Comments by the leaders of Japan and the Philippines drawing parallels between China’s growing assertiveness in the region and events in prewar Europe are “not helpful,” the commander of US air forces in the Pacific said.
“The rise of Germany and what occurred between the UK in particular and Germany, and what happened in Europe, I don’t draw that comparison at all to what’s going on today” in the Asia-Pacific, General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, 58, said in an interview yesterday in Singapore. “Some of the things, in particular that have been done by Japan, they need to think hard about what is provocative to other nations.”
Carlisle urged all countries involved in territorial disputes with China in both the East and South China Seas to try to defuse tensions. He said any move by China to extend an air defense identification zone south, where it has disputes over oil-rich waters with the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, would be “very provocative.”
The recent comments by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III — two US allies — have escalated tensions at a time when China is pushing its territorial claims in both the East and South China Seas, and as Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) expands the reach of his country’s navy. Both sought to cast China’s actions against the historical perspective of Germany’s ascension in the first half of the 20th century.
“The de-escalation of tensions has got to be a multilateral approach and it’s not just one country that needs to de-escalate,” said Carlisle, a former fighter squadron commander who is responsible for air force operations for more than half the globe, with oversight of 45,000 personnel. “All of them do. The risk from miscalculation is high. It’s greater than it should be.”
Abe said in Switzerland late last month that Germany and the UK went to war despite strong economic ties, and warned Japan and China must avoid a similar fate. In an interview with the New York Times published on Wednesday last week, Aquino called on nations to support the Philippines in defending its territory in the South China Sea, drawing a parallel with the West’s failure to back Czechoslovakia against Adolf Hitler’s demands for the Sudetenland in 1938.
“If you look at some of the things that have been going on in the East China Sea, both militaries have been conducting themselves very professionally,” Carlisle said. “But the potential for something, a mistake to occur or miscalculation or misunderstanding to occur, is out there. There is significantly more activity from both nations around the disputed territorial claims, and that to me is a risk.”
Any attempt by China to replicate its air zone in the South China Sea would be a “very provocative act,” said Carlisle, who was promoted to the rank of general in August 2012, according to his official Air Force profile.
The US opposes any such move and “we’ve strongly, through diplomatic channels, made that known to the PRC,” Carlisle said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) on Feb. 1 dismissed as “speculation” a report by Japanese newspaper Asahi that China also plans a zone in waters rich in fish, oil and gas that are home to some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
China introduced fishing rules last month requiring foreign vessels to seek permission before entering waters off its southern coast.