Monday, February 14, 2011

East Asia 2011: Measuring Perils, Managing Risk

Perils as persistent as time. Via.

A spotlight shone brightly on tensions in the East Asian region last year with the sinking of the South Korean warship, Cheonan, in March followed by collision of a Chinese trawler with Japanese coastguard vessels in the disputed waters of East China Sea in September, and shelling of South Korea controlled Yeonpyeong Island by North Korea in November. More recently, revelation of a new nuclear enrichment facility at Yongbyon, North Korea’s main nuclear plant, has only added fuel to the growing tension in the region and beyond.

The collision of a Chinese trawler and two Japanese coastguard vessels in 2010 around uninhabited Senkaku islands disputed between Japan and China (called Diaoyu Islands in China) propelled actions such as Beijing banning exports to Japan of rare earth minerals that are crucial for electronics and auto parts manufacturing and others including suspension of high-level contacts, Chinese travel agencies canceling package tours to Japan and withdrawal of invitation from 1000 Japanese youngsters who were going to attend the World Expo in Shanghai. While tensions continue, further damage was halted with Japan’s release of the trawler captain amidst growing pressure from China.

Within Japan, recent developments hint toward a shift in focus with regards to defense in face of changing geopolitical risks. In December 2010, Japan’s cabinet approved new guidelines that refocus its defense strategy on the rise of China rather than the “cold war threat of Russia”. The guidelines “also call for a stronger alliance with the US – Japan's biggest ally – and expanded security networks with partners such as South Korea and Australia.” The news report also states that “Japan will acquire new submarines and fighter jets, upgrade its missile defence capabilities and make its ground forces more mobile so that they can quickly respond to emergencies in south-west Japan.”

Military might is also on the rise in China. The Economist notes that “China’s army is planning to add impressive new capabilities—an aircraft-carrier, a “carrier-killing” anti-ship ballistic missile, and a “stealth” jet fighter—without offering much clarity about its strategic intentions”. China reportedly tested the J-20 stealth plane during Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s visit to China earlier this year in January.

Gideon Rachman notes in Foreign Policy that Fortune's latest ranking of the world's largest companies has “only two American firms in the top 10 -- Walmart at No. 1 and ExxonMobil at No. 3 while there are already three Chinese firms in the top 10: Sinopec, State Grid, and China National”. With unfaltering economic prowess and resulting power, China’s stance in the matters of regional security and stability has become as critical as in the matters of economics and trade. As South Korea, U.S. and Japan condemned incidents thought to be provocations by North Korea, i.e., the sinking of Chonan and the shelling of Yonpyong Island, China held a much softer stance on North Korea. It was only during President Hu Jintao’s visit to the U.S. last month that he agreed to a joint statement that emphasized the importance of North-South dialogue and expressed concern for the first time regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) uranium enrichment program.

In a report titled "China and Inter-Korean Clashes in the Yellow Sea", The Crisis Group notes the “growing power and foreign policy confidence” as being important factors influencing China’s stance and underscores one of the complexities as follows:
In the past, Beijing’s willingness to at least calibrate its responses to North Korean provocations was seen by the West as essential for moderating Pyongyang’s behaviour. Over the past year, however, Beijing has not only escalated its claims to disputed territories in the South China Sea and Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, but also increasingly resisted external pressure over Iran as well as North Korea. It feels under less pressure to yield to external demands and increasingly expects quid pro quos from the West in return for cooperation on sensitive third-country issues.
In cooperation with the National Committee on United States-China Relations and in honor of the launch of a new book on China-Japan tensions, Japan Society presents Perils of Proximity: Managing Risk in East Asia, a panel of three regional experts featuring President, Eurasia Group Ian Bremmer, Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies Director Richard C. Bush, III, and Johns Hopkins Center for East Asian Studies Director Kent Kaldor. Moderated by Jan Berris, Vice President, National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, the [sold out] panel takes place at Japan Society on Monday, Feb 14, at 5:30pm.


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