Asia is now more prone to conflict than at any time in recent memory, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) academic Michael Auslin wrote in an article published in the Wall Street Journal.
“The East China Sea may see the world’s first war started by aerial drones,” Auslin wrote in the article, which also appeared on the institute’s Web site.
The British version of the Journal also published an editorial this week titled “Alarm over the Taiwan Strait, which said it is time for Taipei and Washington to shore up Taiwan’s deteriorating defenses.
“At flashpoints like the Taiwan Strait, perceptions of weakness can lead to dangerous miscalculations,” the editorial said.
Auslin, who is director of Japan Studies at AEI, said that unless China and Japan quickly find a way to settle their territorial dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) they are moving toward a military clash. Taiwan also claims the islands, which lie in the East China Sea and are called the Senkakus by Tokyo.
“By sending naval flotillas through international waters that pass between Japanese islands, flying early-warning airborne-control planes near strategic choke points and ramping up its use of drones, China is flexing the military might it has developed over the past two decades,” Auslin wrote in the report. “Across Asia, the Chinese-Japanese dynamic raises concerns that regional disputes will be settled only by might.”
That makes smaller countries nervous, especially those facing their own territorial disputes with China, as well as making it more difficult to develop any meaningful political mechanisms, the report added.
“One way or another, this crisis will change the balance of power in East Asia — either Japan will surrender territory it has controlled for a generation, or China will back down, becoming more resentful of today’s international system than before,” Auslin wrote.
Beyond that, the US-Japan alliance means that Washington needs to make it clear that its military support will be immediately forthcoming should China “cross the line or goad Japan into using force to protect its territory,” he wrote.
This summer, institute academic Michael Mazza wrote a Defense Security Brief saying the ongoing standoff in the waters around the Diaoyutais threatens Taiwan’s security.
“[Chinese] PLA [People’s Liberation Army] forces are getting prolonged experience operating in waters east of Taiwan and relatively near one of Taiwan’s most important port cities, not to mention Taipei itself,” he wrote.
The knowledge that Chinese sailors are now gaining would be used in any effort by Beijing to coerce or force Taiwan into a political settlement, Mazza said.
Eventual Chinese control of the island chain, or even an ongoing standoff, could mean a sustained Chinese naval presence in waters near Taiwan, he added.
Even though the primary purpose of Chinese vessels is defending against Japan, the ships would be well-positioned both to act against Taiwan and to forestall Japanese intervention in a cross-strait conflict, Mazza wrote in the briefing.
“Such [a] presence unsettles Taiwan’s northern flank and may require Taiwan’s military to adopt an extended peacetime defensive perimeter with a consequent diminishment in concentration of forces,” he wrote.
In its editorial, the Journal said that after two decades of increasing its military budget by more than 10 percent annually, China has nearly 2,000 ballistic missiles that “could level Taiwanese targets in minutes.”