Japan from the inside out

By jingo

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, January 15, 2012

At the moment, we lose, but in ten years, the U.S. will lose. We can be more patient than a U.S. administration,
– Shen Dingli, a professor at the Center of American Studies at Fudan University

The tremendous defeat at Hawaii was first ascribed to treacherous Japan, launching an attack at the very time that the American government was trying to lead the erring war lords of Nippon into the ways of peace. The administration conveniently forgot to remind the American people of the part played in bringing about the result of December 7 by its campaign of economic warfare, its secret diplomacy, its covert military alliances, the submission of demands which Japan found “humiliating,” and its own complete abandonment of neutrality in favor of non-declared war.
– George Morgenstern, Pearl Harbor: The Story of the Secret War

THE world is entering a new age of imperialism, according to a former Japanese Foreign Ministry official in an article written for a monthly magazine currently on the newsstands. Perhaps the term he should have used was neo-imperialism. Just as today’s neo-socialist eschews such overt efforts as the nationalization of industry in favor of subtle and incremental changes to the economic and cultural wiring behind the walls, the modern neo-imperialist no longer works through trading empires or the combination of colonialism and mercantilism favored by the Europeans and later imitated by others, including the Japanese. There is a preference instead for the semi-subjection of satellite states in which the hegemons exert their power and manipulate those states for economic and political advantage without having to assume direct administrative control of their neo-fiefdoms. Both past and present, however, the justifications and self-congratulation are the same.

That China is exhibiting many of the symptoms of the neo-imperialist syndrome is apparent to the casual observer and need not be explained. But the Japanese commentator was referring to an “age” inhabited by more than one neo-imperialist actor. What was apparent to the commentator, but less so to the casual observer, is that the United States is presenting the same symptoms as well.

Consider: Again the world is sinking into the quicksand of Depression, and again the Americans are sticking pins in the heads of rattlesnakes in East Asia. The strategy of the current occupant of the White House is to focus on economic issues while outsourcing cultural and foreign policy matters to others in government. As a result, Mr. Obama’s foreign policy is moving along the same rails laid down by his gloriously initialed predecessors FDR, JFK, and LBJ, and, to a lesser extent, the more singular and sober W. It isn’t just Asia, either — in addition to making the Middle East safe for Islamicism last year by leading in Libya from behind and encouraging the Arab Sprung, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate dispatched 100 troops to Uganda in October. Imperators need not trouble themselves to obtain Congressional approval when issuing commands to the legions for overseas operations.

As troubling as the behavior is the enthusiasm with which that behavior is hailed by the court heralds. Again, the Chinese taste for hegemony and their belief in the local version of Manifest Destiny is apparent to the casual observer and need not be examined. What is now becoming apparent, however, is the American enthusiasm for the mission.

More troubling still is that some members of the credentialed American “opinion leaders” are serving as willing cheerleaders for Team USA’s feats on the geopolitical gridiron while either grossly exaggerating or ignoring the facts.

One of those now shouting through a megaphone is Walter Russell Mead. Prof. Mead has a wall covered in credentials — he serves in an endowed professorship at Bard, teaches at Yale, is the editor of American Interest, and writes for all the Big Top journals, magazines, and newspapers. He also wrote an article for a website in November with the incongruous title of Softly, Softly, Beijing Turns the Other Cheek — For Now. Its tone is so extreme one wonders if the point of the exercise were to lead the underclassmen in cheers of Yay, Eagles!

Take a deep breath:

The cascade of statements, deployments, agreements and announcements from the United States and its regional associates in the last week has to be one of the most unpleasant shocks for China’s leadership — ever. The US is moving forces to Australia, Australia is selling uranium to India, Japan is stepping up military actions and coordinating more closely with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, Myanmar is slipping out of China’s column and seeking to reintegrate itself into the region, Indonesia and the Philippines are deepening military ties with the US: and all that in just one week. If that wasn’t enough, a critical mass of the region’s countries have agreed to work out a new trade group that does not include China, while the US, to applause, has proposed that China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors be settled at a forum like the East Asia Summit — rather than in the bilateral talks with its smaller, weaker neighbors that China prefers.

Does he — or anyone — really think China’s leadership was “shocked” by any of this? The Chinese were building dynasties long before people in the West were numbering their years; an understanding of this behavior is inherent in the East Asian version of the classical education. Considering that the timeline of “ever” for unpleasant shocks encompasses everything China’s been involved with for the past 60 years, including great leaps forward, cultural revolutions, and massacres at Tiananmen Square, it is unlikely to have caused little more than a raised eyebrow in Beijing.

Let’s examine the specifics of the American counteroffensive.

The Marines in Australia

The initial deployment is 250 troops this year in the tropical north, rising eventually to all of 2,500. The mission of Marines is not to serve as defenders, much less defend Australia. Their mission is to attack, and the only reason for stationing them here is to threaten an attack if the Chinese behave unacceptably in the South China Sea. The status quo is therefore a faceoff of the neo-imperialists: the Chinese claiming “indisputable sovereignty” over the region, and the United States, through Secretary of State Clinton, countering with the new idea that international law in the South China Sea is a matter of American national interest. In other words, Globocop holds that the Monroe Doctrine now extends to the other side of the world.

As Sam Spade observed to Casper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon, however, the threat of force is meaningless unless the other party believes the threat is real. That is by no means a given in this situation, if only because the Americans are threatening a country larger than itself that can inflict serious damage on it in return. Now then: Does anyone think this American saber swishing is credible? Does anyone believe that Marines in Australia will make the Chinese reconsider? It’s been a while since anyone seriously thought the Americans would come to the defense of Japan in the event of an attack, and the American military infrastructure here consists of nearly 40,000 troops at 100 installations. The Chinese are unlikely to become alarmed about the possibility of a robust American military response to their behavior in the South China Sea.

It makes one wonder how much thought was invested by the people responsible for the American policy. The Marines are a formidable force, but 2,500 of them are insufficient to either deter China beforehand or push them back afterwards. They’re certainly not meant to serve as a tripwire in Australia, either.

As for the Australians selling uranium to India, the Indians have had nuclear weapons since 1974. Will they not buy uranium from somewhere?


By the “deepening” military ties with Indonesia, Prof. Mead seems to be referring to the dispatch of 24 F-16s to that country. Rather than being one of the bold new initiatives in a geopolitical That Was The Week That Was, it represents an ongoing development that gained impetus after Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s visit in the summer of 2010.

Congress cut off military training assistance to Indonesia in 1992 after Indonesian security forces shot and killed East Timorese demonstrators in November 1991. The restriction was partially lifted in 1995, but military assistance programs were suspended again after violence and destruction in East Timor following an Aug. 30, 1999, referendum favoring independence from Indonesia. Though normal military relations between the United States and Indonesia have resumed, the issue of providing training for Kopassus remained unresolved until earlier this week, the official said.

“I was pleased to be able to tell the president that as a result of Indonesian military reforms over the past decade, the ongoing professionalization of the [Indonesian armed forces], and recent actions taken by the ministry of defense to address human rights issues,” Gates told reporters after his meeting with Yudhoyono, “the United States will begin a gradual, limited program of security cooperation activities with the Indonesian army special forces.”

If wading into the surf up to the calf is your idea of deep, then these are deepening ties. This again is unlikely to have jolted the Chinese, even taken in combination with the assignment of the Marines to a pleasant duty station in Oz. In fact, that combination may not have had the desired effect in Beijing at all — especially after the Indonesian foreign minister said the announced deployment of Marines to a neighboring country could create “a vicious circle of tension and mistrust”.


Assertion: Japan “is stepping up military actions”. Reality: Japan will assign some Land Self-Defense Forces to the small island of Yonaguni, the westernmost part of the Japanese archipelago, 110 kilometers from Taiwan. Rather than being a part of a grand strategic mosaic, it is a move the Kan administration began talking about last February after the contretemps with the Chinese in the Senkakus in September 2010.

Placing troops on the island had been under discussion for some time, as then-Prime Minister Aso Taro made a reference to it in July 2009. The Japanese have been carefully monitoring that part of their territory for years. When serving as foreign minister in 2006, Mr. Aso told local government officials from Yonaguni that the Japanese government had dissuaded Taiwan from conducting a planned naval artillery exercise west of the island. Concerns about Taiwan began as early as 1996, when the Taiwanese navy began moving their exercises northward. Local fisherman complained that the artillery was scaring away the fish.


Is Myanmar really “slipping out of China’s column”?

Myanmar vowed on Saturday to address concerns raised by President Barack Obama, outlining far-reaching plans to make peace with ethnic rebels, gradually release all political prisoners and relax controls on freedom of expression.

But its government, fearing an Arab Spring-style revolution if it moves too quickly, stressed reforms must be gradual after nearly a half century of isolation and authoritarian rule that ended when the army handed power in March to a civilian parliament stacked with former generals.

Mr. Obama himself said only that the country, which has a border with China, was making “flickers of progress”. Again, someone forgot to tell the Chinese that they were supposed to be shocked:

Vice President Xi Jinping of China welcomed the leader of Myanmar’s military on Monday in a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and called for closer military ties between the countries, in what appeared to be a response to the visit by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Myanmar later this week. (Emphasis mine)

Mr. Xi, the heir apparent to President Hu Jintao, met Min Aung Hliang, the commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s military, and said that China would “work with Myanmar to further bolster the comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation,” according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.

Others offered a better perspective on this bilateral relationship than Prof. Mead:

Myanmar’s past isolation meant it sought friends only where it could find them. It became heavily reliant on China for weapons, international diplomatic support, trade and investment. But the relationship with China has never sat well with Myanmar’s military rulers. While some exploited the situation for personal gain, others became very concerned about Beijing’s growing presence and commercial influence.

It is unlikely that Naypyidaw intends to unilaterally ally itself with one great power over another. During its decades-long period of isolation and international condemnation, it has become adept at playing bigger powers off against one another, and has a long-established tradition of nonalignment in its foreign relations. The power games being played between Washington and Beijing, and also with New Delhi, are certainly not lost on Myanmar’s leaders.

Days before Clinton’s visit, military head General Min Aung Hliang travelled to Beijing in what was interpreted as a move to assuage Chinese fears of growing relations with the US. Despite a rift over the recent cancellation of the important Chinese-backed Myitsone dam project, the general held discussions with Vice President Xi Jinping, slated to become China’s leader next year, and chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, General Chen Bingde. Both sides pledged continued military cooperation and signed a new defense cooperation agreement.

Because the sincerity of Thein Sein’s reforms are far from certain, Clinton’s visit and concessions represent a diplomatic gamble.

The Philippines

Manila is also supposed to be deepening military ties to the United States, though Prof. Mead offered no specifics. A search of recent newspaper articles turns up one from the New York Times dated 16 November 2011, just before the East Asia summit. The first sentence reads:

During a high-profile visit to the Philippines on Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stood on the deck of an American warship in Manila Bay and reaffirmed the strong military relationship between the United States and the Philippines.

That’s it.

Just as important, if not more so, were the last two sentences:

“The Philippines does not want to be the representative of the U.S. military in Southeast Asia,” (a local analyst) said. “I think the Philippine government wants to maintain its friendship with both these great powers and not become a ball in the middle being kicked by both sides.”


Prof. Mead refers to a “new trade group” that does not include China, by which he means the Trans-Pacific Partnership. What is new about the trade group is that the United States hijacked regional discussions among four smaller states to employ it as a double-edged sword. One side of the blade cuts against the Chinese, and the other stimulates the American economy while doing little for the other partners.

The American-decreed terms of the partnership make it unlikely China will be interested in participating. This letter to three U.S. Cabinet members signed by 257 academics offers one reason for that:

Many U.S. free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties contain provisions that strictly limit the ability of our trading partners to deploy capital controls. The “capital transfers” provisions of such agreements require governments to permit all transfers relating to a covered investment to be made “freely and without delay into and out of its territory.” Under these agreements, private foreign investors have the power to effectively sue governments in international tribunals over alleged violations of these provisions.

And this from a site in New Zealand:

Another secret document from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations has been leaked, the first dealing with issues other than intellectual property and medicines.

This follows yesterday’s leak of documents showing the US is pushing for rules on healthcare products that would give its pharmaceutical giants new tools to attack national drug buying agencies like Pharmac

“We warned the government that obsessive secrecy surrounding the TPPA negotiations would spawn more leaks, and that’s what is happening,” said Professor Jane Kelsey, a critic of the proposed agreement.

The leaked regulatory coherence text sets out the agencies, mechanisms and processes that governments should use when deciding on domestic regulations. This has never been included in a free trade agreement before.

“It is totally inappropriate for a ‘trade’ agreement to dictate how governments should structure their domestic bureaucracy and procedures”, said Professor Kelsey.

The way the TPPA is shaping up, large, mainly foreign corporations and powerful lobby groups will have the right to exert undue influence over New Zealand’s (or any country’s) policy and regulatory decisions and demand minimalist regulation. There would be no equivalent rights to public interest groups that may have contrary views.”

Speaking of healthcare:

“The US proposals would allow drug companies to challenge every Pharmac decision as not appropriately recognising the ‘value’ of patents – a dangerous and undefined standard. Adopting this standard would open floodgates of litigation against Pharmac and will ultimately raise medicine prices and ration access.”

What the New Zealand critics are referring to has also been a point of contention among opposition politicians in Japan: the ISD clause, or Investor State Dispute (Settlement). That allows entities in Country A to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against Country B under international law, rather than in the courts of Country B, as has been customary in the past.

As you might expect, the Americans see it differently:

The trans-Pacific trade pact that the United States is negotiating with eight other nations is not directed against China, a top White House adviser says.

The Obama administration has made the Trans-Pacific Partnership a key plank of its enhanced engagement in Asia. But it does not include the region’s largest economy and rising power, China, which Washington has criticized for its currency policy and support of state-owned enterprises.

Does this mean the U.S. won’t export GM autos to East Asia?


In a commentary published Tuesday in the Indian daily, The Economic Times, Jagdish Bhagwati, a professor of economics and law at Columbia University in New York, criticized the U.S. trade policy, which he said aimed to marginalize an assertive China….

“A closer look reveals that China is not a part of this agenda. The TPP is also a political response to China’s new aggressiveness, built, therefore, in a spirit of confrontation and containment, not of cooperation.”

Froman recounted that Chinese officials at the November summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Hawaii expressed concern that they had not been invited to join the pact.

“Our response is that TPP is not something you are invited to, it’s something you aspire to. If countries aspire to achieve these standards they’re welcome to (join) the TPP as well,” he said.

People understand that great powers behaving as neo-imperialists will try to stifle their adversaries. They understand that great powers will promote an international order tailored to their specifications with the primary benefits accruing to themselves.

What the Americans fail to understand, however, is that no one appreciates the arrogance of self-interest masquerading as the global gold standard of idealistic behavior.

Then there is the demand of one hegemon to another that the latter settle its claims in the South China Sea at a multinational venue, though the former makes no such demand of its client states. (e.g., the Japanese – South Korean dispute over Takeshima) But Prof. Mead does not stop there:

Rarely has a great power been so provoked and affronted. Rarely have so many red lines been crossed. Rarely has so much face been lost, so fast.

Rarely has a professor of foreign affairs indulged in such profligate exaggeration in three short sentences. The entire geopolitical and diplomatic history of nation-states is a cyclopedia of great power provocations, effronteries, and red line crossing. As for the idea that the Chinese lost face, it’s unfortunate that Westerners whose understanding of East Asian social concepts doesn’t extend beyond the words insist on parading a sophistication they don’t possess, but that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

Or are we to think that because “in your face” is a crowd-pleaser in the NBA, it will go down well when conducting foreign relations in this part of the world?

The timing turned out to be brilliant. China is in the midst of a leadership transition, when it is harder for important decisions to be taken quickly.

Harder for whom?

Prof. Mead is referring to Xi Jinping, who will become China’s general secretary next year and president in 2013. The former Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations does not mention this transition has been underway for almost three years. The Japanese knew he was to become the next Chinese leader when then DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro outraged many in late 2009 by breaching an informal protocol to finagle an audience for Mr. Xi with the Emperor. (He didn’t schedule a month in advance.) Mr. Xi has also toured Europe and Latin America.

He does not seem to be a man who is easily shocked. The Japanese consider him a hardliner who could shift from what they perceive as the softer line of the current leadership, though none of this has soaked into Western consciousness yet. Here’s a taste of Mr. Xi’s thinking:

“There are some bored foreigners, with full stomachs, who have nothing better to do than point fingers at us. First, China doesn’t export revolution; second, China doesn’t export hunger and poverty; third, China doesn’t come and cause you headaches. What more is there to be said?”

Transitions in China might be quite different than those Prof. Mead and other Americans are familiar with. Four years before the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama was a part-time Illinois state legislator and part-time adjunct law professor. He needed a crash course to serve as the chief executive of government (and it shows). Xi Jingling won’t.

Back to Prof. Mead:

The (Chinese) economy is looking shaky, with house prices falling across much of the country.

Unlike the robust American housing market:

Lender Processing Services reports that the percentage of mortgages in foreclosure is at its highest level ever. “Foreclosure inventories are on the rise,” LPS writes, “reaching an all-time high at the end of October of 4.29 percent of all active mortgages.”

Now for the truly appalling:

The diplomatic blitzkrieg moved so fast and on so many fronts, with the strokes falling so hard and in such rapid succession, that China was unable to develop an organized and coherent response. And because Wen Jiabao’s appearance at the East Asia Summit, planned long before China had any inkling of the firestorm about to be unleashed, could not be canceled or changed, premier Wen Jiabao was trapped: he had to respond in public to all this while China was off balance and before the consultation, reflection and discussion that might have created an effective response.

…The effect of this passive and low key response (the only thing really, he could have done) is to reinforce the sense in Asia that the US has reasserted its primacy in a convincing way. The US acted, received strikingly widespread support, and China backed down.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth:

China and Japan pledged Wednesday to boost political trust between the two countries during Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba’s visit to Beijing…

…China is ready to make joint efforts with Japan to further advance their strategic relationship of mutual benefit in a sustainable way, Yang told his Japanese counterpart, Gemba.

At Yang’s invitation, Gemba was in Beijing to pave way for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s planned visit to China in December. If his trip is made, Noda will be the first Japanese prime minister to visit China since the Democratic Party of Japan came to power in 2009.


The Chinese premier attended the 6th East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia on Saturday and put forward a five-point proposal for boosting the regional economy, such as carrying out and improving agreed free trade arrangements, advancing the building of new free trade areas and opening markets further.

Here’s a photo of the Chinese foreign minister backing down with the Japanese foreign minister a week later:

Finally, we come to the professor’s agenda:

That (i.e.; backing down) is in fact what happened, and it was as decisive a diplomatic victory as anyone is likely to see. Congratulations should go to President Obama and his national security team. The State Department, the Department of Defense and the White House have clearly been working effectively together on an intensive and complex strategy. They avoided leaks, they coordinated effectively with half a dozen countries, they deployed a range of instruments of power. In the field of foreign policy, this was a coming of age of the Obama administration and it was conceived and executed about as flawlessly as these things ever can be…(T)he effects of the President’s re-assertion of American primacy in the Pacific will reinforce the public perception that he has grown into the foreign policy side of his job. He looked very presidential in Asia; those things count.

Prof. Mead self-identifies as a Democrat and has stated that he voted for Mr. Obama in 2008.

You’ve heard of drive-by journalists, who make ex cathedra declarations on subjects they hadn’t heard of the week before? There are drive-by Thinktankers too:

But a successful opening is not the same thing as a final win. The opening American gambit in the new great game was brilliant, but China also gets a move. On the one hand, the sweep, the scope and the success of the American moves make it hard for China to respond in kind; on the other hand, the humiliation and frustration (and, in some quarters, the fear) both inside the government and in society at large over these setbacks will compel some kind of response.

China must now think carefully about its choices and to work to use all the factors of its power to inflict some kind of counterblow against the United States. Look for China to reach out much more intensively to Russia to find ways in which the two powers can frustrate the US and hand it some kind of public setback.

Two months before Prof. Mead drove by:

High-ranking military officials from China and Russia held talks here Friday, pledging to further step up bilateral military cooperation between the two countries.

During an official visit to Moscow, Guo Boxiong, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, met with Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov on bilateral military relations.

Guo noted that this year marks the 10th anniversary of the signing of the China-Russia Treaty of Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation, adding that the China-Russia comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership have maintained the momentum of a robust growth.

He stressed that Chinese President Hu Jintao’s successful visit to Russia in June and the consensus reached by both countries’ leaders during Hu’s visit have determined the future direction of the development of bilateral ties and laid solid political foundations for the further promotion of military relations between the two countries.

But he got this prediction right:

Certainly any Chinese arguments against massive military build ups will be difficult to win. The evident weakness of China’s position will make it impossible to resist calls for more military spending and an acceleration of the development of China’s maritime capacity.

Sure enough:

Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday urged the navy to prepare for military combat, amid growing regional tensions over maritime disputes and a US campaign to assert itself as a Pacific power.

The navy should “accelerate its transformation and modernisation in a sturdy way, and make extended preparations for military combat in order to make greater contributions to safeguard national security,” he said.

In a translation of Hu’s comments, the official Xinhua news agency quoted the president as saying China’s navy should “make extended preparations for warfare.”

…Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last month also warned against interference by “external forces” in regional territorial disputes including in the South China Sea, a strategic and resource-rich area where several nations have overlapping claims.

The Pentagon wasn’t surprised either:

“They have a right to develop military capabilities and to plan, just as we do,” said Pentagon spokesman George Little, but he added, “We have repeatedly called for transparency from the Chinese and that’s part of the relationship we’re continuing to build with the Chinese military.”

Transparency? When two card sharps play high-stakes poker, does one expect the other to show his hand?

Prof. Mead presses on:

Longer term, the conviction in the military and among hard liners in the civilian establishment that the US is China’s enemy and seeks to block China’s natural rise will not only become more entrenched and more powerful; it will have consequences…China’s military or factions within it could begin to take steps on critical issues that the political authorities could not reverse. Islands could be occupied, flags raised and shots fired.

Yet Prof. Mead lauds American efforts to publicly humiliate the Chinese as brilliant and a sign that the Obama Administration has come of age. Is he having second thoughts before the essay is finished?

An intense debate in China will now turn even more pointed. There will be some who counsel patience, saying that China cannot win an open contest with the US and that its only hope is to stick with the concept of “peaceful rise”: eschewing all conflict with the US and its neighbors, behaving as a “responsible stakeholder” in the US-built international system, and growing richer and more powerful until such a time as alternative strategies can be considered. That in my opinion is China’s wisest course.

That in my opinion is one of the most futile efforts at propaganda and wishful thinking ever delivered from a credentialed academic writing about serious international issues. China sees itself on the rise and the US on the wane, but its wisest course is to do as the Americans say in a US-built international hegemony with US rules that give the biggest advantages to its own companies?

What’s next? All your base are belong to us?

The Obama administration and its successors will now have to deal with a long term contest against the world’s most populous country and the world’s most rapidly developing economy. The Obama administration may not have fully counted the costs of the new Asian hard line…

True, in the midst of a brilliant diplomatic blitzkrieg announcing that you’ve come of age, it’s not hard to lose count along the way.

…for one thing, it is hard to see significant cuts coming in defense spending after we have challenged China to a contest over the future of Asia.

That prediction didn’t pan out. Note the concern from a client state:

A new, more austere U.S. defense strategy unveiled Thursday gives up on fighting major wars overseas and reduces active-duty troops from 570,000 to 470,000. The aim is to cut more than US$450 billion in defense spending over the next decade. The new strategy would make it virtually impossible for the U.S. military to fulfill a pledge to South Korea to deploy 690,000 troops on the Korean Peninsula in an emergency.

By this time, Prof. Mead is neck deep in The Big Muddy, but that doesn’t stop him:

Given where things now stand, follow through will be as important as the first steps; the US must now try to make it as easy as possible for China to accept a situation that, in the short to medium term at least, it cannot change.

What situation is it that China can’t change?

Beijing wants to open full negotiations on a free trade agreement with Japan and South Korea next year, Chinese state media said yesterday, amid growing rivalry with the United States.

The report in the Global Times daily follows efforts by US President Barack Obama to woo countries from across the Pacific Rim into a US-led free trade agreement, which China has so far not been invited to join…

…Yesterday’s report said China’s Premier Wen Jiabao had pledged to speed up work on the agreement with Tokyo and Seoul during a meeting on the sidelines of last week’s East Asia Summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.

And here we were told that Mr. Wen was stunned speechless in Bali.

“Wen proposed that joint studies by governments, industries and experts on the FTA from the three countries be completed by the end of this year and that formal negotiations on the trade pact begin next year,” it said.

South Korea, Japan and China said in January 2010 they would conduct a feasibility study within two years on creating a single free trade bloc grouping their three countries.

Rather than going for the blitzkrieg — which didn’t work so well in the end for Germany — the Chinese are taking the long view and combining both hard and soft approaches. For example, at almost the same time Mr. Wen was making this proposal, six Chinese naval vessels made a show of sailing between the Japanese islands of Okinawa and Miyakojima.

They’re taking another approach with the United States:

When we last checked in on the low-level trade war between China and the US, which was sparked by President Obama’s 35% tariff on Chinese tires, the Chinese government had ruled that American large cars and SUVs were being “dumped” on the Chinese market, but wasn’t doing anything about it. Now, Reuters reports that China is doing something about it, namely saying that it plans to impose tariffs of up to 22% on imports of American-built large cars and SUVs. And the “up to” is key: GM and Chrysler are being hit hardest (unsurprisingly), while American-made BMW, Mercedes and Acuras are receiving considerably lower tariffs.

In fact, however, what Prof. Mead presents as a new strategy by an administration coming of age is not new at all, but rather a limp extension of a strategy already in place. Here are excerpts from an article in Salon last year:

This summer, despite America’s continuing financial crisis, the Pentagon is effectively considering trading two military quagmires for the possibility of a third. Reducing its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan as it refocuses on Asia, Washington is not so much withdrawing forces from the Persian Gulf as it is redeploying them for a prospective war with its largest creditor, China.

According to the defense trade press, Pentagon officials are seeking ways to adapt a concept known as AirSea Battle specifically for China, debunking rote claims from Washington that it has no plans to thwart its emerging Asian rival. A recent article in Inside the Pentagon reported that a small group of U.S. Navy officers known as the China Integration Team “is hard at work applying the lessons of [AirSea Battle] to a potential conflict with China.”

AirSea Battle, developed in the early 1990s and most recently codified in a 2009 Navy-Air Force classified memo, is a vehicle for conforming U.S. military power to address asymmetrical threats in the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf — code for China and Iran….It complements the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, a government white paper that precluded the rise of any “peer competitor” that might challenge U.S. dominance worldwide. The Planning Guidance is the Pentagon’s writ for control of what defense planners call “the global commons,” a euphemism for the seaways, land bridges and air corridors that are the arteries of international commerce. For a foreign power to challenge this American dominion is to effectively declare war on the United States, and that is exactly what China appears to be doing in the South China Sea, a resource-rich and highly contested waterway in Southeast Asia.


A U.S. mobilization in Asia is well underway, in faith with a spring 2001 Pentagon study called “Asia 2025,” which identified China as a “persistent competitor of the United States,” bent on “foreign military adventurism.” Three years later, the U.S. government went public with a plan that called for a new chain of bases in Central Asia and the Middle East, in part to box in the People’s Republic…

…Unlike America’s allies in Asia and Europe, however, China is not about to outsource its national security obligations to a foreign power, particularly when it comes to the South China Sea. There more than ever, and not without reason, Beijing identifies the U.S. not as a strategic partner but as an outright threat. In 2007, when China destroyed one of its weather satellites with a ballistic missile, it served as a warning to Washington after the ramming six years earlier of a U.S. spy plane by a Chinese fighter jet off the coast of Hainan Island…

…In March 2010, when a Chinese official was quoted by Japanese media as identifying the region as a “core interest” of Chinese sovereignty, the White House retaliated by declaring that freedom of maritime navigation is a U.S. “national interest.” As it turns out, according to the China scholars Nong Hong and Wenran Jiang, writing in the July 1 edition of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation’s China bulletin, the core interest to which the official referred was “the peaceful resolution” of the disputes in question.

The authors of this article in McClatchy agree:

The Obama administration pledge to shift American military strategy toward Asia overlooks a key fact: The United States never really dropped its focus on the region.

The authors are not blinded by the strategy’s brilliance, however:

But the current budget proposal that might flow from that pledge contains a potentially crippling contradiction: The plan might cut the big-ticket items the United States needs to increase its presence in Asia and counter China’s growing military capability.
The result, some analysts fear, is a muddled approach that could end up with a tough-talking United States saying it will do more in Asia but not committing the resources needed. That, they say, could leave America and its allies in the region exposed if China’s military moves aggressively in the future.

And that brings us to the most troubling aspect of this business that Prof. Mead calls a “game”:

U.S. alliances in the region have caused some in China, particularly in military circles, to charge that the United States is working to contain China’s rise. The phrase harkens back to the Cold War and the globe-as-chessboard strategy of “containment” toward the Soviet Union.

I submit that it harkens back to an even earlier era and a geopolitical game that required the expenditure of more blood than money to win: The American attitude and behavior toward Japan before Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt’s predecessor Herbert Hoover kept a contemporary account of what he viewed as American foreign policy blunders and FDR’s “lost statesmanship”, but he never published it. Edited by historian George Nash, it was finally released last year under the title, Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath. It is 920 pages long and meticulously documented. Here’s a description of part of the contents:

Consider Japan’s situation in the summer of 1941. Bogged down in a four year war in China she could neither win nor end, having moved into French Indochina, Japan saw herself as near the end of her tether.

Inside the government was a powerful faction led by Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoye that desperately did not want a war with the United States.

The “pro-Anglo-Saxon” camp included the navy, whose officers had fought alongside the U.S. and Royal navies in World War I, while the war party was centered on the army, Gen. Hideki Tojo and Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka, a bitter anti-American.

On July 18, 1941, Konoye ousted Matsuoka, replacing him with the “pro-Anglo-Saxon” Adm. Teijiro Toyoda.

The U.S. response: On July 25, we froze all Japanese assets in the United States, ending all exports and imports, and denying Japan the oil upon which the nation and empire depended.

Stunned, Konoye still pursued his peace policy by winning secret support from the navy and army to meet FDR on the U.S. side of the Pacific to hear and respond to U.S. demands.

U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew implored Washington not to ignore Konoye’s offer, that the prince had convinced him an agreement could be reached on Japanese withdrawal from Indochina and South and Central China. Out of fear of Mao’s armies and Stalin’s Russia, Tokyo wanted to hold a buffer in North China.

On Aug. 28, Japan’s ambassador in Washington presented FDR a personal letter from Konoye imploring him to meet.

Tokyo begged us to keep Konoye’s offer secret, as the revelation of a Japanese prime minister’s offering to cross the Pacific to talk to an American president could imperil his government.

On Sept. 3, the Konoye letter was leaked to the Herald-Tribune.

On Sept. 6, Konoye met again at a three-hour dinner with Grew to tell him Japan now agreed with the four principles the Americans were demanding as the basis for peace. No response.

On Sept. 29, Grew sent what Hoover describes as a “prayer” to the president not to let this chance for peace pass by.

On Sept. 30, Grew wrote Washington, “Konoye’s warship is ready waiting to take him to Honolulu, Alaska or anyplace designated by the president.”

No response. On Oct. 16, Konoye’s cabinet fell.

In November, the U.S. intercepted two new offers from Tokyo: a Plan A for an end to the China war and occupation of Indochina and, if that were rejected, a Plan B, a modus vivendi where neither side would make any new move. When presented, these, too, were rejected out of hand.

At a Nov. 25 meeting of FDR’s war council, Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s notes speak of the prevailing consensus: “The question was how we should maneuver them (the Japanese) into … firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.”

“We can wipe the Japanese off the map in three months,” wrote Navy Secretary Frank Knox.

As Grew had predicted, Japan, a “hara-kiri nation,” proved more likely to fling herself into national suicide for honor than to allow herself to be humiliated.

That description was written by Patrick Buchanan, a notorious isolationist whose views I seldom agree with. I quote this excerpt because his review contains the most details pertinent to the issue available, and in any event, the sentiments are Hoover’s. Further, this is not to defend Japanese behavior before 1945 or Chinese behavior now. It is rather a historical comparison that must be made in view of American actions and the Veg-O-Matic salesmanship with which they are being plugged.

Prof. Mead continued his discussion in an article published in The Wall Street Journal (that requires a subscription). It plays the same notes, but in a different key. The first sentence reads:

The United States has quietly established a bipartisan Asia policy that may well be as influential on that continent as the Marshall Plan and NATO were in Europe.

If we examine the record and bet on form, the odds for this initiative (and other initiatives extrapolated into the future) are likely to favor a result more similar to the events of December 1941 than to a 21st century Asian version of the Marshall Plan and NATO (used in this case as triumphalist symbols of the Cold War victory). That would be a bet we should all hope to lose. It behooves us, therefore, to ignore the racetrack touts regardless of their academic credentials.

What are the Japanese to do if they are not to become a ball in the middle being kicked by both sides, as the Filipino analyst warned? Japan has the wherewithal to choose a course that is perhaps not available to The Philippines, but it is unlikely to do so until the status quo becomes untenable. That might happen sooner than we think.

But more on that in the next post.


* From Global

America has nearly twice as many aircraft carriers – 20 – as the rest of humanity combined – 12 – and America’s aircraft carriers are substantially larger than almost all the other’s aircraft carriers. The Navy likes to call the big Nimitz class carriers “4.5 acres of sovereign and mobile American territory” — and all twenty American carriers of all classes add up to nearly 70 acres of deck space. Deckspace is probably a good measure of combat power. The rest of the world’s carriers have about 15 acres of deck space, one fifth that of America’s.

At least ten of the American carriers are more than 100,000 tons, and the Enterprise is more than 90,000. The largest “for the rest of humanity” are the new Chinese carrier at more than 60,000 tons and the Russian carrier at more than 50,000. None of the others are even close.

That’s one reason the Chinese are focusing on submarines.

* Yan Xuetong, a professor of political science and dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, wrote in the New York Times:

I am a political realist. Western analysts have labeled my political views “hawkish,” and the truth is that I have never overvalued the importance of morality in international relations. But realism does not mean that politicians should be concerned only with military and economic might. In fact, morality can play a key role in shaping international competition between political powers — and separating the winners from the losers.

I came to this conclusion from studying ancient Chinese political theorists like Guanzi, Confucius, Xunzi and Mencius. They were writing in the pre-Qin period, before China was unified as an empire more than 2,000 years ago — a world in which small countries were competing ruthlessly for territorial advantage.

Prof. Yan was writing in Chinese for a Chinese audience that desperately needs to read it. It should also be required reading for the officials in Washington, but the Times’ translation will be wasted on them. They’re already convinced of their morality.

* The journos are joining the chorus, with their usual combination of ham-handedness and superficiality. Try the first paragraph of this piece by William Pesek in the Sydney Morning Herald and see if you can bother yourself to finish.

* Xi Jingling’s reference to people with “full stomachs” was a clever barb that might have gone over the heads of the porkers he was referring to.

Here’s Peter “I’m a Different Species” Garrett and his band Midnight Oil of Australia performing live a song called US Forces. The lyrics start, “U.S Forces give the nod / It’s a setback for your country,” before falling down the elevator shaft of unintelligibility.

And here’s the lede of an article in The Telegraph of Australia following a speech by Barack Obama in that country last November as part of the Bali blitzkreig:

Labor minister Peter Garrett personally told Barack Obama his speech on an expanded US military presence was “inspiring” – almost three decades after he attacked the same armed forces in song.

Yeah, it’s the same Peter Garrett. Neo-socialists quite like neo-imperialism as long as it comes from another neo-socialist.

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8 Responses to “By jingo”

  1. yankdownunder said

    Great post. Many things to think about.
    Looking forward to next post.

    Is the link for William Pesek-SMH article right?”

    “China and Indonesia do not have a territorial dispute”
    Are you sure?
    YDU: Thanks for the note. I’ll check the link again, and I see where there is a problem with Indonesia, China, and Taiwan. Fixed it.

    – A.

  2. […] By Jingo Ampontan […]

  3. yankdownunder said

    This video gives a good summary of China’s
    territorial claims.

    Ma’s victory in Taiwan could mean China and Taiwan conducting joint naval exercises off the
    Senkakus. For sure, any new technology US or Japan gives/sells to Taiwan will be in mainland
    China the next day.

  4. Marellus said


    Probably one of your best posts I’ve ever read. More please. Oh by the way, what do make of a possible war between the US and Iran ? China is beholden to Iranian oil.
    M: Thanks for the note. Glad you found the post worthwhile. Other than that, I don’t make predictions (except that I will probably have a cup of cocoa before I go to bed (g)). If Iranian nuclear facilities were more accessible, we might have already had one. If Obama had shown more support for the demonstrations two years or so ago, we might not have had to talk about one. If he were more friendly to Israel, they might take care of it for him. So many variables!

    – A.

  5. […] the Second World War and Its Aftermath” (thanks to Ampontan for discovering this, and his/her post that featured this is well worth a read). Hoover demonstrates that American foreign policy at the […]

  6. yankdownunder said

    “If he were more friendly to Israel, they might take care of it for him.”

    Jewish paper’s column catches Secret Service eye

    USS Liberty Memorial

    I guess you were right, he should be more
    “friendly” to Israel.

  7. toadold said

    Uhmmm, from what I’ve read US policy in Asia as always been messed up due to lack of knowledge caused by distance. Asian’s for the most part know more about the US than vs. versa because they traveled more to trade. However I can’t feel much sympathy for the Japanese military nationalists for there actions between WW I and WW II. They abused not only their neighbors but their own populace. The national police was notoriously nasty. A fairly gentle look at the period:

  8. Jeffrey said

    “There is a preference instead for the semi-subjection of satellite states in which the hegemons exert their power and manipulate those states for economic and political advantage without having to assume direct administrative control of their neo-fiefdoms. Both past and present, however, the justifications and self-congratulation are the same.”

    “Neo-Imperialism”? Seems to me that what you’ve outlined is pretty much how the world existed split between the two poles of the U.S. and the Soviet Union from 1946 through 1989, but with the Soviet Union definitely tending toward much greater direct control, at least in the nations of the old Warsaw Pact. The trick they missed of course, and one that pretty much defines modern Chinese foreign policy, is that you’d better be getting some economic benefit out of this and not just squeezing the client state politically and strategically.

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