reality Check for the US-Japan Alliance
Legally speaking, with the security legislation that has been enacted on April 1, Japan today can definitely do more, as long as the contingencies in question are considered to affect Japan’s survival, or security of its allies and important partners. But if there is one takeaway from the debate over Japan’s security legislation last year, it’s that the Japanese public is clearly more willing to support the government in its effort to harden its own defense, while they remain uncertain about Japan joining broader international coalition to tackle security concerns that are far from their borders, especially when there is no clear mandate by the United Nations. Despite the alliance managers’ aspiration for the U.S.-Japan alliance to be a global strategic partnership, this may point to a serious disconnect between what Japan’s policy elites envisions and what the public is willing to allow its government to do.

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