My December Newsweek Japan Essay: Japan as a Unique Bulwark to Chinese Hegemony in Asia


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I recently joined Newsweek Japan in a more official capacity as a regular contributor. I am pleased to do so, as I increasingly think that Japan is the primary bulwark to Chinese hegemony in Asia. So more and more, my research interest is drifting toward the Sino-Japanese competition as weightier than the inter-Korean competition.

In that vein, I wrote the following story for the current volume of Newsweek Japan. In brief, I argue that only Japan has the strength to really block China’s rise to hegemony in east Asia. Russia is too weak, especially out here. India just can’t seem to get its act together (I used to push India really hard as an obstacle, but it just doesn’t seem up to it.) I am a skeptic of the US pivot, and sheer distance alone means the US need not confront China unless it wants to. The US will never be under a Chinese ‘Monroe Doctrine’ as Asia might be in the future. That leaves Japan as a unique bulwark – a front-line state with the wealth and state/bureaucratic capacity to give China a real run for its money. Indeed, one way to see the current tension is as another round of Sino-Japanese competition for Asian leadership going back to the mid-19th century. (As always, I’d love to hear from the Japan mil-tech guys on all this.)

Elsewhere I have argued that China’s rise to hegemony is unlikely, in part because I think Japan will vigorously balance China. (Indeed, it probably is already.) So this essay is an expansion of that previous argument. The essay follows the jump.

“The recent declaration of an expanded ‘air defense identification zone’ (ADIZ) by China in the East China Sea has exposed the emerging fault line of Asian politics for all to see. Sino-Japanese competition is now broadly accepted by observers. Japan today is almost certainly balancing against China as an emerging threat. The days of accommodating China’s rise are closing.

The Sino-Japanese split will be the central divide in East Asia for the next several decades, and it will suck in states as far away as the United States and India. But given the contemporary weakness of Russia and India, and the sheer distance of the United States from the region, Japan will emerge as the primary obstacle to Chinese regional dominance. Japanese opinion is deeply divided on this role, but China’s inexorable rise will force this choice on Tokyo in the coming years. The recent ADIZ expansion is just one example of the uncomfortable choices to come.

Why a New Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone ?

A central problem for observers of Chinese foreign policy decision-making is bureaucratic opacity. We have no clear explanation from the Chinese on why the new zone was suddenly declared, or why there was so little consultation with China’s neighbors. The Chinese have recently maintained that their zone expansion discussion went back several months, but few observers in the relevant neighborhood – Japan, South Korea, or the US – knew of this. And the sudden rashness of the ADIZ expansion is what drew such sharp responses.

The ‘black box’ of Chinese foreign policy decision-making will regularly generate such tensions with outsiders. In democracies, major decisions are debated publicly for an extended period with multiple voices, often including foreigners, participating. For example, the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was debated publicly for more than a year, with voices all over the world helping shape the discussion. And when the Bush administration did go to war, that decision was not a great surprise and had been somewhat anticipated by many. Such openness makes democracies’ foreign policies more predictable and therefore less provocative. In China by contrast, decisions often just ‘happen’ with little external accountability or understanding of the process. This leaves surprised outsiders guessing at motives, and, inevitably, suspicious. It is obvious, for example, that China did not expect such a strident response to the ADIZ expansion. Until China explains itself better to the world, its shadowy, factionalized, overly-militarized, and poorly understood foreign policy process will regularly encourage apprehension if not paranoia.

This transparency failure is a major break-point with democratic states and is evident in the several possible explanations of the ADIZ expansion:

1. Belligerence: the Chinese really are picking a fight with Japan. They may figure that US Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel’s visit to Japan a couple months ago made Japan into an open challenger to China. America is trying hard to avoid an open confrontation with China. But Japan is increasingly unabashed that is it balancing China directly as a threat. So maybe the Chinese are thinking: ‘Abe’s playing tough; we have to also.’

2. Blowback: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is doing this for domestic legitimacy purposes. CCP ideology since the Tiananmen Square massacre is nationalism, not communism. And Japan is the great foreign enemy in that narrative. So now the CCP is stuck; they have to be tough on Japan – even if they do not want to be – because their citizens demand it.

3. Incompetence: the CCP and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) did not really realize just how severely locals and the US would react. Chinese bullying in the South China Sea has worked out reasonably well so far, so maybe they felt they were on a roll and could do the same in the East China Sea. But China’s northeast Asian neighbors are much more capable than in southeast Asia.

4. the Transition: President Xi Jinping wants to make a splash as the new boss. Our knowledge of CCP factions is weak (coastal Shanghai princelings vs hinterland populists is the usual breakdown, with Xi being from the Shanghai clique), but we know Xi was not a shoe-in. There was an internal contest, so Xi might be consolidating power in his new ‘national security council’ with a flashy foreign crisis.

Making a Claim without Making a Claim

Inevitably the answer is some mix of these. The emerging story seems to be that this was a PLA pet-project. Antagonizing Japan is always a winning strategy in Chinese domestic politics, and the PLA helps justify its budget through tension with the Japanese enemy. Xi, being very new, either lacked the bureaucratic clout to stop this, or tacitly supported it. But it is increasingly clear that the PLA did not realize how swiftly Japan, South Korea, and the US would respond.

And while the diplomatic fracas boils on, there is also a subtle long-play at work. The ADIZ is great way to stake a claim without actually staking a formal claim. The international rules for such air zones are vague. Some states do not even have them. Ostensibly they function like buffers to national airspace (over territory), but they carry a whiff of sovereignty and control with them too. For example, Japan’s ADIZ does not include the Liancourt Rocks, because Japan did not want South Korea to expand its ADIZ to include Socotra Rock. In this way, Japan and South Korea both expressed and balanced their competing territorial claims through their ADIZs. (South Korea did recently expand its ADIZ to include Socotra, but that was done in response to China, not Japan.) It appears that China is now trying this too.

China has backed off to where there is no threat of its previously declared ‘emergency measures’ on violation of the zone. That drove much of the early hysteria that China might force down civilian airliners. Instead, Beijing is requesting pre-notification of travel through the zone, and that seems harmless and simple to do. For commercial airlines with little interest in the geopolitics of it all, compliance is easy and wise. Even the US government is now advising US airlines to comply and notify China. But this subtly resets the status quo. It allows China to return in a decade or two and suggest its East China Sea claims have in fact been ratified by the behavior of others. It is for this reason that both Tokyo and Seoul arm-twisted their commercial airlines into non-compliance. This is now game of brinksmanship.

Who could Block China’s Rise?

The ADIZ and East China Sea conflicts are only steps in the larger story of China’s rise and the fear it is generating in its neighbors. China is so large that it is all but impossible to prevent its return to superpowerdom at this point. Under the decadent late Qing dynasty and the misrule of the republicans and then Mao, China was a middle power for more than a century. But now that it is governed far better, its full power potential is being unlocked. Even were the US, Japan, and EU to cease trading with China, in a full-blown effort to block it, its other markets, as well as large internal market, would continue to power its rise. Chinese hegemony is not inevitable, but Chinese power almost certainly is.

So who could prevent Chinese dominance in Asia despite Chinese power? Four states: Russia, India, the US, or Japan.

Like many of China’s neighbors, Russia will trade with China but has no interest in Chinese hegemony. President Putin has lately visited with other states in Asia to let this be known. But Russia is very weak in Asia. The bulk of its population and industry are in European Russia with almost no presence in the vast expanse of Siberia. Also under Putin, Russia is both in decline and an unreliable ally to democratic Asian states.

India is an important long-term obstacle to China. It has the sheer size to compete head-to-head with China, and it is, thankfully, a democracy. Japanese diplomacy has recently recognized this. One easy prediction about the course of Asian international politics in the next several decades is a tightening Indo-Japanese relationship. Both are liberal democracies, proximate to China, fearful of its rise, in territorial disputes with it, and allied to the United States. Unfortunately, India today, like Russia, is too economically weak to seriously contest China. It is also badly tied down by its constant troubles with Pakistan (which is supported by China for this very reason) and Islamic terrorism. India has also made it clear to the US that it is not interested in open alignment against China. Given that China’s primary expansions have been to the east, in the seas, there is no immediate Indian cause for anti-Chinese alignment

That leaves the US and Japan, which is basically how the analyst community is now reading east Asia after the Chinese ADIZ expansion this month: US and Japan vs. China. Unlike India and Russia, Japan’s economy is actually capable of challenging China, because its massive technology advantage acts as a huge multiplier of Japanese power. That is, even though Japan is numerically much smaller than China, including its armed forces, its substantial technological edge over China means its individual soldiers and weapons systems are substantially more capable than their Chinese counterparts. It is an open secret, for example, that Japan could build a nuclear weapon in just a few months if it wished. Japan’s GDP is only slightly smaller than China’s, and Abenomics appears to be re-igniting the Japanese economy. If Abe can pull Japan back into sustained growth with his ‘third arrow’ of structural reform, Japan may be capable of competing head-to-head with China – as Abe seems to hope.

Finally, China is unlikely to actually invade Japanese territory. The struggle for East Asia will mostly take place at sea, in the air, and in space. A Sino-Japanese clash is most likely in the East China Sea over Senkaku. Ships, stealth planes, drones, satellites, missiles, and missile defense will be the primary systems of such a clash. Mastery of the ‘networked battlefield’ through ‘C4ISR’ (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) will be decisive over such large open spaces, and here the US and Japan are far ahead. Japan has been a maritime power for decades, while China is still primarily a land power.

The Japanese Challenge

The US too is an obvious competitor to China, but it faces tougher limits than I believe are often admitted in the Asian security debate. Its debt and deficit are badly out of control; much of American deficit spending is funded by Chinese savings, a spigot that would immediately close in a conflict. And the US public is wary of more wars in Asia after the poor results of the war on terrorism. Although the Obama administration has pushed hard the notion of an American ‘pivot’ to Asia, I am very skeptical; I have argued in previous volumes of this magazine that the pivot is limited by low US public interest in Asia and high US (often Christian) interest in the Middle East.

So the US is unlikely to openly challenge China. China does not challenge US security as directly as it does Japan or the states of the South China Sea. States such as the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, or Vietnam are simply too small, while India and Russia are too weak, at least today. Hence my argument here for Japan as a unique bulwark to Chinese hegemony. Only Japan is both genuinely capable and a front-line state. Indeed, it was usually Japan in Asia’s past that was the primary challenger to Chinese dominance. That geopolitical structure has not changed.

It is not clear that Japan wishes such a role, although Abe’s election seems to suggest that the Japanese public is waking up to this challenge. If Japan does not lead regarding China, the US will not take this up alone. The US cannot force Japan into a foreign policy it does not want. This is ultimately a decision Japan must make for itself. China is simply too large now (and America too financially strapped) for Japan to ‘buck-pass’ its national defense to the US much longer. The recent ADIZ expansion is just the start of the Japanese challenge to check China’s rise.”

31 thoughts on “My December Newsweek Japan Essay: Japan as a Unique Bulwark to Chinese Hegemony in Asia

  1. A good article again. I would question only the assertion that it was “usually Japan in Asia’s past that was the primary challenger to Chinese dominance”. Until the 1894 Sino-Japanese War, I am not aware of any example of Japan having ever posed a challenge or threat to China; the closest it came was Hideyoshi’s 1592 attempt to conquer Ming China, which didn’t get further than the Korean peninsula and was largely defeated by the Chinese.

    I don’t think this detracts from your broader argument of contemporary geopolitics, but I would suggest balancing China has not been a “traditional” premodern role of Japan. Unless modern Japan be interpreted as a maritime extension/replacement of Manchuria, in which case it can be incorporated into the “tripolar” framework of competing power centres (China proper – Mongol steppe – Manchuria) which best describes the dynastic cycles of Chinese history, including the modern PRC.

  2. I think this a good situation for South Korea. As long the attention was focused on the Korean peninsula like it was back in the cold war it was very constrained in what it could do. North Korea would be losing by not having attention focused on the peninsula. It’s sabre rattling and brinksmanship has relied on the attention it could garner. The rivalry between Japan and China will shift Chinese attention away from North Korea as well as US away from South Korea since the US is looking at Asia as a whole region instead of just South Korea and Japan eventhough Japan is the central focus of the US in the Far East.

    I’m not quite sure if I would label China as a superpower to be since it still has a long way to go.

  3. This is an interesting, well argued post. Many I already visit daily, but there’s some that I’d never heard of and am excited to check out! I admire you and your knowledge in writing.You make essay writing fun!! I’m loving this so much. Thanks🙂

  4. Japan certainly has the motivation. Besides the two invasions against China, during the last five centuries, Japanese had repeatedly harassed the Chinese along the coast and even deep into inland, invaded Korea multiple times and slaughtered their beloved Queen Min (and still put the war criminals in the Shrine and worshipping them), while Han Chinese and Korean had never initiated an invasion or war against Japan. Aggression and expansion is the nature of the nation. Europe may not understand this, because largely they were not involved. However, East Asia and USA have been wary and susceptible. That is why only Japan has been required to have the “peace constitution”. On the other hand, because of this nature, Japan will eventually figure out a way to break away from it. To balance China is the best excuse. All the provoking to China ever since the nationalization of that small island and big buzz around ADIZ should be understood under this context: Japan right-wing needs to find a “legitimate rationale” to break away from their Peace Constitution. Because of this deep motivation, Japan will keep initiating dramas, placing thorns, and acting as the trouble-maker in next decades.

    How effective can Japan be the bulwark is another question, esp. when Japan has little moral ground in East Asia. Moreover, the next Sino-Japan war won’t be as small and confined as you predicted in the article. Chinese Communist Party(CCP) would for sure lose its ruling legitimacy if they wanted to limit the scale of the war and then lost. The choice for CCP leaders is essentially… none but escalating the scale.

    On the other hand, USA is obviously trying to use Japan as the balancer. This is a delicate and even somewhat dangerous game for USA to play, like raising up a beast which may one day get out of control and turn around biting you. After all, would the same bunch of Japan right-wing nationalists really forget the two nukes dropped upon their civilians? …….ask ourselves this question……I would trust my common sense and gut feeling here.

    • >Japan certainly has the motivation.

      Badfish, you should learn to differentiate between motivation and history.

      >Besides the two invasions against China, during the last five centuries

      Well, the second one chronologically is well known, but which are you taking as the “first”? That little spat over Korea in 1895 or do you mean the one (that was also just about all on Korea) in Tokugawa’s era?

      >Japanese had repeatedly harassed the Chinese along the coast and even deep into inland, invaded Korea multiple times and slaughtered their beloved Queen Min (and still put the war criminals in the Shrine and worshipping them)

      Quite frankly, the whole Queen Min story actually tells me more about Korea than Japan at the time. Say what you want about Japanese killing MIn (if you ignore the whole injuction against killing enemy rulers, actually this is a lot cleaner of a method than invading a country and killing a bunch of soldiers and undoubtedly civvies to get what you want … so in any case it is hard to get too excited about it), you would think that killing Queen Min would get the whole nation into a “We might have to Eat it this time but Never Again” mood … it did not. In fact, it seems Korea lost what little development it did manage under Min … directly permitting its annexation.

      >while Han Chinese and Korean had never initiated an invasion or war against Japan.

      To escape their participation in the invasion of Mongol invasions of Japan (since there weren’t that many Mongols), we add “Han”🙂

      >Aggression and expansion is the nature of the nation

      Wow … that’s a quick conclusion from … according to you … two invasions.

      You are already demonstrating a reason why Europe is much less concerned and also why it is relatively safe for Germany to apologize. For 500 years, Europe has always been at war with each other. So in a sense, it just wasn’t as big a deal for them to get invaded. Two is uh … nothing.

      >On the other hand, USA is obviously trying to use Japan as the balancer.

      From a viewpoint of maintain its hegemony or at least preventing another hegemon, it is much safe to use a balancer that you hold an advantage over than something with a billion people.

      >why can’t China just rise?

      The world, including Japan, was relatively content for China to just rise until a few years ago when China increasingly started to reveal its aggressive colors.

      • China’s military power will rise along with its economic rise. China used to have the dominant GDP for almost a thousand years. However, China tends to be rich but not strong. For example, it was invaded and conquered by Mongolians during Song dynasty when it was possessing 80% world GDP. This kind of humiliation had happened several times. The days have long gone. China has taken the historic lesson to its deep heart. China will build its military capability to match and protect its wealth.

        Along the process, China certainly wants a peaceful rising. Regardless its ultimate goal, which will be largely shaped by the international politics, China has no intention to be aggressive when there is still long way to go. However, whether or not for China to really have a peaceful rise is not entirely dependent on China itself. Its historic foes know this is the period to take advantage of. They need to be aggressive and lock down what they can grab now and make it the Status Quo. And if if possible, initiating a war against China before it is developed to break its progress. China perceives this plot eventually, and is realizing that a peaceful rise doesn’t mean a defenseless rise, or it will face the same fate of being rich but weak.

        Do you think there might a double-standard here during the process? when USA and Japan are flying the jets and having navy drills in the open sea which is so close to China, it is called as peace making (reminds me about the peacemakers in the Hunger Games); whereas when China has a drill which is much less advanced and in smaller scale, it is called as aggression. When Japan has its AIDZ which is just 80 miles away from China soil and includes the disputed Diaoyu Islands, it is called maintaining the Status Quo. When Japan nationalized Diaoyu Islands, which changed the Status Quo and then ignited a chain of escalations ever since, it is said for peacemaking again. Talking about aggression, Japan is the most aggressive nation in East Asia based on both the history and the present. It is an everlasting thorn of East Asia. The recent visit of Abe to Yasukuni Shrine further deepens the thorn. And the fact that over 50% of Japanese supports his visit only indicates Japan will be a thorn and trouble-maker of East Asia for a very long time, if not everlasting.

  5. Continued thoughts…

    China will be or is the most influential country in East Asia, but why would Chinese seek for hegemony over other countries, given it has so many daunting domestic problems? According to the recent poll, vast majority of its elites have no interest to become a world police or lead the world. China is focusing on domestic stability and development, for it knows it has a long way to go.

    Isn’t it possible that some interest groups in USA and Japan are playing a such hype to achieve their own agenda: gaining great fortune or cultivating and mobilizing their right-wingers for a even greater mission? They are definitely making good progresses.

  6. [Quote]Who could Block China’s Rise?

    Also, why is there such a question in the first place?🙂 why can’t China just rise? Does it have to lay low so it gets bullied by Westerners and Japanese like 6-7 decades ago? What kind of ideology is it?🙂

    If we treat a guy like he is one of our friends, he may not become a friend. However, if we treat him as an enemy, he surely will become such a one as expected.

    • The article doesn’t mention the fiscal situation that Japan is in. Their sovereign debt is the highest in the developed world at over 200% GDP. If they suffer a financial meltdown because of it who could block China’s Rise? Japan will just be forced to rely on their qualitative advantage that they already have and be constrained from trying to beef up what their capabilities further. On the flip side a commodities trader based in Australia has told me that nobody takes the statistics that the Chinese release seriously. It seems to suggest that the chinese could have governance issues. Look at their concern of local government debt primarily driven by the fact that local communists just build do show “economic development” since they are being evaluated on that. The bankruptcy of Detroit scared the CCP. Both China and Japan could find themselves that they have to temper their posture because of this.

      • yes, its Premier Keqiang Li doesn’t trust the GDP figure. He is using his own indices, the so called Keqiang Index, which makes better sense in China. China needs another few decades to execute the reform which is now getting closer and closer to the hardcore problems and becoming increasingly difficult. The central gov needs to build up more authority to execute their plans more effectively. One approach to build up authority is to take on the CCP corruption problem, which has been the top concern for President Xi. Japan is not his top concern yet. We see Abe talks about China over and over again. How many times do we see Chinese president and premier talking about Japan?

  7. Today Chinese political clout and abashed muscle-flexing are fueled by its economic might. As an Indian I feel, with an impotent and corrupt government at the Union, we are hardly a counter-force. Hopefully, when we have a strong and patriotic government next year, we need to forge stronger ties with the countries in Chinese rim-land like Vietnam, Phillipines, Japan, S Korea…..Though it may sound impractical, with growing Chinese imperialist ambitions, it may not be unwise to raise a joint combat corpse of 4 lakh soldiers deployed from Karakoram in the west to Kamchatka in east, literally encircling the dragon. Since, Japan, India and S Korea are bigger economies, they will have to shoulder the expanses majorly. India, anyways is more worried about its northern and north-eastern frontiers than north-western, Pakistan can never be a match for India, we have inflicted humiliating defeats upon them thrice. But, current ruling dispensation is too impotent to respond to over 1000 adventurism of PLA’s patrolling party on the Indian soil. And frankly, US under Mr Obama is too interested in messing the Mid-east issues, covert backing to MB and regime changes have only strengthened radical jehadi elements, and has also engulfed large part of Africa. As China grows mightier, US will get more accommodating, it’s mainly India and Japan that have to take the call and respond appropriately.

    Enjoyed your insight on the issue! Thanks!

    • Worried Indian,

      As some other commentators have mentioned, China and India did not have much of a conflict aside from the skirmish 60 years ago. Why are people in India so worried about China? And what can China possibly do to alleviate Indian concerns?

      I feel that a lot of Indians and Chinese doesn’t really understand each other, despite the fact that we Chinese learned a lot from India over the centuries, especially considering Buddhism. It would be refreshing to hear from an Indian point of view. Peace!

      Your friend from China,
      Sam

  8. Robert,

    I read your excellent essay on Japan as a bulwark against China.

    My thoughts in a few words.
    1. Many of us in India feel Japan is our natural ally against China. It is the socialist-Congress aligned with innumerable pseudo-progressive parties that is preventing such an alliance from blossoming.
    2. If Mr. Modi comes to power in 2014, all this will change. Mr. Rajnath Singh, Mr. Arun Jaitely and other stalwarts of the BJP are wise men who can see how critical Japan, Israel and Europe will be for India going forward. Though the BJP is the best ally in India for the USA, American diplomacy has made some blunders with regards to Mr. Modi. The US will either have to do some very skillful diplomacy to overcome the hangover left by the foolish decision ban Mr. Modi from entering the USA, or they have to reconcile themselves to a secondary role in Indian foreign policy.
    3. Many of us in India and America feel that India should use this strange circumstance created by the Americans, to wean ourselves away from America, American technology and pop culture.
    4. Japan would be able meet all of India’s technical needs to grow the infrastructure. The South Koreans are already well entrenched in India. The best part of it is, Japanese and South Korean business interests do not come with riders demanding the entry of American big-box stores, American missionaries, or Soda and Burger joints that destroy populations!
    5. For defense needs India will look more and more to Israel and European firms. In fact, the last monopoly that America held in civil aviation is also fast disappearing because of Airbus.
    6. Yes, the information technology industry in India is still heavily dependent on the USA, but it is still a small percentage of the overall economy. If India embarks on a program to build up the country, the sheer magnitude of development will generate jobs that will compensate the loss of revenue from the IT sector; Of course, that is a dramatic turn of events, but I mention that to say that India is not like Iran, if indeed things come to such a pass that America and India become economically uncoupled.
    7. You have mentioned all the hurdles India faces, but here is one that is probably even more important than all you have mentioned. Corruption. Corruption is the enabler of all the problems you have listed. Many of us in the conservative side of the political spectrum (again, foolishly labeled by the US media as ‘Hindu Fundamentalists!) feel that the rise of Mr. Modi will usher in an era of cleaner politics.

    Please consider these points in your next essay about the region. Thank you for your scholarship. Whether I agree or not with you, I benefit from reading the thoughts of intelligent people like you.

  9. India and China have no major clash in thousands of years of history, except for a short skirmish 60 year ago. India has never been a stratigical enemy to China. In fact, in China’s laundry list of concerns, India is not even among top 5, probably not even among top 10. It is interesting in seeing India jumps into this mess and actively invites hostility from China. Unwise…

    • Dear badfish2010,

      As a fellow Chinese, I feel that your easy dismissal of Indian concerns as “unwise” speaks of arrogance. Of course Indian people have a right to pursue the course that they deem best, and if they have concerns or worries over our country’s intentions, we should first explain, as fellow Asians, of our good intentions before resorting to lecturing others.

      I further believe that the poor ability for most Chinese, including those in the government, to explain our nation’s good intentions to the outside world, that has invited much of the hostilities directed against us today.

      Sam

      • thanks for the reminder. i think one of the bigger problem is that some Chinese who are better at communication just don’t stand out often to communicate in a humble but firm way. Instead, choosing to be silent when it matters and and to be more vocal towards his own fellows.

  10. I am also interested to ask the Indian commentators here, why and in what way do they consider China a threat? Is it simply concerning the immediate border and associated territory dispute? Does support for Tibet play into it? Is it the same as nearly every other country (especially China and Japan), exaggerating an external threat to divert attention from (or even stimulate) domestic politics?

  11. China is bordering with 14 countries on land and another dozen over the sea. It is not surprising there are a couple of countries having unsettled territory disputes over the land and a few more over the sea. Most of those are not in the core interest of China and can be solved peacefully eventually, I believe, for there are little historic hatred and civilian causalities been involved. The dispute of Diaoyu Islands is just a tip of iceberg; whereas the dispute of a land between India and China is in much less scale without much greater and further context. This could be settled down eventually just like how China has settled with many other neighbors including Russia over the last few decades. After all, both India and China has long history of civilization and have been living together peacefully over thousands of years. China even imported Buddhism from India, which is depicted in one of most popular folk novel Monkey King. It would be a shame that these two ancient countries don’t have the wisdom to solve their dispute and differences.

    Talking about the idea of “forming a ring to containing the dragon”, it is frankly quite delusional. Can you possibly do that, giving there are quite a few neighbors friendly to China? Even if you can, what about one day the dragon breaks the ring finally, what will be waiting for you? Unless you believe the dragon can be cuffed forever, which is almost impossible, given the size of China and their people’s consciousness have been gradually awakened and they have been so hardworking and intelligent. Lot of times, there is so called self-fulfilling prophecy. If you predict it is an enemy of you and then act accordingly, it will really become an enemy of you, and it will become a very formidable one. That will be very sad for both sides.

    While I’m also interested in the commentators’s view, I’m holding the precaution that they may not be the mainstream voice in India. I have many Indian colleges and friends. And the India leaders are holding more delicate positions, at least according to the public news.

  12. In the near to mid term, Japan is a potential bulwark to Chinese hegemony and I agree that this is mainly confined to northwestern Pacific waters. Within the context of history though during the past 2 milleniums, Sino-Japanese competition is a recent affair, mainly from the second half of the 19th century (at a time when China was invaded by western powers) with the exception of the short lived ill fated invasion by the Mongol Yuan dynasty a few centuries earlier. Of the countries that share a land border with China, only 2 countries have successfully repealed and defeated numerous Chinese invasions over 2500+ years, they are Vietnam and Korea. Vietnam even regained its independence from a 1000 year occupation by China. I agree that in size, both countries are very small relative to China, but any Chinese expansion or invasion southwards in the future will be met with the same determination now as it was 1000 years ago and even if it may take 1000 years to prevail. As to India, India civilization and the Himalaya are both natural barriers for China hegemony to overcome.
    This said, we should also look at the looming China-US competition in the Pacific. China wants to divide the Pacific in half, all the countries within the 1st island chains (which includes Japan as well) to fall under its sphere of influence and to limit US sphere to the Eastern Pacific (west of Hawaii)

  13. Very interesting analysis, especially of the ADIZ expansion. I found your comment about Putin’s Russia being in decline especially interesting, as it goes against the general discourse on Russia. Do you think Russia will have a greater role to play in Asia as Putin modernises the Russia military? There is after all little room for expansion in Europe.

    Also, would the Japanese-Russia mutual defence treaty have an impact on Chinese decision making in terms of conflict with China? The US has said that the Senkaku Islands fall under the treaty, wouldn’t that mean US involvement in any conflict would be inevitable?

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