Tag Archives: Shinzo Abe

Japan’s Parliament passes legislation allowing military to fight in foreign wars

Both the Chinese government and people long have feared and accused post-WWII Japan of “remilitarization” — a revival of and return to its imperialist military aggression.

Now that Beijing has declared its sovereignty (via an Air Defense Identification Zone) over the disputed Sengaku or Diaoyu islets in the East China Sea, as well as over the South China Sea, that Chinese accusation is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. On July 16, 2015, the Japanese Parliament approved of legislation that, for the first time since the end of the Second World War, empowers the military to fight in foreign conflicts.

China-Japan ADIZsJonathan Soble reports for the New York Times, July 16, 2015, that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s party and its allies in the lower house of Parliament approved the package of 11 security-related bills after opposition lawmakers walked out in protest and as demonstrators chanted noisily outside, despite a gathering typhoon. The upper chamber, which Abe’s coalition also controls, is all but certain to endorse the legislation as well.

The legislation would allow the Japanese military, known as the Self-Defense Forces, to cooperate more closely with United States forces by providing logistical support and, in certain circumstances, armed backup in international conflicts. It complements guidelines in a bilateral agreement governing how Japanese and United States forces work together, which was signed by the two governments this year.

The vote was the culmination of months of contentious debate in a society that has long embraced pacifism to atone for wartime aggression. It was a significant victory for Abe, who has devoted his career to moving Japan beyond guilt over its militarist past and toward his vision of a “normal country” with a larger role in global affairs.

But Abe’s agenda goes against the wishes of much of the Japanese public, and his moves have generated unease across Asia, especially in countries Japan once occupied and where its troops committed atrocities. Final passage of the bills would represent a break from the strictly defensive stance maintained by the Japanese military in the decades since the war.

Critics, including a majority of Japanese constitutional specialists, say the legislation violates the country’s postwar charter, which renounces war. But the legislation is supported by the United States, which has welcomed a larger role for Tokyo in regional security as a counterweight to a more assertive China. In an address to a joint meeting of the United States Congress in April, Abe had pledged that he would enact the legislation to strengthen Japan’s already close ties to the United States.

Abe’s success pushing through the vote has political costs: Voters oppose the legislation by a ratio of roughly two to one, according to numerous surveys. The Abe government’s support ratings, which were once high, have fallen to around 40% in several polls taken this month.

Katsuya Okada, head of the largest opposition party, said before the opposition walkout, “It is a huge mistake to set aside a constitutional interpretation built up by governments for 70 years without sufficient public understanding and debate.”

Abe has presented the package as an unavoidable response to new threats facing Japan, in particular the growing military power of China. He seized on the murder of two Japanese hostages by the Islamic State militant group in January as an example of why Japan needs to loosen restrictions on its military, suggesting that the military might have rescued them if it had been free to act. “These laws are absolutely necessary because the security situation surrounding Japan is growing more severe,” he said after Thursday’s vote.

China condemned passage of the bills, describing them as a potential threat to peace in Asia and invoking Japan’s wartime aggression. Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said in a statement: “We solemnly urge the Japanese side to draw hard lessons from history, stick to the path of peaceful development, respect the major security concerns of its Asian neighbors, and refrain from jeopardizing China’s sovereignty and security interests or crippling regional peace and stability.”

With opposition lawmakers boycotting the vote, the bills passed with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party, led by Abe, and its smaller coalition partner, Komeito, which control a majority of seats in the legislature’s lower house, the House of Representatives. To become law, they must still be approved by the upper chamber, but in the unlikely event that the package is rejected, the lower house can override that decision. Japanese judges are mostly unwilling to overrule the government on matters of security.

The upper house is scheduled to debate the legislation for 60 days, keeping the issue in the public eye and potentially fueling more protests.

Abe has long argued that the Constitution should be amended to remove its restrictive antiwar provisions, but changing the charter would require a national referendum that he would probably lose. For now, at least, a contested reinterpretation of the Constitution appears to be the most he can hope for.

On Wednesday night, large crowds gathered outside Parliament after the bills were approved by a committee in an emotional and chaotic session. The crowds were estimated by organizers to number some 100,000, which would make the protest the largest antigovernment demonstration in Japan since protests in 2012 against the proposed restart of nuclear power plants, a year after the nuclear accident in Fukushima.

See also:



Obama makes promises to Japan and South Korea

To Japan:

The New York Times reports that while he was in Japan, on Thursday, April 24, 2014:

Obama … declared that the United States was obligated by a security treaty to protect Japan in its confrontation with China over a clump of islands [the Senkaku or Diaoyu islets] in the East China Sea. But he stopped short of siding with Japan in the dispute regarding who has sovereignty over the islands, and carefully calibrated his statement to avoid antagonizing China.

The net result, seen in a news conference in which the leaders referred to each other a bit stiffly as Barack and Shinzo, was an alliance clearly on firmer footing than it was earlier, but still vulnerable to political frailties on each side. […]

The president’s statement about the United States’ obligations toward Japan was important because it was the first time he had explicitly put the disputed islands under American protection, though Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently made the same statement and the policy has been held by successive administrations.

“This is a very important turning point for the United States-Japan alliance because it means the period of drift under President Obama has finally come to an end,” said Yuichi Hosoya, an expert on American-Japanese relations at Keio University in Tokyo. “The fact that this was said by the president will have a huge psychological impact on Japanese officials and people.”

The Chinese government reacted swiftly, saying it was “firmly opposed” to Mr. Obama’s position. More than anything, Mr. Obama appeared eager to defuse tensions over the islands, referring to them as a “rock” and saying they should not be allowed to derail a relationship that could otherwise be productive.

“It would be a profound mistake to continue to see escalation around this issue rather than dialogue and confidence-building measures between Japan and China,” Mr. Obama said.

[Japan’s prime minister] Mr. Abe said he was encouraged by Mr. Obama’s pledge to protect the islands. “On this point,” he said, “I fully trust President Obama.”

To South Korea:

The AP reports that while he was in Seoul, on April 26, 2014:

President Barack Obama warned North Korea on Saturday that the United States “will not hesitate to use our military might” to defend allies, as he sought to showcase U.S. power in the region amid China’s growing influence and Pyongyang’s unpredictable nuclear threats.

Obama’s visit to Seoul comes as North Korea has threatened to conduct its fourth nuclear test, leading Obama to raise the possibility of further sanctions.

The commitment that the United States of America has made to the security of the Republic of Korea only grows stronger in the face of aggression,” Obama said in a speech to some of the 28,000 American service members stationed in South Korea to keep watch on its northern neighbor. “Our alliance does not waiver with each bout of their attention seeking. It just gains the support of the rest of the world.” […]

Obama ridiculed North Korea’s attempt to show force. “Anybody can make threats,” he said. “Anyone can move an army. Anyone can show off a missile. That doesn’t make you strong.”

He said real strength comes from having an open participatory democracy, open markets and a society free to speak out against its government.

“We don’t use our military might to impose these things on others, but we will not hesitate to use our military might to defend our allies and our way of life,” Obama said to cheers from the uniformed troops who filled a field house at Yongsan Garrison, headquarters for U.S. forces in South Korea.

Obama’s 10-minute speech followed a rare joint defense briefing with South Korean President Park Geun-hye that focused on efforts to counter the North’s nuclear ambitions.

See also “Pentagon official: U.S. budget will not allow an Asia pivot,” March, 2014.


China impounds Japanese ship as compensation for WWII debt

Baosteel Emotion

On Saturday, April 19, 2014, China’s Shanghai Maritime Court seized a Japanese cargo ship, the Baosteel Emotion owned by Mitsui OSK Lines, over a pre-war debt.

Baosteel Emotion was seized over unpaid compensation for two Chinese ships that, in 1936, had been leased to Mitsui’s predecessor Daido Kaiun from Chung Wei (Zhongwei) Steamship Co. The two ships were promptly appropriated by the Japanese government and later lost at sea.

Kyodo News Agency said this appears to be the first time that a Japanese company asset had been confiscated as war-linked compensation.

Zhongwei Shipping had sought compensation after World War Two and the case was reopened at a Shanghai court in 1988. The court ruled in 2007 that Mitsui had to pay 190 million yuan ($30.5m) as compensation for the two ships leased to Daido. Mitsui appealed against the decision, but it was upheld in 2012.

Yesterday, April 21, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the Japanese government considers China’s sudden seizure of the cargo ship “extremely regrettable,” which “is likely to have, in general, a detrimental effect on Japanese businesses working in China.”

The seizure comes with ties between Tokyo and Beijing severely strained amid rows over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea which both claim and other rumbling historical issues.

Earlier this year, a court in China for the first time accepted a case filed by Chinese citizens seeking compensation from Japanese firms over forced labor during World War Two. Japan has always held that the issue of war-related compensation was settled by a 1972 agreement between the two sides when relations between China and Japan were normalized.


Note: The 1972 China-Japan Joint Communiqué that preceded the 1972 Treaty of Peace and Friendship Between Japan and the People’s Republic of China, states:

“The Japanese side is keenly conscious of the responsibility for the serious damage that Japan caused in the past to the Chinese people through war, and deeply reproaches itself. […] The Government of the People’s Republic of China declares that in the interest of the friendship between the Chinese and the Japanese peoples, it renounces its demand for war reparation from Japan.


But now for the first time, a Chinese court has ignored that 1972 agreement – and the Chinese government appears to be giving full support, says the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo. It is another sign of just how low relations between China and Japan have sunk.

Shogo Suzuki, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester in the U.K. who studies China-Japan relations, said, “Many of the major Japanese companies like Mitsubishi or Mitsui have existed through back to the pre-war era and could all be implicated in one way or another. Japanese companies can’t extract themselves easily at this stage so I think they’ll be quite worried.”

On Monday, meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine to mark the spring festival, about which China promptly protested. Yasukuni is where the souls of Japan’s war dead are enshrined, including war criminals – and it is seen by regional neighbours as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

Sources: BBC, Bloomberg News


Japan seeks better ties with Russia

Putin and AbeRussian President Vladimir Putin and Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at the Kremlin in Moscow, April 29, 2013

Michael Lipin reports for Voice of America (VOA) (via GlobalSecurity.org), February 12, 2014, that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying hard to improve relations with Russia, a neighbor with whom Tokyo has yet to sign a peace treaty after the end of World War II.

Since taking office in December 2012 Abe has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin five times. Their latest encounter was a significant gesture by the Japanese leader when Abe added prestige to Russia’s opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics by accepting Putin’s invitation to attend last Friday’s event in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Western leaders stayed away, in an apparent protest at Putin’s stance on homosexuals.

Abe also had a lunch meeting with Putin on Saturday and his commitment to make a rare visit to Japan in the second half of this year.

Abe has a variety of motivations for reaching out to Russia, which has been receptive to closer ties with Japan in some areas, but not others. Those motives include:

1. Asia Society analyst Ayako Doi told VOA that one factor driving Abe closer to Russia is a worsening of Japan’s relations with its two other regional neighbors, China and South Korea, both of whom have toughened their positions on maritime territorial disputes with Japan in recent years. Beijing and Seoul also have long resented what they see as Tokyo’s failure to atone for wartime aggression in the first half of the 20th century. ‘There is no improvement in sight for those relationships, so Abe is looking to Russia as a potential bright spot in his foreign policy initiatives,’ Doi told VOA.

2. Doi said Japan also wants to stop Putin from becoming an even closer ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping and potentially supporting China’s claims to Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea. Xi also attended the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony and won a meeting with Putin, although without the luncheon granted to Abe.

3. Another motivation behind Japan’s Russian outreach is its hope to resolve a decades-old territorial dispute that has held up the signing of a Japan-Russia peace treaty. Japan has long sought to reclaim four islands off the northern coast of Hokkaido from Russia, whose then-Soviet forces captured them in 1945, days before then end of World War II. James Schoff, an Asia analyst at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says Abe has reasons to be hopeful for a resolution of that dispute because both Japan and Russia acknowledge the dispute, and there is a history of negotiation between them, ever since the end of the war. All of which make the Japan-Russia territorial dispute more manageable for Japan than its maritime disputes with China and South Korea. “In those cases, the parties still are in a situation where neither side will acknowledge that a dispute even exists,” Schoff said. ‘The Koreans say Dokdo island in the Sea of Japan/East Sea is theirs and they are on it, and any claims to it by Japan are completely false. In the case of the East China Sea’s Senkaku islands, the Japanese insist the islands are Japan’s and under their administration, while China says Japan must at least acknowledge that there is a dispute over the islands [known in Chinese as Diaoyu].

In a gesture to Japan, Russia held a round of peace treaty negotiations at the level of deputy foreign minister in Tokyo on January 31. But, there was no breakthrough. Moscow reiterated its long-held stance on the four disputed islands that it calls the Southern Kurils, saying they became Russian as a result of World War Two. Japan considers the islands to be its Northern Territories. No date for further talks has been set.

Doi said the Russian leader currently has little reason to make territorial concessions, “For Russia, making the Japanese hopeful about an eventual signing of a treaty is a very good thing, because it can be dangled as a prize to entice Japanese investment and other types of cooperation.”

4. Schoff said Japan’s shutdown of its nuclear power plants after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster also has left it in greater need of fossil fuel imports, particularly natural gas from Russia.

5. For its part, Moscow has a key incentive to boost its economic ties with Japan in areas such as energy, and Putin has made it a national priority to develop oil, gas and other resources in Russia’s Far East and Siberia – economically-neglected areas where Japanese investment would be welcome.

6. Schoff said Russia also has a motive to seek a better political alliance with Japan, “There is some worry in Moscow about China’s rising military budgets and military expansionist maneuvers in the maritime sphere. I think Russia likes to have friends in different places and would not mind having a stronger relationship with Japan as a counterweight in that regard.” But Doi said Moscow is unlikely to take Tokyo’s side in the dispute with Beijing about the East China Sea.


China threatens war in South and East China Seas

South China SeaSouth China Sea

Qianzhan.com ( Forward Looking) is a Chinese-language news site headquartered in the city of Shenzhen in China’s southeastern Guangdong province, with offices in Beijing and Hong Kong.

On Jan. 11, 2014, Chan Kai Yee of China Daily Mail, a non-PRC affiliated website, provided a summary translation of an alarming article in Qianzhan.com, that “According to experts, the Chinese navy has drawn a detailed combat plan to seize Zhongye Island [from the Philippines] and the battle will be restricted within the South China Sea.”


Note: Zhongye Island, aka Pagasa or Thitu Island, is one of the Spratly islands in the South China Sea.


According to Chan, the unnamed author of the Qianzhan article wrote that “Relying on US support, the Philippines is so arrogant as to announce in the New Year that it will increase its navy and air force deployment at Zhongye Island, a Chinese island that it [the Philippines] has illegally occupied for years.” It is claimed that the Philippines military buildup on the island has been confirmed by a report in the Philippines Star.

The buildup being “an intolerable insult to China,” the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) accordingly has made plans for a battle “aimed at recovering the island stolen by the Philippines from China. There will be no invasion into Filipino territories.”

But China is prepared for war not only against the Philippines in the South China Sea, but also against Japan [and the United States] in the East China Sea as well.

East China Sea Air Defense Identification ZoneThis author, StMA, found another Qianzhan article, dated Jan. 13, 2014, which cited (with no source link) an article from the U.S. magazine National Interest predicting that “a small-scale maritime conflict” between China and Japan over the Senkaku or Diaoyu islets in the East China Sea is “most likely,” given a rising China that demands “greater respect” and restitution for its past humiliation, as well as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s determination to revise the Constitution so as to rebuild Japan’s military might.

Conflict will be sparked by the “downing” (yunluo 陨落) of a fighter plane or ship in China’s newly-declared East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). The conflict will escalate, resulting in small-scale naval or air combat — a conflict in which Japan will have scant sympathy or support from the international community, including the Obama administration.

Another Qianzhan article of Jan. 13, 2014 boasts that, in order to protect Chinese fishermen from Japanese harassment in the East China Sea, the PLA has installed 50,000 sets of a “mysterious weapon” on the fishermen’s boats. Reportedly, the “mysterious weapon” is the Big Dipper (Beidou 北斗)Positioning System, which will enable the fishermen to accurately pinpoint and differentiate Chinese territorial waters from international waters. This will ensure the safety of Chinese fishermen and any recurrence of their unwarranted detention by foreign [Japanese] law enforcement personnel.

Of course, since China’s ADIZ includes the Senkaku islets, Beijing considers the waters around Senkaku to be Chinese territorial waters.

Yet another Qianzhan article, also dated Jan. 13, 2014, is even more alarming. The unnamed author writes:

What God wants to destroy, he first makes mad. The faster the pace of [Japanese Prime Minister] Abe’s hurtle toward militarism, the abrogation of [Japan’s] peace constitution, and development of nuclear weapons, the more isolated Japan will be in the international community and the more detested and loathed Abe will be. Japan will then become the object of the world’s condemnation, and will be spurned even by its ally, the United States. Obama’s cold demeanor toward Abe when he recently visited the United States was a warning to Japan.

The Diaoyu [or Senkaku] Islands are extremely important to China and Japan, on which neither country will retreat. Only the country with the greatest capabilities to defeat (zhanzheng 战胜) the other will use the Diaoyu Islands for its future advancement.  In this, according to foreign media, [the Chinese government’s] Central Military Commission has made an important decision: Diaoyu Islands are now (” immediately” or mashang 马上) in a state (zhuangtai  状态) of total war (quanmian zhanzheng 全面 战争).

According to informed sources, in order to meet the U.S.-Japan challenge (tiaozhan 挑战) to China, the People’s Liberation Army has deployed 1,000 guided missiles aimed at Japan. Abe was very shocked when he learned the news. Japanese media are critical of Abe for having been duped by Obama, because once conflict breaks out between the three countries [U.S., Japan, China], the United States most likely will not make much of an effort [to help Japan]. In the end, Japan will be out of luck (daomei 倒霉).

China threatens Japan with military action, while Obama admin. sends mixed signals

China-Japan ADIZs

Bill Gertz writes for The Free Beacon, Dec. 3, 2013:

China’s military ratcheted up tensions on Tuesday over its disputed East China Sea air defense zone by threatening military action against Japan and saying it would enforce new aircraft controls.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yangsheng accused Japan in a statement of “making trouble” and he warned Chinese military aircraft would enforce the newly imposed air defense identification zone, or ADIZ.

“Japan’s actions have seriously harmed China’s legitimate rights and security interests, and undermined the peace and stability in East Asia,” Geng said through the official Xinhua news agency. “China has to take necessary reactions.”

Geng listed a series of actions by Japan he said had increased tensions, including Tokyo’s frequent dispatch of ships and aircraft to areas near the disputed Senkaku islands, threats to shoot down Chinese drones, and overall escalation of regional tensions.

Without mentioning the United States, Geng also said other countries must “correct wrong remarks and wrongdoings,” he said. “Other parties should not be incited, or send wrong signals to make a very few countries go further on the wrong track, which will follow the same old disastrous road and undermine regional and world peace,” Geng said, insisting that China adheres to peaceful development and defensive policies.

The comments were the most forceful by a Chinese government spokesman since Beijing unilaterally declared the ADIZ that overlaps Japan’s air defense zone and covers the Senkakus, which China calls Diaoyu.

On Capitol Hill, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said the latest tensions highlight the administration’s “confusing and inconsistent messages” to Japan, a key ally.

The administration for months before China’s imposition of the air zone had said it was neutral in maritime disputes. It then belatedly backed Japan, invoking defense commitments under the U.S.-Japan defense treaty.

In an obvious attempt to placate China, the United States is sacrificing the assurance to our allies in the region that we are a reliable and steadfast security partner,” Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.) said in a statement to the Free Beacon.

Inhofe noted that 2012 marked the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan defense treaty. “The belated invocation of our treaty obligation clearly falls well short of an appropriate response to this latest provocation by China that would be consistent with the spirit and intent of the treaty,” Inhofe said. “Unfortunately, this follows a pattern of fumbled reactions by the Obama administration in other regions of the world, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon also called the Chinese air zone “bullying” by China that risks a military miscalculation.

“I am glad to see that China’s blatantly aggressive actions aren’t affecting how the U.S. military conducts operations in the region, and I’m pleased to hear that U.S. military flight operations are continuing as planned,” McKeon said in a statement. “It’s important the United States stand with its long-time treaty ally, Japan, against this kind of international bullying,” McKeon said. “I encourage Vice President Biden to call on Beijing to retract this antagonist claim during his visit there later this week.”

In Tokyo, Vice President Joe Biden took a noticeably milder tone on the dispute with China than Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Biden will be in China on Wednesday, December 4, and Thursday, December 5. At a press conference with Biden, Abe said the United States and Japan “should not tolerate the attempt by China to change status quo unilaterally by force.”

Biden, in his remarks, said the U.S. is “deeply concerned” about a potential conflict caused by the sudden imposition of the air defense zone. “This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation,” he said. “If you’ll forgive a personal reference, my father had an expression. He said, the only conflict that is worse than one that is intended is one that is unintended. The prospect for miscalculation mistake is too high,” Biden said.

Earlier, a senior Obama administration official briefing reporters on the Biden-Abe talks said the ADIZ imposition by China was “a provocative action, an uncoordinated action at a time when tensions were already running high. And that this is not the kind of thing that contributes to greater peace and security in Northeast Asia or in the Asia Pacific region.”

There also are concerns China will further increase tensions by announcing another air defense zone over the disputed South China Sea. Chinese government spokesman in recent days have not ruled out an ADIZ over that area, where Vietnam, Philippines, and other states are challenging China’s maritime claims over most of the sea.

At the Chinese Foreign Ministry, spokesman Hong Lei also called on Japan to “correct mistakes” on the air zone. Asked about U.S. government calls for the air zone to be rescinded, Hong said China would not back down. “The establishment of the East China Sea ADIZ falls within China’s sovereignty and is a necessary measure for the Chinese side to exercise its justifiable right of self-defense,” he said.

U.S. officials who briefed reporters in Tokyo also sought to backtrack on reports that the administration has urged U.S. airlines to recognize the Chinese ADIZ by issuing pre-flight plans to the Chinese. The New York Times said the administration urged airlines to follow the rules, a move that appeared to undercut Japan’s position that its airlines should not submit pre-flight plans for paths over the East China Sea.

One administration official said the Federal Aviation Administration did not direct airlines to follow Chinese flight rules but simply issued a guidance reiterating the long-standing practice that they respond to foreign notices to airmen.

Chinese propaganda organs uniformly published reports playing down the fact that the ADIZ is an effort by China to expand its power further from its coasts. Instead, state media and official spokesman sought to portray as a means of improving air safety or protecting Chinese airspace.

China’s Communist Party-affiliated newspaper Global Times, a booster of Chinese militarism, continued its recent inflammatory rhetoric on the East China Sea dispute. “The U.S.’s stance of feigning fairness while actually backing one side between China and Japan seems established, but if Biden’s tricks in Japan go too far, this will seriously affect the atmosphere of his next visit to China,” the newspaper said in an editorial. “The confidence of Chinese society is declining on whether the U.S. and Japan really have no intention to provoke a war in the western Pacific.”

Earlier on Nov. 27 Global Times warned that “maybe an imminent conflict will be waged between China and Japan.” “We should carry out timely countermeasures without hesitation against Japan when it challenges China’s newly-declared ADIZ,” the newspaper said. “If Tokyo flies its aircraft over the zone, we will be bound to send our plane to its ADIZ.” “If the trend continues, there will likely be frictions and confrontations and even tension in the air like in the Cold War era between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It is therefore an urgent task for China to further train its air force to make full preparation for potential conflicts.”

Meanwhile, in a sign that China is preparing to use the air defense zone for commercial benefit, China announced recently that it is creating a Deep Sea Base at the northern port of Qingdao that will be used to advance undersea gas and oil exploitation. The base will support China’s deep-sea oil and gas exploration through pier operations, equipment repair and maintenance, diver training, scientific research, and other functions for prospecting for undersea resources.

The disputed Senkakus are said to have vast undersea gas and oil deposits that both China and Japan are seeking to exploit but that so far have not tried to develop.

Former State Department official John Tkacik said Biden stopped well short of condemning China’s imposition of the air zone and instead offered the more diplomatic “deeply concerned” formulation.

“Japan is an ally, and China is at best, and adversary, and it is bad policy to attempt ‘neutrality’ when trying to reassure an ally,” Tkacik said in an email. “The United States administered Okinawa including the Senkaku Islands for 27 years from 1945 to 1972 under the terms of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, and the United States returned Okinawa and the Senkakus to Japan under the terms of a formal treaty in 1972. So, it is disingenuous for the U.S. to claim that it has no position on Japan’s sovereignty in the Senkakus.”

Other states in the region also have voiced worries over China’s East China Sea controls. Philippines Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the Chinese air zone threatens freedom of flight. “China’s East Asia Sea ADIZ transforms the entire air zone into its domestic airspace, infringes on the right to freedom of flight in international airspace and compromises the safety of civil aviation and national security of affected states,” state-run Philippine News Agency quoted Hernandez as saying.

The South Korean government said its airlines would not provide flight plans to China, as Beijing is demanding. “The flight path from Korea to Southeast Asia passes through the air defense identification zone announced by China, but we have told civilian airlines not to provide their flight plans to China just as they have done in the past,” an official at the Ministry of Land Infrastructure and Transport said Dec. 2. “This route is approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and air defense identification zones have no standing in international law. It is our position that China cannot take any coercive action against civilian aircraft,” the official said, according to Hankyoreh Online.

Military sources in Taiwan said China’s next move in the East China Sea will be to challenge the middle line dividing China and Taiwan along the 100-mile wide Taiwan Strait. The newspaper Tzu-yu Shih-pao [Liberty Daily] quoted a high-ranking general Nov.  24 as saying China will press Taiwan to permit civilian flights to cross the middle line.

See also CODA’s previous posts on this subject:

Obama admin. tells U.S. commercial airlines to abide by China’s rules in air defense zone

ADIZ overlap mapArea colored red is where China’s Air Defense Zone overlaps with Japan’s

Peter Baker and Jane Perlez report for The New York Times, Nov. 29, 2013:

Even as China scrambled fighter jets to enforce its newly declared air defense zone, the Obama administration said on Friday that it was advising American commercial airlines to comply with China’s demands to be notified in advance of flights through the area.

While the United States continued to defy China by sending military planes into the zone unannounced, administration officials said they had made the decision to urge civilian planes to adhere to Beijing’s new rules in part because they worried about an unintended confrontation.

Although the officials made clear that the administration rejects China’s unilateral declaration of control of the airspace over a large area of the East China Sea, the guidance to the airlines could be interpreted in the region as a concession in the battle of wills with China.

“The U.S. government generally expects that U.S. carriers operating internationally will operate consistent with” notice requirements “issued by foreign countries,” the State Department said in a statement, adding that that “does not indicate U.S. government acceptance of China’s requirements.”

SenkakusThe disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu islets

The decision contrasted with that of Japan’s government this week, when it asked several Japanese airlines, which were voluntarily following China’s rules, to stop, apparently out of fear that complying with the rules would add legitimacy to Chinese claims to islands that sit below the now contested airspace. China’s newly declared zone, experts say, is intended mainly to whittle away at Japan’s hold on the islands, which it has long administered.

On Saturday, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said, “We will not comment on what other countries are doing with regard to filing flight plans.” It was not immediately clear if the Obama administration had notified Japan, a close ally, of its decision.

An official at Japan’s Transport Ministry said it had no immediate change to its advice to Japanese airlines.

The American decision drew criticism from some quarters. Stephen Yates, a former Asia adviser to Dick Cheney when he was vice president, said it was “a bad move” that would undercut allies in the region that take a different stance.

But Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state under Bill Clinton and now president of the Brookings Institution, said it was important to avoid an accident while drawing a firm line. “The principal option is to be extremely clear that disputes” over territory “must be resolved through diplomacy and not unilateral action,” he said.

American officials said they began having talks with airlines on Wednesday and characterized the guidance Friday as simply following established international air protocols independent of any political deliberations. The American announcement came on the same day that Chinese state news media said that China sent jets aloft and that they identified two American surveillance planes and 10 Japanese aircraft in the air defense zone the country declared last weekend.

Although there was no indication that China’s air force showed any hostile intent, the move raised tensions. The Chinese had also sent jets on patrol into the contested airspace the day before, but Xinhua, the state-run news agency, indicated that the planes on Friday were scrambled specifically to respond to foreign jets in the area.

Earlier in the week, the United States sent unarmed B-52s into the area, and they proceeded unimpeded. China then appeared to back down somewhat from its initial declaration that planes must file advance flight plans or face possible military action.

The administration’s decision on Friday underscored the delicate position President Obama finds himself in, drawn into a geopolitical dispute that will test how far he is willing to go to contain China’s rising regional ambitions.

China’s move thrust the United States into the middle of the already prickly territorial clash between Beijing and Tokyo, a position the administration had avoided for months even while reiterating that the mutual defense treaty with Japan covers the islands. After the Chinese declaration last weekend, American officials feared that, if left unchallenged, the Chinese action would lead to ever greater claims elsewhere in the Pacific region.

But with planes flying so fast and in such proximity, the administration’s worries grew that an accident or an unintended confrontation could spiral out of control. A midair collision between a Chinese fighter jet and an American spy plane off the coast of China in 2001 killed the fighter pilot and forced the spy plane to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island, setting off a diplomatic episode until Beijing released the American crew and sent the plane back, broken into parts.

“The challenge here, as with April 2001, is when you have an unexpected crisis, things escalate very, very quickly without any plans for de-escalation,” said Jon M. Huntsman Jr., Mr. Obama’s first ambassador to China. “That’s one of the big challenges we have in the U.S.-China relationship.”

Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe

One of the biggest challenges for Mr. Obama will be navigating the complicated personalities of leaders in Tokyo and Beijing. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, a strong nationalist, has vowed to stand firm against any Chinese encroachments, while President Xi Jinping of China has recently taken over as leader and has promised to advance a strong foreign policy meant to win his country more recognition as an international power.

President of the People's Republic China, Xi Jinping

President of the People’s Republic China, Xi Jinping

The two countries have been at odds for years over the uninhabited islands known as Diaoyu by the Chinese and Senkaku by the Japanese. The United States does not take a position on the dispute.

Although administration officials believe China’s actions are mainly meant to give it an advantage in its struggle with Japan over the islands, experts on Asia say they also fit China’s larger goal of establishing itself as the dominant power in the region, displacing the United States.

Administration officials said they decided to proceed with routine military training and surveillance flights so as not to legitimize China’s assertion of control over the airspace or encourage it to establish a similar air zone over the South China Sea, where it has other territorial disputes. China had said it expected to set up other air defense zones, and experts said they expected one to cover that sea.

“We don’t want this to be the first in what would be a series of assertive moves,” said an administration official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss a delicate diplomatic matter. “The whole area’s fraught.”

Mr. Obama is sending Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to the region next week, when he will meet with Mr. Xi and Mr. Abe as well as South Korea’s leader. Although the trip was previously scheduled, it will put Mr. Biden in the center of the dispute, and aides said he would deliver a message of caution to both sides to avoid escalation.

Many countries, including the United States and Japan, have air defense zones, but the coordinates of the Chinese zone overlap those of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Peter Dutton, the director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the United States Naval War College, said the new air zone also gives China a legal structure to intercept American surveillance flights in international airspace, which have long irritated Beijing. “It is clear that the Chinese do not seek regional stability on any level,” he said. “They intend to be disruptive in order to remake the Asian regional system in accordance with their preferences.”

H/t CODA’s Sol Sanders

See also “China’s irredentist nationalism and the six wars to come,” Sept. 23, 2013.