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the China-Japan dispute « Previous | |Next »
November 28, 2013

The disputed islands in the East China Sea, which Japan calls the Senkakus and China knows as the Diaoyutai, are the site of increasing tension between China and Japan.

China's decision to extend its "air defence identification zone" (ADIZ) over this group of uninhabited islands means that if the United States or another country's military flies inside the area without seeking permission first, China could respond with military force. Many countries, including the United States, have the same kind of zone around their borders. China's move essentially puts any non-commercial flight through that area on equal footing with a flight over its own airspace.

Behind Japan stands the US, so China's decisoion is a challenge to the US hegemony in the Asia Pacific region. China has become both markedly stronger and notably more assertive in this region and America under Obama countered with the strategic pivot to Asia which has meant the U.S. military is encircling China with a chain of air bases and military ports. The US now has a regional military power that poses a traditional, symmetric challenge to its dominance.

China is pushing back against Obama's strategic pivot to Asia, whilst Japan, under its conservative government of Shinzo Abe, is becoming increasingly nationalistic.

Australia, under an Abbott Government, sides with Japan and the US, which flew two B-52 bombers on an unannounced flight into the disputed zone to counter China's desire to flex its muscles in its own backyard. Australia says that China's unilateral action to impose an air-defence zone in the East China Sea was provocative.

The military hawks amongst the US Republicans, and those in the Pentagon and elsewhere in Washington, secretly fear that, if nothing is done to contain it, China will within decades be dominant in the Pacific, the overlord of Asia, and perhaps later in the century the -- to steal a phrase -- “sole superpower” of planet Earth.

For them the risk of confrontation increases as both China and Japan place renewed emphasis on military strength and national assertiveness whilst the US continues to implement its policy of the “containment” of China in the Pacific. As the military hawks see it, the situation is black and white: either America provides the necessary role of being the true guarantor of stability in East Asia or the region will again be dominated by belligerence and intimidation.

Shouldn't Australia be acting to help defuse the belligerent and ultra-nationalistic pronouncements now holding sway and trying to get the leaders of China, Japan, and the United States, to begin talking with one another about practical steps to resolve the disputes? Shouldn't Australia be acting to ensure that these minor disputes in the Pacific don't get out of hand?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:02 PM | | Comments (14)


Julie Bishop has jumped in with both feet, thereby exacerbating tensions in the region.

Though Australia did not take sides in the territorial disputes says Bishop, it had an interest in ensuring stability and peace was maintained in the region. Stability implies the status quo.

So if Australia is opposed to any coercive or unilateral actions to change the status quo in the East China Sea, then that is a defence of US hegemony, which is strengthened when Bishop criticises China's actions.

Therefore China cannot challenge US hegemony in the Asia Pacific region.

Australia is taking sides even though it professes to not be taking sides in China's territorial dispute with Japan.

Those on China's side reckon that China will only grow stronger while the US will eventually accept a lesser role in the region. Without a fully engaged America in the Asia-Pacific, there is less prospect of an effective balance or hedge against Chinese power.

China will continue to solidify its control over these disputed island regions.

Australia's current position in this dispute is linked DIRECTLY to our Indonesian debacle.

We are "on the nose" in both Jakarta and Beijing because of our willingness to be America's deputy in the Pacific region. No matter what our politicians have said in recent decades, the Asians know exactly which side we're on.

From a Chinese perspective, they do seem to have a point: the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands really are a lot closer to China than Japan. One can understand why China might see Japan’s ownership of the islands as an historical anomaly.

It is the pro-US side that says that China’s increasingly assertive behaviour is a direct threat to regional stability.

From their perspective if the US and its pivot was to retain any credibility in the eyes of an unnerved region, then it had little option other than to respond to what could be read as a direct challenge to its influence and its alliance with Japan.

But why should the US be the top dog in the Asia Pacific region?

"But why should the US be the top dog in the Asia Pacific region?

Isn't that an historical anomaly.

A quick glance at some maps shows me that these [oil rich?] islands are:
-a couple of hundred kms from Japan
-a bit less from Taiwan [who?]
-300km from China

-several thousand kms from the US.

So what are US B52s doing flying over them?
Maybe the yanks would be a trifle upset if the Chinese flew Shenyang J-15s over the Santa Catalina islands?

Ah boys and their toys.

It is pretty clear that China does not accept a status quo that saw the US remain the Pacific’s pre-eminent power. The Chinese have been telling Washington that the Pacific Ocean was large enough to accommodate two great powers.

Presumably, the China’s strategic objective is to push the US away from its coastline and establish its suzerainty in the East and South China seas.

Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, called the Chinese move “a destabilising attempt to alter the status quo in the region”.

Julie Bishop dutifully repeats the American lines.

Why didn't Bishop + Abbott follow the lead of previous Australian governments, which had learned to tread between the US and China on these issues.

Why side so strongly with the US when US and Japan are determined to resist any serious accommodation of China's growing power

America does need to make some space for China, and treat it as an equal partner in Asia. China does need to forgo the use of force to settle disputes, and accept that it can’t exclude America from Asia.

Why can't Australia argue that instead of cosy ing up to the US?

The Abbott government has chosen to simply side with the US and Japan against China. The Australian Government has been generally behaving as if it is eager to join the US and Japan in containing China’s aspirations and emerging power.