TOKYO – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta arrived in Tokyo on Sunday for a week-long visit to the region and said he would urge both Chinese and Japanese leaders to tone down a brewing political crisis over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
A succession of highly charged territorial disputes between China and U.S. allies in Asia – including one this spring between China and the Philippines over some contested islets – is threatening to drag Washington into unpredictable security flare-ups despite the Obama administration’s efforts to ease tensions.
“I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands,” Panetta told reporters while traveling en route to Japan, “it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence and could result in conflict.”
The Obama administration has said it did not take sides in the territorial disputes. But they have arisen at a delicate time as Washington has been seeking to re-assert its strategic interests in Asia and shore up its alliances in the face of China’s rising military and economic power.
U.S. officials have been reassuring Japan, the Philippines, and other allies that they wouldn’t cede influence in the region to China. But the Obama administration has been less clear about how it would respond if fighting broke out over the disputed islands or ignited a larger conflict.
The most widespread anti-Japanese protests in a generation cascaded across China this weekend in response to the Japanese government’s recent efforts to assert control over some rocky outcroppings known as the Senkaku Islands. Demonstrators threw rocks at the Japanese embassy in Beijing, attacked Japanese factories and looted Japanese department stores-egged on by anti-Japanese screeds in China’s state-run media.
The protests followed a maritime standoff Friday when six Chinese maritime patrol ships entered Japanese waters to reinforce Beijing’s claim to the islands, which are known as Diaoyu in China. Japan’s Coast Guard responded quickly and the Chinese vessels eventually backed away.
The squabbles are occurring with more frequency because ownership of the obscure islands can bolster a country’s claim to more expansive maritime borders-and control over resource-rich seabeds of the South China and East China seas.
“We’re going to face more of this,” Panetta said. “Countries are searching for resources. There are going to be questions raised as to who has jurisdiction over these areas. There has got to be a peaceful way to resolve these issues.”
En route to Asia, his third since becoming defense secretary, he also addressed the turmoil raging across the Muslim world and said that, while it is likely to continue into the days ahead, the violence expected by the United States appears to be leveling off.
He said the Pentagon has “deployed our forces to a number of areas in the region to be prepared to respond to any requests that we receive to be able to protect our personnel and our American property.”
Panetta declined to provide more details on reports that the military may be moving additional military forces so they can respond to unrest in any of a number of regions of concern.
I think our approach right now is to not do anything until we’ve been requested to do it by the State Department,” Panetta told reporters traveling with him to Asia. But he noted that, “I think that we have to continue to be very vigilant because I suspect that … these demonstrations are likely to continue over the next few days, if not longer.”
Protests by furious Muslims erupted in countries around the world in recent days, with some spawning violence and even deaths over an anti-Islam video shot in California that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad. In places like Libya, Sudan and Tunisia, protesters stormed U.S. embassies, and an American fast-food restaurant was burned in Lebanon.
In response, the Pentagon dispatched elite Marine rapid response teams to Libya and Yemen.
US backing may prove costly for Japan
The US House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on September 12. Many lawmakers accused China of “bullying” its neighbors in the South China Sea and West Pacific. Although the hearing mainly dealt with the South China Sea issue, Japan must be pleased to hear such accusations.
Japan has been stressing the possible application of the US-Japan alliance to the Diaoyu Islands dispute. Japan has shown a tougher attitude toward China than toward its other neighboring countries, which is partly because it believes in US backing in case of any conflict with China.
The Japanese think that even if China is not scared of Japan, it must hold the US-Japan military alliance in awe.
However, many Chinese strategists believe that the US will never go to war for the sake of other countries’ interests, nor will it help Japan over the issue of the Diaoyu Islands, on the sovereignty of which the US does not have a clear stance.
The US says the US-Japan military alliance applies to the Diaoyu Islands, over which China feels indifferent while Japan is moved to tears.
But no strategists believe China and the US will risk confrontations over the Diaoyu Islands. The islands dispute is an obstacle between China and Japan, while it is only a small issue between China and the US. Even Japan is not a big deal in the relationship between China and the US. Japan cannot be a decisive factor in the relationship between the two.
But it’s true the US is troubling China by making use of Japan. Many Chinese believe that the provocations by Japan over the Diaoyu issue have US backing.
After all, Japan is nothing but a puppet of the US. From a strategic point of view, its territorial dispute with China does not mean much for the US, just as China’s dispute with the Philippines over Huangyan Island does not mean much for the US either.
Both Japan and the Philippines have constrained China’s diplomacy, but Japan is showing a stronger stance. They are the tools used by the US to contain China in East Asia. But neither Japan nor the Philippines is in the core interests of the US.
The US does not want its hegemonic status to be challenged and wishes for a stable process in which it holds the hegemony. It is worried that once there’s a strategic confrontation between China and itself, it won’t be able to bear the consequences.
The US is seeking its own interests by making fools of Japan. Both China and the US itself know tacitly that they can create trouble for each other by making use of Japan.
Who will win in a confrontation between China and Japan in the long run is clear. Japan wants to turn its conflict with China into one between China and the US.
However, it is only up to China and the US, not Japan. Japan’s strategy has made it only play a small role in the international arena.
If China and the US turn to strategic confrontation one day, Japan, the puppet, will be the one to be sacrificed. Japan should stop the illusion that its alliance with the US will help it solve the Diaoyu Islands dispute, which does it no good.
Global Times aka Official China Government Mouthpiece
China, Japan heading towards war, says US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta
CHINA and other Asian countries could end up at war over territorial disputes if governments keep up their “provocative behaviour”, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said.
Speaking to reporters before arriving in Tokyo on a trip to Asia, Mr Panetta appealed for restraint amid mounting tensions over territorial rights in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
“I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands, that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence, and could result in conflict,” Mr Panetta said, when asked about a clash between Japan and China.
“And that conflict would then have the potential of expanding.”
The Pentagon chief’s trip coincides with an escalating row between Asia’s two largest economies over an archipelago in the East China Sea administered by Tokyo under the name Senkaku and claimed by China under the name Diaoyu.
Tensions have steadily mounted since pro-Beijing activists were arrested and deported after landing on one of the islands in August. Japanese nationalists then followed, raising their flag on the same island days later.
On Tuesday, Japan announced it had nationalised three of the islands in the chain, triggering protests in China. Tokyo already owns another and leases the fifth.
The uninhabited islands are in important sea lanes and the seabed nearby is thought to harbour valuable mineral resources.
Sometimes violent demonstrations have been held in China near diplomatic missions in the days since Tokyo’s announcement, although there have been no reports of deaths or serious injuries.
Hong Kong broadcaster Cable TV showed footage of clashes on Sunday in Shenzhen between riot police and demonstrators, with some holding a banner calling for a “bloodbath” in Tokyo.
Mr Panetta is due to hold talks on Monday with his Japanese counterpart, where the dispute is expected to top the agenda, before heading to China, then New Zealand.
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea also have Washington worried, as China has refused to withdraw claims to virtually all of the strategic waterway and has been accused of bullying smaller states in the area.
The Philippines and Vietnam have alleged Beijing has used intimidation to push its claims in the South China Sea, through which about half of the world’s cargo passes.
More trouble brewing in the Pacific
As if the mess in the Middle East and North Africa weren’t enough, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrives in Asia this week to confront a region that’s fast becoming a powder keg, fueled by power shifts, territorial disputes and lots of bad history.
The situation is likely to get worse — perhaps, much — before it gets better. Unfortunately, Team Obama’s promises of a strategic “pivot” to the Pacific may be seen in the region as being too little — and too late.
China’s rise, of course, is the source of some — OK, a lot — of the tensions. The ’hood understandably frets about Beijing’s military buildup: Growing at an average double-digit rate for more than two decades (11 percent in 2012), China’s defense budget is now the world’s second-largest.
More important: Beijing’s fielding platforms that pack plenty of power-projection punch — an aircraft carrier and stealth fighters as well as new destroyers and subs.
Meanwhile, a host of longstanding territorial disputes over islands — even rocky outcrops —are heating up, creating plenty of flash points in the East and South China Seas and Sea of Japan.
For instance, China, Taiwan and Japan all claim the East China Sea islands known in Tokyo as the Senkaku and the Daiyoutai in Beijing and Taipei.
Taiwan’s president recently flew to the islands to push its claims, while Tokyo plans to buy some of the islands from private owners , nationalizing them. Not to be outdone, China sent patrol ships to cruise the disputed islands.
In the South China Sea, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia also make competing claims to territories like the Spratly and Paracel Islands. The huge Chinese and Taiwanese claims actually encompass some 80 to 90 percent of the nearly 1.5 million square mile South China Sea, according to analysts.
Even Japan and South Korea, stalwart US allies, are getting into the act — with each other — in the Sea of Japan, squabbling over islands known as Takeshima (Tokyo) and Dokdo (Seoul), causing no shortage of headaches for the United States. (FYI, North Korea also claims the islands.)
China’s buildup and the competing claims (stoked by nationalism and unpleasant history) aren’t the only causes of tension; throw in growing global demands for natural resources, too.
For instance, some estimate the South China Sea seabed could hold more than 200 billion barrels of oil and nearly 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. (Plus, with world food prices rising, large stocks of fish.)
Some players may see the territories as worth fighting over. And China, Taiwan, Japan and South and North Korea all have modern militaries capable of creating one heck of a donnybrook should they so choose.
One other matter may be adding to increasing instability: nagging perceptions of waning American power in the Pacific — despite Team Obama’s plans for a diplomatic, economic and military pivot to the region.
In other words, after years of Pax Americana in the Pacific, for both friends and foes, there’s growing anxiety that America won’t (or can’t) lead — which would mean it’s pretty much every nation for itself.
Some in Beijing see Washington as firmly in decline, on track to be overtaken in the coming years by a rising China.
Our allies and friends also worry about our ability to fulfill a Pacific pivot while attending to interests elsewhere, like the Middle East. We’ve cut $500 billion already in defense — with another $500 billion on tap under sequestration.
The inconvenient truth is that if current trends persist, the Pacific will be anything but pacific, undermining important US interests. Worse: We may not be in a position to do much about it.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
New Missile System for Japan: America’s Latest Attempt to Defuse Regional Tension
The United States and Japan announced a major agreement Monday to deploy a second, advanced missile-defense radar on Japanese territory – an effort specifically designed to counter the North Korean threat but likely to anger China.
The expanded missile defense cooperation capped the first full day of an Asian mission by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who unveiled the radar initiative alongside his Japanese counterpart, Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto. (New York Times)
So Defense Secretary Leon Panetta goes on his Asian tour while brain-dead leaders over here continue fighting over small rocks in the South China Sea. One goal of his mission is to help to defuse the tense situation. The U.S. has maintained on multiple occasions that it will not take a stance on the ownership of said rocks. At the same time, it has confirmed that it will live up to its commitments to Japan under the mutual defense treaty.
The way that these things go, therefore, you go on your regional tour and stop first to visit the closest ally in order to reassure it that you have its back. Check. Panetta went to Japan first, and then will go to China.
However, while in Japan, the U.S. makes this announcement about the new missile defense system. What’s that all about?
I assume there are only two possibilities here, neither of which make any sense to me. First, and least convincing, is that this really is all about North Korea and nothing to do with China. If that’s true, then it’s just merely bad timing (shades of my earlier post today) that Japan and China happen to be fighting over the South China Sea and that Toyota automobiles and Yoshinoya restaurants are being smashed to tiny bits by protesters.
Sorry, Beijing. We couldn’t reschedule that whole missile defense announcement until a better time. Schedules must be adhered to and all.
Second, while North Korea may have been the primary reason behind the deployment, the U.S. is more than happy to anger Beijing during this crisis and is in fact sending the message “Step off, poseur. Not in my house.” The house, in this case, being the entire world. Sounds like a reasonable explanation, but if the U.S. is pretending to be “neutral” and really wants to defuse tension, this is a really piss-poor way of going about it.
Which leads me to yet another conclusion: the U.S. is just pretending to be neutral while it pushes its weight around behind the scenes. If the dispute later flares up into actual violence, the U.S. can say “Hey, we didn’t take sides and even tried to be an honest broker.” If China somehow backs down, or it is perceived as doing so, the U.S. can tell its close friends in the region that being on the American team is still the best way to go.
A win-win for the US of A.
I clearly don’t understand the three-dimensional chess at which the Obama Administration excels in playing, but it seems to me that the U.S. might have tried to be an actual neutral player and honest broker, while continuing to stand by its allies in the region. Why not put off the missile defense announcement and not anger China just for the sake of scoring a few macho points? The Seventh Fleet isn’t going anywhere.
Why do I have the feeling that all this is the result of some memo written deep in the bowels of the Pentagon that concludes: China only understands shows of strength?
Panetta Announces U.S. Expansion of Missile Defense
Ironic for the Japanese government to buy its own islands from Japanese citizens in an effort to ward off other nations’ ridiculous sovereignty claims.
TOKYO—Japan will host a second land-based radar to defend against ballistic missiles, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, underscoring America’s deepening military and security engagement in the region, but potentially complicating Mr. Panetta’s trip to China this week.
China has raised questions about the U.S. investment in missile defenses, saying they could be aimed at reducing the effectiveness of Beijing’s nuclear deterrent. Analysts have said the missile-defense system expansion could feed Chinese fears about containment by the U.S. and encourage Beijing to accelerate its own missile program.
But defense officials said Monday the new deployment of the early-warning system, known as X-band, wasn’t aimed at China. At a news conference, Mr. Panetta said he will continue to make clear to the Chinese that the U.S. ballistic-missile defenses are aimed at North Korea.
“We have made these concerns clear to the Chinese, North Korea and the use of these ballistic missiles is a threat to our security,” Mr. Panetta said.
The news of the U.S. plans, reported in The Wall Street Journal last month, strikes a nerve in a region concerned about the growing assertiveness of China, where Mr. Panetta was scheduled to visit Monday afternoon.
Sino-Japanese relations are at a low point, with large demonstrations against Japan in a number of Chinese cities over disputed islands in the East China sea. Up to 10,000 Chinese have protested outside Japanese businesses in some Chinese cities over the decision by the Japanese government to nationalize the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan, which has administrative control, and as Diaoyu in China.
The first X-band radar is located in northern Japan. A U.S. team landed in Japan in recent days to discuss where the second facility will be located, according to a U.S. defense official. Officials have said they want to locate the radar, formally known as AN/TPY2, in the southern part of Japan, but not on Okinawa, where the U.S. military presence is deeply controversial.
“The purpose of this is to enhance our ability to defend Japan, it is also designed to help forward deployed U.S. forces and it will also be effective at protecting the U.S. homeland from the ballistic missile threat,” Mr. Panetta said at a news conference with Japanese defense minister Satoshi Morimoto.
Mr. Morimoto said the cooperation on missile defense would “ensure the safety of Japan and the region.”
In Europe, the U.S. is building its missile-defense system through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In Asia, like the Middle East, the U.S. is building defenses through a series of bilateral agreements.
Some U.S. officials have noted that defenses built up against North Korean missiles would also be positioned to track a Chinese ballistic missile. A land-based radar would also free the Navy to reposition its ship-based radar to other regional hot-spots, official said.
Mr. Panetta handled questions about the dispute delicately, emphasizing America’s commitment to Japan’s defense but its neutral stance in territorial disputes.
“Obviously we are concerned about the demonstrations and we are concerned conflict that is taking place over the Senkaku islands,” Mr. Panetta said. “The message I have tried to convey is we have to urge calm and restraint on all sides.”
Later, speaking to troops at Yokota air base, Mr. Panetta has emphasized that the territorial disputes in both the East and South China sea was about energy and mineral reserves.
Mr. Panetta urged China to participate in multilateral efforts to resolve territorial disputes.
“There is a danger that a provocation of one kind or another, we could have a blow up,” Mr. Panetta said. “When you play the game of who is in charge, it starts to get risky.”