Chinese Aggressiveness in Asia

There is trouble on the horizon, and before long it may turn into very big trouble.

In late August, I wrote at length about China’s resolute turn back to despotism; about its vehement public repudiation of constitutionalism, the rule of law, and freedom of the press; and about the manner in which Chinese communist cadres are now expected to read Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic The Ancien Regime and the Revolution as a warning against a relaxation of party discipline.

There is another dimension to what is going on in China, and it dovetails neatly with the first. In and for a long time after the time of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese talked softly while carrying a big stick. Deng and his immediate successors understood that the rise of China would elicit anxiety on the part of the Japanese, the Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Taiwanese, and the Filipinos, and they did what they could to allay that anxiety by refraining from doing anything that would suggest on their part aggressive intent.

In the last couple of years,  however, all of that has changed; and everywhere where one goes in Asia, an old friend who travels in high circles told me earlier this week, one senses hostility — not towards the United States but towards one’s neighbors. The anger underlying all of this has been stirred by the Chinese, who have been throwing their weight around with ever greater force.

This weekend the Chinese upped the ante. In the South China Sea, between Korea and Taiwan, there are some uninhabited islands, which are called the Senkaku isles by the Japanese and the Diayu isles by the Chinese. Although there are other claimants, these have been controlled for many decades by the Japanese. This weekend, however, China extended its air-defence zone to include the islands:

Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said Saturday that the establishment of the zone, which China said entered into force as of 10 a.m. Saturday, was aimed at “safeguarding state sovereignty, territorial land and air security, and maintaining flight order.”

“It is a necessary measure in China’s exercise of self-defense rights. It has no particular target and will not affect the freedom of flight in relevant airspace,” Yang said in a statement on the ministry’s website.

“China will take timely measures to deal with air threats and unidentified flying objects from the sea, including identification, monitoring, control and disposition, and it hopes all relevant sides positively cooperate and jointly maintain flying safety,” he said.

Along with the new zone, the Chinese ministry released a set of aircraft identification rules that it says must be followed by all aircraft entering the area, under penalty of intervention by China’s military.

Aircraft are now expected to provide their flight path, clearly mark their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication in order to “respond in a timely and accurate manner to identification inquiries” from Chinese authorities.

Shen Jinke, spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, reported late Saturday that it had conducted a sweep of the area using early warning aircraft and fighter jets. “The patrol is in line with international common practices, and the normal flight of international flights will not be affected,” Shen said.

Four Chinese Coast Guard boats briefly entered Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkakus on Friday, after multiple incursions at the end of October and the beginning of this month further aggravated tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.

The Japanese are understandably perturbed:

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera in late October said the repeated incursions are a threat to peace and fall in a “gray zone (between) peacetime and an emergency situation.”

A few days earlier, his Chinese counterpart had threatened Japan that any bid to shoot down China’s drones would constitute “an act of war.” That move came after a report said Japan had drafted plans to destroy foreign drones that encroach on its airspace if warnings to leave are ignored.

Not surprisingly, Chuck Hagel and John Kerry have expressed concern. They ought to be concerned. This is a deliberate provocation, and it is clearly meant as a challenge to Japan. In that neck of the woods, the Chinese evidently intend to have their way, and those who do not acquiesce will be made to pay dearly. What we are witnessing is an attempt by the Chinese to assert and establish their hegemony over the entire region. What they aim at is something like what, in the years prior to World War II, the Japanese called the Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Intimately connected with this development is another fact. In recent years, since the economic downturn that began in 2007, prominent Chinese have repeatedly expressed contempt for the United States. We are on the decline, they say. Decadence has set in, and China’s time has come.

There is good reason to think that the Chinese leadership believes that this is true, and there is this to be said in defense of their posture. Their ability to project power in the Pacific has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, and we have done nothing to counter their preparations to take out our bases and ships.

If the Chinese leadership really believes what its members sometimes say, the final years of the second term of Barack Obama and those of his successor are going to be more unpleasant than anyone has yet imagined. Statesmen who broadcast weakness and who cut military budgets to the bone, are asking for trouble. Those who sow the wind are bound to reap the whirlwind.

  1. Instugator
    Paul A. Rahe: …Deng and his immediate successors understood that the rise of China would elicit anxiety on the part of the Japanese, the Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Taiwanese, and the Filipinos, and they did what they could to allay that anxiety by refraining from doing anything that would suggest on their part aggressive intent.

    …The anger underlying all of this has been stirred by the Chinese, who have been throwing their weight around with ever greater force.

    This has not been my experience. When I talk to my family in Asia their greatest concern is the return of the Japanese. That is from the older generation, my Mother-in-Law and her peers, plus my own interactions with comrades-in-arms from other countries. They fear Japan, not China.

    Since WW2, however, Japan has been toothless. They only maintain ‘self defense forces’ – those forces went on their first non-self-defence mission when they supported us logistically in Iraq, circa 2007. The big problem, in my mind, is Japan’s perception of treat vs support.

    Maj Gen Thomas, retired once related this story to me.

    (Cont) 

  2. Instugator

    During his stint as Vice Commander, U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Nellis AFB, Nevada, he hosted a contingent of Japanese General officers who were visiting the US and Nellis AFB in particular.

    Gen Thomas, in a self-deprecating tale, informed us that he is pretty much a lightweight (or rather, Bantam weight) when it comes to alcohol.

    The story he told us was that while out on the evening hosting his Japanese guests he had a couple of glasses of wine, which put his aid in the category of designated driver. The Japanese guests were knocking them back, one after the other while they talked. At one point in the conversation, the head of the Japanese contingent asked one of his subotdinates a question (in Japanese, which Gen Thomas does not speak). It resulted in a back and forth that lasted a while and clued Gen Thomas into the fact it was a remarkable question. 

    The question that emerged is something like, ‘Is the United States really willing to wage nuclear war on Japan’s behalf?’

    Gen Thomas relates that the shock of the question was enough to sober him up completely.

    (Cont)

  3. Instugator

    The policy of the US, enshrined in our mutual defense treaties and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is yes.

    Which is the answer he gave, knowing the importance of the question.

    That is the balance, on one hand the leaders of the Pacific rim fear Japan more than China and on the other China is becoming much more aggressive.

    One of my former comrades in arms, Lt. Col. Charles McElvaine (Salty) penned this article for AFGSC regarding the use of Nuclear Weapons. He modeled it after Col. Phillip S. Meilinger’s ”10 Propositions Regarding Air Power.” (although, in the History Department of the USAF Academy, circa 19886-ish, I had seen the same propositions.)

    Note to the Ricochet Podcasters – Maj Gen Thomas would be a good guy to have on – I can help with the introductions.

  4. ctlaw

    The alleged trigger of this round was the Japanese nationalization of the private holdings on the islands.

    This was done to prevent the private owner from developing them. Japan feared that development might provoke the Chinese. Instead, the sign of weakness spurred the Chinese on. As mere agitprop for gullible domestic and international audiences, the Chinese declared the nationalization to be hostile rather than conciliatory.

    Anyone disagree?

  5. ctlaw
    The Mugwump: If Japan wanted to go nuclear, it could happen in a matter of months.  The Japanese military is restricted to defensive actions, but the situation you describe could easily fall within Japan’s constitutionally proscribed reasons to respond militarily.  Is this a provocation on China’s part to test American resolve?  Better they should think about Japanese resolve.  The Japanese military has been quiescent for sixty-five years, but that doesn’t mean it’s been dormant.    · 7 hours ago

    Maybe, maybe not.

    In favor: they have a large plutonium stockpile; they are an advanced nation; their latest satellite launch vehicle looks a lot like an ICBM; and Obama’s reduced arsenal is not a threat to China.

    Against: there is a specific constitutional prohibition on nuclear weapons with a powerful following; plutonium implosion weapons are complex and typically require testing for verification; and there is no evidence Japan has designed such weapons or built a manufacture infrastructure.

  6. ctlaw
    Ontos: Yes, Dr. Rahe.  This is happening because Barack Obama continues to be President…

    GWB allowed the ChiComs to down a P3, abuse its crew and steal its secrets. At that point, he should have reduced our nuclear arsenal in a much more productive way than Obama has.

    A quick call to the head ChiCom: “Tomorrow morning one of two things will happen: the plane and crew will be released; or you’ll have one fewer island and Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea will each have 10 more F-16s with thermonuclear bombs hanging off both wings.”

  7. Nick Stuart

    Tempting though it is to compare Kerry & Obama to Neville Chamberlain, it needs to be remembered that World War I was still blazingly vivid in the minds and everyday experience of Chamberlain and every adult alive in Europe at that time.

    An entire generation of young men was missing. And entire generation of young women did not marry because there were no young men. Hundreds of thousands of terribly maimed veterans of the war were around as a daily grim reminder of the butcher’s bill.

    The desperation to avoid conflict was understandable, if inexcusably short sighted.

    Kerry and Obama have no such excuse.

  8. Crow

    China has been building an advanced integrated air defense (IADS) network in their near abroad since the mid-80s. That effort escalated following the ’91 Gulf War, as Chinese war planners were shocked to see how rapidly and thoroughly the US achieved complete air superiority in Iraq (within the first days of the war, Iraq’s C2 was decimated, and its air defense neutralized). 

    China realized it needed to develop the capacity to counter a CVW–carrier air wing–and USAF air superiority in any Taiwan conflict scenario.

    The result of their study was a renewed focus on anti-access/area-denial technologies and doctrine, including long range anti-air missiles, coastal defense (carrier killer) cruise missiles, and over-the-horizon HF radar (OTH-backscatter radar) and increased submarine patrols/counter-detection capability.

    This latest development is just another step to ensure Chinese battlespace superiority and A2/AD along the “first island chain“. If you read through the paper I cited above on A2/AD from the Naval War College (I don’t endorse all its assumptions/conclusions), you’ll see some of the implications for US responses from the second island chain.

  9. outstripp

    The Chinese would desperately like to pay the Japanese back for what happened 75 years ago.

  10. Rodin

    China sees itself as deserving, should I say “entitled”, to global leadership. But its strategies have been on long lead times mindful of securing internal control before external aggression. It has been aggressive globally in commerce, cyberspace, and espionage, but more quiescent to projecting kinetic power. Is that changing now?

    Japan has to be #1 on the “grudge” list as well as China’s most formidable commercial competitor in the region. China is playing the “face” game with Japan. Something that it’s internal audience will much appreciate as well as it’s neighbors, even as it is lost on most westerners.

  11. The Mugwump

    If Japan wanted to go nuclear, it could happen in a matter of months.  The Japanese military is restricted to defensive actions, but the situation you describe could easily fall within Japan’s constitutionally proscribed reasons to respond militarily.  Is this a provocation on China’s part to test American resolve?  Better they should think about Japanese resolve.  The Japanese military has been quiescent for sixty-five years, but that doesn’t mean it’s been dormant.   

  12. JoBeth Gerrard

    China is doing missile tests here too.

    China did two sub-launched nuclear ballistic tests off the west coast of the United States- over Oregon.

    Link for main article  HERE.

  13. Ontos

    Yes, Dr. Rahe.  This is happening because Barack Obama continues to be President.   A nation’s shameful voting choice is observed and taken into account.  The educational establishment of the United States is responsible for this miseducation of at least two generations.  But the people of the United States have permitted this to happen  to their core, and have given up protecting and strengthening itself.   The disinterest in self-protection is emblematic of the auto immune sickness of contemporary America.  Another example is the lack of response by the Senatorial Republicans to the abuse they have suffered this week.  

    I call it the curse of the Pragmatic pose. People in our public life ignore essences and the substance of things and like idiots, pretend that what they falsely call “prudential concerns”  trump deeper and more trenchant action.  It is the road to perdition, as we are glimpsing here by what China now sees as action it can take while the Adversary (USA) is enfeebled by its  current leadership.   In truth, however, the disease is much deeper than the current government.  The people get the government they indeed deserve.   

  14. James Gawron

    Dr. Rahe,

    The Chinese are hoping BHO sends Kerry.  After he’s sold out the middle east, he’s all warmed up to sell out the far east.

    Here is Kerry returning with his triumphant achievement.

    Regards,

    Jim

  15. Capt. Spaulding

    Dr. Rahe’s remarks overlay neatly with China’s much publicized calls last month for a “de-Americanized world,” which in isolation sounds like bluster. In this context, however, it seems more like a blatant thumbing of the nose. That China feels free to toss out provocative barbs is ominously telling.

  16. rico

    Never fear. We’ll have Secretary Kerry get right on this. Appeasing Iran was just his warmup act.

    Oh, and as for the Japanese, we’ve just dispatched Ambassador Kennedy, and she studied Japanese Art, so they know we’ve got their back.

  17. The King Prawn

    And yet some still question our need of multiple carrier battle groups and a solid strategic deterrent.

  18. HVTs

    It’s true: we aren’t going to war with China over some no-name rock that 95% of Americans can’t find on a map with two hands and a magnifying glass.  Not only do Presidential elections have consequences (especially the previous two), so does skyrocketing national debt.  The Chinese figured this out. The Japanese should have figured it out a long time ago . . . Instugator’s anecdote indicates some were asking the right question—same essential question de Gaulle asked before establishing his own nuclear forces and leaving NATO’s military establishment.  If France couldn’t depend on the US at the height of the Cold War in Europe, why would any sane Japanese leader depend on the US circa 2013?  The Japanese have been living in a fantasyland as far as their national security goes.  It’s time they awoke, smelled the Jasmine tea and looked after their own interests.

    It’s time everyone started getting comfortable with the reality that America is no longer willing to occupy its GloboCop perch. There’s nobody that’s going to “pay any price, bear any burden” so that Japan can continue gracefully aging into demographic irrelevance.

  19. Danny Alexander

    I’ve hesitated to make use of this image before — no longer.

    Obama-as-Chamberlain.jpg