East Asia Theater
Well, it finally came to an actual clash—albeit, thank goodness, with water cannon, not actual munitions—over the contested East China Sea islands, and it was not China but Taiwan that provoked the escalation. On Sept. 25, some 40 Taiwanese fishing vessels accompanied by 12 patrol boats dispatched by Taipei entered waters off the islets that the Chinese call Diaoyu, the Japanese call Senkaku, and the Taiwanese call Diaoyutai or Tiaoyutai. When a Japanese Coast Guard ship fired a water cannon to disperse the fishing boats, a Taiwanese patrol ship fired its own water cannon at the Japanese ship. The Taiwanese ships were apparently given a warning to clear off but refused, asserting that they had the right to be in their own territorial waters. Many of the Taiwanese ships were flying banners declaiming their national right to the islands. The Taiwanese fleet, which approached the islands at around 8 AM, departed by midday, according to Japanese authorities. (Japan Times, Sept. 26; The Telegraph, Sept. 25)
Japan's cabinet on Sept. 19 failed to approve recommendations of a special government-appointed panel to phase out nuclear power by 2040, in a move openly portrayed in the country's media as a capitulation to pro-nuclear businesses interests. The panel had called for a 40-year limit on the lifespan of nuclear power plants, no new plant construction, and no expansion of existing nuclear power facilities. The cabinet decision came on the same day that Japan launched a new body to oversee the industry, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which replaces the existing Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. But critics say the new agency lacks any greater powers than the old one, and protest that its head, Shunichi Tanaka, who oversaw decontamination efforts at Fukushima, is a nuclear industry insider.
It was pretty surreal to hear Leon Panetta warning of an actual war between China and Japan, arriving in Tokyo just as the two Asian powers are facing off over contested islands in the East China Sea. What made it so incongruous is that despite the obvious lingering enmities from World War II (which for China really started in 1937, or maybe even 1931), in the current world conflict that we call World War 4, warfare is explicitly portrayed even by Pentagon planners as an instrument of globalization—bringing the light of "free markets" and "integration" to benighted regions of the globe that continue to resist their lures. Warfare is now "asymmetrical," posing a single superpower and its allies against "terrorists" and insurgents, or at the very most against "rogue states." The old paradigm of war between rival capitalist powers has seemed pretty irrelevant for the past generation. In the Cold War with the Russians, the superpowers manipulated proxy forces while the US aimed for strategic encirclement of the rival power. In the New Cold War with China that is now emerging, the US again seeks strategic encirclement, and while there aren't any proxy wars being waged (no contemporary equivalent of Vietnam or Angola or Nicaragua), Japanese and South Koreans should beware of their governments being entangled in Washington's containment strategy—as Panetta's own comments acknowledge, games of brinkmanship can get out of control. And, as we noted, even as he made his warning, he was in Japan to inaugurate a new anti-missile radar system, ostensibly designed to defend against North Korea, but certain to be perceived in Beijing as a part of the encirclement strategy...
The prospect of an actual shooting war between China and Japan got a little realer this week as both sides raised the stakes in the showdown over the barren East China Sea chain known as the Diaoyu Islands to the Chinese and as the Senkaku Islands to the Japanese. Over the weekend, angry anti-Japan protests spread to 85 cities across China. In Beijing, protesters besieged the Japanese embassy, hurling rocks, eggs and bottles. Police fired tear gas and used water cannon on thousands of protesters occupying a street in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Protesters broke into a Panasonic plant and several other Japanese-run factories as well as a Toyota dealership in Qingdao, Shandong province, ransacking and torching. In Shanghai, hundreds of military police were brought in to break up protesters outside the Japanese consulate, who chanted: ''Down with Japan devils, boycott Japanese goods, give back Diaoyu!'' (China Digital Times, SMH, Kyodo, Sept. 17)
Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Aug. 24 signed a resolution describing South Korea's control of islands in the Sea of Japan as an "illegal occupation." The resolution also calls for South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to apologize and renounce comments he made during an Aug. 15 surprise visit to the disputed island territory. These comments included a request for Japan's Emperor Akihito to apologize for the nation's occupation of the Korean penninsula during World War II. The disputed islands, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, are believed to contain valuable natural gas deposits. Noda has threatened to refuse to meet with Myung-Bak at the of the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok set for September.
On Aug. 15—not coincidentally, the 67th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II—a group of Chinese activists who had sailed from Hong Kong landed on Uotsurijima, one of the contested Senkaku Islands, and were promptly arrested by Japanese Coast Guard troops and Okinawa prefectural police. They succeeded in planting a Chinese flag on the island before five were arrested; another two managed to return to their fishing vessel and escaped. Japanese authorities say they will determine whether the detained men, now being held in Okinawa, will be prosecuted or deported back to Hong Kong. This was the first such incident since March 2004. But since 2009, the Hong Kong government has on six occasions stopped protest vessels from going to the contested islands. (Daily Yomiuri, Aug. 16; Xinhua, Japan Times, Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 16
Following a wave of protests on Okinawa against the planned deployment of a fleet of MV-22 Osprey aircraft by the US Marine Corps at the island's Futenma Air Station, the US Defense Department and Japan's government announced Aug. 5 that they will delay the deployment pending further tests of the aircraft's safety. The protests had the strong support of Takeshi Onaga, mayor of Naha, Okinawa's capital, and also won the sympathy of Yoshihiko Fukuda, mayor of Iwakuni, the city in southern Honshu's Yamaguchi prefecture where the 12 aircraft were to be assembled. In June, a US Air Force Osprey crashed in Florida, injuring all five airmen aboard, while a crash in Morocco in April left two Marines dead. The Ospreys, a hybrid craft that incorporates elements of both planes and helicopters, were to replace older CH-46 helicopters that are currently deployed at Futenma. (Japan Times, Aug. 5; RTT, July 27; AP, July 23; AP, July 20)
A Japanese expert panel on July 5 issued a report claiming that the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was preventable. In the 641-page document the panel claims that the accident was not caused solely by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, but the inability of the government, regulators and the Fukushima Daiichi plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), to act quickly enough to prevent the disaster. Among the criticized was also the then-Prime Minster Naoto Kan who resigned last year after a widespread criticism of his handling of the natural disaster and Fukushima nuclear crisis. The experts claimed that regulators have failed to adopt global safety standards that could have prevented the crisis.