Tue, Mar 01, 2005 - Page 8 News List

US, Japan send China a message

By Lin Cheng-yi 林正義

On Dec. 10, Japan approved defense guidelines for the next 10 years -- the National Defense Program Guideline for Fiscal Year 2005 and After. Regarding China and Taiwan, the document particularly noted that "China continues to modernize its nuclear forces and missile capabilities as well as its naval and air forces. It is also expanding its area of operation at sea. We will have to remain attentive to its future actions."

A month before the guideline was approved, a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine was discovered in Japan's waters south of Okinawa. Disputes between China and Japan have also included oil pipelines in Siberia, the exploration of natural-gas fields in the East China Sea and the sovereignty of the Tiaoyutai Islands (known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands). Their conflicts of interest have gradually been coming to the surface.

The US-Japan security alliance has taken North Korea's threat to Japan as a focus. The Japanese government has always been reluctant to publicly acknowledge China as a threat, or to take it as an potential enemy due to its growing strength. However, behind Japan's enthusiastic discussion of the North Korean threat, it cannot ignore another security concern: a possible crisis in the Taiwan Strait brought by Taiwan and China.

For China, US-Japan cooperation on security is probably not less significant than North Korea's nuclear threat. Washington is Beijing's biggest rival. However, China in reality must still yield to the US hegemony, since its power is still developing. But Japan is another story.

On Feb. 19, the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee, a deputy-ministerial-level forum, further listed the Taiwan Strait as a "common strategic objective" in this region. The statement was made on the basis of the previous Defense Policy Review Initiative.

This adds a new variable to Japan's reluctance to acknowledge China as a threat, and the tense Sino-Japanese relationship that exists today.

As US President George W. Bush starts his second term, his administration has defined Japan as "an equal partner in a mature relationship." Apart from security and diplomacy, the scope of the alliance also includes global and cross-border issues, as well as economic and financial cooperation. This is very different from the US-defined "sincere, constructive and cooperative" Sino-US relationship.

In a US-dominated deputy-ministerial-level security meeting in late November last year, both the US and Japan said they believed that China plans to strengthen its military forces to prevent interference from other countries if a cross-strait war breaks out. They therefore see it as important to discourage this from happening -- through the expansion of US capabilities in the West Pacific Ocean.

This strategy of dissuasion is different from that of deterrence, as dissuasion attempts to dissolve China's hostile rise mainly through military and diplomatic means.

With the Security Consultative Committee having acknowledged peace in the Strait as a common objective, Japan's existing definition of "peripheral affairs" based on situations rather than locations may subtly change, as the Strait is not only a neighboring area but also related to Japan's security.

As CIA Director Porter Goss said before the Senate Armed Services Committee, "Beijing's military modernization and build-up could tilt the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait ... Improved Chinese capabilities threaten US forces in the region."

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