China’s counterproductive actions in Asia

China pushes
Japan and India closer to the U.S.

Brahma
Chellaney

The Sunday Guardian, May 30, 2010

China’s rise in one
generation as a global player under authoritarian rule has come to epitomize the
qualitative reordering of power in
Asia and the
wider world. Not s
ince
Japan rose to world-power
status dur
ing the reign of the Meiji
emperor in the second half of the 19th century has another non-Western power
emerged with such potential to alter the world order as
China today. As the
2009 assessment by the
U.S.
intelligence community predicted,
China stands to more profoundly
affect global geopolitics than any other country.
China’s ascent, however, is dividing Asia, not bringing Asian states closer.

            A fresh
reminder of that came recently when provocative Chinese actions prompted the new
Japanese government to reverse course on seeking a “more equal” relationship
with the
United States and agree to keep
the American military base in
Okinawa island.
That outcome is similar to the way
Beijing has
been pushing
India closer to
the
U.S. through continuing military and
other provocations.

Given that the balance of power
in Asia will be determined by events as much in the Indian Ocean rim as in East Asia, Tokyo
and
New Delhi
are keen to work together to promote Asian peace and stability and help
safeguard vital sea lanes of communication.

Japan and
India indeed are natural
allies because they have no conflict of strategic
interest and share common goals to build
institutionalized cooperation and stability
in Asia. There is
neither a negative historical legacy nor any outstand
ing political issue between them. If anything, each
country enjoys a high positive rating with the public in the other
state.

Prime Minister Yukio
Hatoyama’s visit to
India
last December, soon after coming to office, showed he is keen to maintain the
priority on closer engagement with
India that started under his four
immediate predecessors, especially
Junichiro Koizumi, Shinzo Abe, Yasuo
Fukuda
and Taro Aso of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), now in the
opposition. Mr. Hatoyama and his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) came to power
vowing to reorient Japanese foreign policy and seek an “equal” relationship with
the
United
States
. But events have forced a rethink.

How unstable the security environment
is in
Japan’s own
neighborhood has been brought home by 
two recent incidents with
China and the renewed
tensions on the
Korean Peninsula following the sinking of the South Korean naval ship.

One incident involving China occurred less than two months ago, on April
8, when a helicopter from a Chinese naval vessel in international waters south
of
Okinawa flew to within 92 meters of a
Japanese defense force escort ship — so close that Japanese sailors could
clearly see a gun-wielding Chinese soldier. To compound matters, not only was
Tokyo’s diplomatic protest summarily dismissed by Beijing, but Chinese naval ships less
than two weeks later, on April 21, sailed between Okinawa and another Japanese
island chain to conduct a large-scale exercise. Once again, a Chinese naval
helicopter buzzed a Japanese escort ship. A Chinese military analyst called on
Japan to get used to
China‘s navy appearing in
Japan‘s exclusive economic
zone.

The second
incident happened last month. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi flew into a
rage after his Japanese counterpart, Katsuya Okada, politely suggested that
China cut its nuclear arsenal. At the
May 15 meeting in the South Korean city of
Gyeongju, Mr. Yang yelled that his relatives had been
killed by Japanese forces in northeastern
China during Japan’s occupation of China.
He almost walked out of the meeting.

The upshot of
such incidents and the greater volatility in the regional security environment is that
Prime Minister Hatoyama and his Cabinet are now convinced that this is not the
time to
move the Futenma air base off Okinawa, even if it means breaking one of his DPJ’s
election campaign promises.

Significantly, there also have a number of
incidents that suggest that
China is starting to muscle up to India.
The renewed Sino-Indian border tensions have resulted from growing Chinese
assertiveness
on several fronts — border (Chinese
cross-frontier incursions have increased in a major way); diplomatic
(resurrecting its long-dormant claim to India’s Arunachal Pradesh state, which
is three times bigger than Taiwan); and multilateral (
launching an international offensive to undercut Indian
sovereignty over Arunachal; for example, by successfully
blocking the
Asian Development Bank from identifying that region as part of India in its $1.3
billion credit package last year). As the resistance to its rule in
Tibet has grown since last
year,
Beijing has sought to present
Tibet as a core issue to its
sovereignty, just like
Taiwan. Tibet now holds as much importance in Chinese
policy as
Taiwan. In ratcheting up the
Arunachal issue with
India,
Beijing seems to be drawing another analogy:
Arunachal is the new
Taiwan that must be “reunified” with
the Chinese state.

In fact, the incidents with
Japan and India serve as another reminder that Chinese
policies and actions are counterproductively pushing these countries closer to
the
U.S.

There is
realization in
Japan and
India that each is located in
a very dangerous neighborhood and that their security ties with the
U.S.
are critical.

India and Japan,
although dissimilar economically, have a lot in common politically. They are
Asia’s largest democracies, but with fractured,
messy politics.
Just as India has progressed from doctrinaire
nonalignment to geopolitical pragmatism,
Japan
the “Land of the Rising Sun” — is moving toward greater realism in its foreign
policy.

Their growing congruence of
strategic interests led to a Japan-India security agreement in 2008, a
significant milestone in building Asian power stability. A constellation of
Asian states linked by strategic cooperation and sharing common interests is
becoming critical to ensuring equilibrium at a time when major shifts in
economic and political power are accentuating
Asia’s security challenges. The Japan-India security
agreement was modelled on the 2007 Australia-Japan defense accord. Now the
Japan-India security agreement has spawned a similar Australia-India
accord.

The path has been opened to
adding strategic content to the Indo-Japanese relationship, underscored by the
growing number of bilateral visits by top defence and military officials. As
part of their “strategic and global partnership,” which was unveiled in 2006,
India and Japan
are working on joint initiatives on maritime security, counterterrorism,
counterproliferation, disaster management and energy security. But they need to
go much further.

India and Japan, for
example, must co-develop defence systems.
India and Japan have missile-defense cooperation with
Israel and the U.S.,
respectively. There is no reason why they should not work together on missile
defense and on other technologies for mutual defense. There is no ban on weapon
exports in
Japan’s U.S.-imposed Constitution,
only a long-standing Cabinet decision. That ban has been loosened, with
Tokyo in recent
years inserting elasticity to export weapons for peacekeeping operations,
counterterrorism and anti-piracy. The original Cabinet decision, in any event,
relates to weapons, not technologies.

As two legitimate
aspirants to new permanent seats in the UN Security Council,
India and Japan should
work together to push for the Council’s long-pending reform. Asian peace and
stability would be better served if all the three major powers in Asia —
China, Japan and India — are in
the Council as permanent members.
Beijing’s
provocative actions indeed underscore the risks of
China remaining Asia’s sole representative among the Council’s permanent
members.

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