Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Counterfactual: What If the Target-Control Radar Issue Been on the DPJ Foot?

Another piece of counterfactual speculation? Is this addictive or what?

On February 8, the Chinese Ministry of Defense issued a denial against the Japanese allegation that a PLA Navy frigate had locked its target-control radar on a MSDF destroyer. The next morning, the Japanese defense minister indicated that evidence might be released to the public if the Chinese authorities persisted in their denial. Later in the day, however, the same minister appeared to be hedging. As days went by, the Abe administration appeared to be further distancing itself from the disclosure option. By February 16, the Abe administration appeared to have decided definitively against disclosure.

The reasons given for the reluctance and (apparently) eventual abandonment are plausible, though questions remain. First, the MSDF appears to have been reluctant from the beginning because it did not want to reveal its counter-surveillance capabilities. But the factors that went into identifying the nature of the radar were already being made public. Would making the actual wavelength of the Chinese radar public in addition to the information that the MSDF could detect and identify such wavelengths further compromise Japanese security? Second, the defense minister, for one, worries that the Chinese authorities might not admit to the deed even after disclosure. But keeping the evidence under wraps instead of allowing outside experts, of whom there are many, to decide for themselves weakens the Japanese case even more than any Chinese denial. Third, there is the need to collaborate with China, specifically with regard to sanctions against North Korea in the wake of its latest nuclear test. Here, though, Chinese cooperation is grudging. More to the point, is Chinese behavior around the nuclear test influenced by its relationship with Japan? Is Japan, a non-nuclear, non-UNSC member state that has tied its hands against North Korea with its singular focus on the abduction issue, really a player?

There may be perfect explanations to reinforce all three arguments. But the Abe administration has been slow to make a coherent, convincing case for its actions, or lack thereof. In the meantime, a Chinese surveillance vessel has entered the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands as recently as February 18. So my counterfactual question is this: If this were a DPJ administration, would the opposition and the mainstream media have mostly stood by and given it a pass, or would they have swarmed all over it for waffling and, more generally, failing to stand up to China?

I have no personal attachment to the DPJ and did not vote for it in December, but I can’t help feeling sorry for it on this one.

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