Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tom Berger on Japanese Apologies

I have been critical of Tom Berger before, but his comments in this email interview is about as balanced and perceptive as it gets. Incidentally, the title of the article and the interviewer’s comments well represent the conventional wisdom in the West, as does this WaPo blogpost. I wonder if Abe’s minders realize the public communications task up ahead.

Why Has the Chinese Response Been Muted?

It’s not too difficult to find good reasons why the Chinese response to Prime Minister Abe’s visit has been muted and passive compared to the 2011 maritime collision and 2012 real estate purchases. First, there’s no need to rub salt into the self-inflicted Japanese wound. The typical initial Chinese response to what it sees as provocation has been noisy and belligerent historically. But the international response has been overwhelmingly negative for Japan. Why drum up negative feedback from third parties that would only deflect blame from Japan? Besides, they’ve been there before with Prime Minister Koizumi, an experience that surely is acting as an anchor for subsequent incidents.

Second, the visit is an event that, once concluded, leaves bad feelings galore but no material aftereffects, unlike the Japanese government’s purchase of the three Senkaku Islands (of the four) that had remained in private hands. The purchase altered the status quo for good, a change that was irrelevant to Japanese minds in terms of the sovereignty question but meaningful to the Chinese, who appear to see the purchase from a very different legal and political perspective. The apprehension of the Chinese fishing boat captain falls somewhere in between, as the status quo was changed and remained so until he was released and returned without being charged, whereupon the situation reverted to the status quo. To put the three incidents in an analogous perspective, imagine Abe setting up residency on the Yasukuni premises or the Japanese authorities holding the Chinese captain in indefinite detention at, say, a labor reeducation camp. But they didn’t. The Japanese authorities released the captain without charging him. And Abe left promptly after giving a press briefing, leaving nary a trace of the authority of his office there.

Third, as a point partially subsidiary to the second, no perceived harm was done to China’s material interests or sovereignty claims by the Yasukuni visit. The actions of the Japanese legal system against the Chinese captain were certainly an exercise of Japan’s administrative powers that could be material in determining effective control and, ultimately, sovereignty. The Sekaku purchase likewise was perceived as a reinforcement of government control over the islands (which, in a way very different from the Chinese perspective, it was). The Yasukuni visit, by contras, hurt Chinese feelings, but caused little more by way of damage real or imagined.

The second and third points have significance going forward. I have seen a few analysts speculating about the possibility of Chinese escalation further down the line, citing (if my memory serves me correctly) the Senkaku purchase as precedent. I think that they are wrong. If there was a lesson to teach the Japanese, it was right after the visit. I do not think that revisiting the incident upon further reflection even a week after it occurred makes sense. Of course I could be wrong, in which case those analysts will waste no opportunity to point to their highly inconclusive speculations and claim that they’d told you so. And that’s how you play this game, friends.

Administrative Measures as a Political Tool and the Extraterritorial Reach of Anti-Trust Law

“Economic interests are a different story. Japanese companies doing business in China will be hit. There will be what amounts to an informal boycott of Japan-branded consumer products, and business [with] the national and local governments as well state-owned companies will be harder to secure than it already is. All in all, the economic backlash will be smaller than it was in the wake of the 2011 (fishing boat-Coast Guard vessel collision) and 2012 (Senkaku purchase) events.”

One of the points implicit in that segment of one of my previous posts was that I did not expect to see the kind of harsh administrative actions such as the crackdown on rare metals exports to Japan (how much retaliatory motives factored into actual Chinese will never be known since China had already been in the process of drastically reducing rare metal exports for commercial and environmental reasons) and the less coordinated but also pervasive delays in customs procedures for merchandise goods belonging to Japanese firms. Still, there are any number of ways in which the regulatory authorities in China can make life less comfortable for Japanese businesses doing business there without drawing much attention. They will be hard to detect, though, since there need not be any explicit instructions from the government/party leadership for them to happen. In fact, it could be freebooting by individual agencies acting on their own initiative, or even a single official, incensed by Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Yasukuni, who has decided to take things into his own hands and ask a few more questions, demand yet another certified document… indeed, the official need not even be angry at Japan, he may just be protecting himself from accusations that he’s going soft on Japanese businesses. And if he had been seen wining and dining with executives of Japanese affiliates before the Xi-Li regime got serious with its anticorruption campaign, well…

This effect will be hard to detect, and the evidence will almost surely be anecdotal and, for the most part, anonymously sourced. Which brings me to this Yomiuri article regarding M&A activities involving Japanese firms being delayed by Chinese and South Korean antitrust authorities that offers (unsourced) speculation connecting a Chinese slowdown of the administrative process after the 2012 Senkaku acquisition. Note that, unlike the ex-im cases, China and South Korea, indeed any one of more than 200 sovereign states or the EU could, hypothetically, put a damper on the global plans of multinationals if it decided to do so out of pique. Of course businesses can ignore the demands of a microstate and kiss that market goodbye, but they will be hard put to do so to China and, to a lesser extent, South Korea.

China has been on the other end of the stick in the somewhat analogous national interest-related cases involving acquisition proposals in the United States, Canada and Australia. Could they be doing the same to Japanese interests there? Yomiuri speculates.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Did I Nail It? Yes, I think I did

According to this Sankei report—yes, it’s Sankei, but you Western liberals should take its word for it; it’s as reliable as Asahi when it comes to the facts, in fact, it probably has a better record, since there appears to be a disproportionate amount of Asahi reporters getting caught concocting evidence—Chinese ships entered the Senkaku territorial waters two days after Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Yasukuni and one week after their last sojourn there. A one week interval is significantly shorter than usual, so the presumption is that this latest visit was designed to express Chinese displeasure.

The prediction, in case you can’t be bothered to scroll down:

“I would be surprised… if the Chinese vessels currently lurking in the adjacent waters of the Senkaku Islands do not venture into the territorial waters in the coming days.”

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Where Does Governor Nakaima stand on Henoko?

Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima has been catching some flak for allegedly turning his back on his reelection campaign promise to seek relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma (MCAS) outside of Okinawa. I wrote the following memo to clarify my understanding of the situation. (Unedited, excepting the deletion of a reference to an Okinawan official to avoid any possible misunderstanding that the official might be supportive of my assessment.) As you can see by comparison with my comment here, I have moderated my snap-reaction assessment of the effect of a victory for the anti-base incumbent in the Nago mayoral election in January on further reflection.


Nakaima's top priority is to close the Futenma Base as soon as possible.
To that end, he is willing to accept the relocation to Henoko. However, political circumstances compelled him to switch his position to (by any reasonable interpretation permanent) relocation outside of Okinawa when he successfully sought relection.

Deterioration in the security environment directly affecting Okinawa provided the backdrop against which the pro-Nakaima Abe/LDP administration was able to convince Nakaima to reverse his opportunistic opposition to the Henoko solution, lubricating the move with inducements consisting mostly of acceleration and other improvements regarding the overall rearrangement as well as a significant amount of fiscal incentives.

In order to push back against the politically damaging charge that he has gone back on his campaign promise, he inserted the possibility of a temporary shift and is claiming that it would nevertheless qualify as relocation. It is a piece of sophistry that is not that surprising coming from a national civil service alumnus.

So Nakaima is de facto committed to a package that accelerates the closing of Futenma and transfers the helicopters/Ospreys there to Henko, though he will not say so in those explicit terms.

What happens between now and the eventual outcome, though, is very much contigent on the kind of arrangement that the Abe and subsequent administrations work out with the US side and local governments and communities within Japan. Moreover, the eventual schedule on the ground at Henoko will depend to a significant extent on the outcome of Nago's mayoral election in January. The municipal government reportedly can put some administrative obstacles in from of the propective base. For example, it could deny extension of the local water supply system. A lawsuit would eventually take care of that, but it could add significant time before the Henoko base is finally up and running.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My “Drawing the Line” Prediction Falls Short…Both Ways

Liberals as defined in American English may not like Sankei and Yomiuriokay, they definitely don’t like Sankei and Yomiuribut they have to give them plaudits for keeping so much content outside their paywalls and for so long. In this respect, Asahi and Mainichi are distinctly illiberal.

Anyway, I predicted that “[t]he Chinese authorities will make sure that public protests are orderly, drawing the line at flag-burning.” It turns out that they’re clamping down on protests, period. According to news reports from Yomiuri (here) and Sankei (here), only a few individuals showed up in from of the Japanese embassy in Beijing to protest despite an online call for demonstrations, as the authorities denied requests for permission*.

Wait, there’s more. I got it wrong in the other direction, too! Flag-burning did occur in front of the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong, which reverted to China in 1997. I curse the heavens for the "One China, Two Systems." Prime Minister Abe was also put to the torch in effigy, in Seoul. We do not know if North Korea wasted any bullets in this cause.

* This does not necessarily mean that there will be no sanctioned public protests at a more auspicious time in the future when the initial outrage has tapered down to a low simmer, enabling the authorities to better manipulate the crowd. But for not, the authorities are drawing the line at public protests, at least organized ones.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

20131226 Does Abe Mean It? Does It Really Matter?

The Chinese and Koreans and the Japanese left are wasting no time in unleashing invectives on Prime Minister Abe and his visit to Yasukuni on the first anniversary of his second appointment to the prime minister’s office. No doubt Western liberals will not be far behind as soon as they wake up in the morning to find out what Abe has wrought. To these people, Abe’s visit is a paean to the ghosts of the Japanese empire and a salute to theto the Class A war criminals enshrined there.

The problem is, you wouldn’t know from watching his post-visit press briefing or reading the statement posted on the Prime Minister’s Office website. Phrases like “Japan must never wage a war again. This is my conviction based on the severe remorse for the past” and “we must build an age which is free from the sufferings by the devastation of war; Japan must be a country which joins hands with friends in Asia and friends around the world to realize peace of the entire world” and “[i]t is my wish to respect each other’s character, protect freedom and democracy, and build friendship with China and Korea with respect, as did all the previous Prime Ministers who visited Yasukuni Shrine” do not exactly translate to “long live the emperor and the empire from which the sun also rises” as far as I’m concerned.

Now, Abe’s value-based detractors may be right for all I know, on the mark for Abe’s secret agenda. Abe’s problem, if that is true, is that he has had to bend over backward to accommodate the complaints, forcing him to issue a statement that, with a few tweaks, would not sound amiss coming out of the mouths of the pacifist Social Democrats. In war, as in love—likewise in politics: it matters not what Abe really means, as long as a slip of the tongue does not reveal his true intent, if such is indeed the case.


We’ve seen something similar with China talking around its new air defense identification zone. Most people in Japan who care about such things believe that it is aimed at Japan and specifically targeting the Senkaku Islands. But this Xinhua report has the following phrases:

“It has no particular target and will not affect the freedom of flight in relevant airspace.”
“[T]he establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone will not change the legal nature of relevant airspace.”

Now, no one is amused at the reporting requirements that the Chinese authorities have placed on aircraft merely passing through its ADIZ as well as its threats against aircraft that do not comply. That said, this and no doubt other Chinese statements—the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s press briefings are currently inaccessible for some reason—have led to at least one media report—I’m writing from memory now—that the Chinese authorities have denied any territorial implications to the new ADIZ. That certainly does not help them in the Senkaku dispute. (Yes, “dispute.” “Dispute” and “indisputable” are different words.) If anything, the Chinese authorities left the impression that they tried to change the status quo by force (more accurately the threat thereof) and failed. There’s much more to it than that in my view, but at least they could have avoided that and still achieved whatever other strategic advances that they had intended.

Off-the-Cuff: Abe/Yasukuni Addendum

And we can forget about the Japan-China-ROK FTA happening during Abe’s tenure.

Off-the-Cuff: Prime Minister Abe’s Visit to Yasukuni

I still didn’t think that he would do it, but he did. I would have advised him not to, but that’s why I’m not his advisor (…well, one of the reasons; but I digress). There’s plenty to talk about here around the meaning of it all, but I’m unlikely to have something meaningful to add to what is going to be another step in the interminable debate around the issue. Instead, let me offer a set of predictions, some more verifiable than others.

1.      This bodes well for the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and the Futenma Air Base closing. If anyone in the Abe administration had any thoughts of letting down the Obama administration on either of these, well, forget about it. In fact, the very recent progress on the transfer of the bulk of the Futenma operations to Nago, one of the few places in Okinawa where the U.S. military’s relationship with the local community is on the whole benign,  must have been one of the key factors that enabled Abe to decide to pay his respects to the fallen soldiers (and, as he volunteered at the on-site press conference, all the people worldwide who lost their lives as the result of wars, whom he paid respects to at the Yasukuni shrine-within-shrine dedicated to that purpose).

2.      The verbal backlash in China, South Korea, and the New York Times will be ferocious. Physical? Not so much, since the Chinese authorities will make sure that public protests are orderly, drawing the line at flag-burning. I would be surprised, though, if the Chinese vessels currently lurking in the adjacent waters of the Senkaku Islands do not venture into the territorial waters in the coming days. Economic interests are a different story. Japanese companies doing business in China will be hit. There will be what amounts to an informal boycott of Japan-branded consumer products, and business the national and local governments as well state-owned companies will be harder to secure than it already is. All in all, the economic backlash will be smaller than it was in the wake of the 2011 (fishing boat-Coast Guard vessel collision) and 2012 (Senkaku purchase) events.

3.      The Abe cabinet will rise in the polls as a consequence. Remember, a majority of the Japanese public support prime minister visits in principle, and there’s usually a rally-around-the-leader effect that draws in some opponents in the face of controversial but decisive action.

4.      I am a (tad) less pessimistic about prospects for meaningful reform on agriculture, the labor market, and (dare I say it?) the social safety net in the next, June 2014, batch of long-term growth policy measures. But Abe has to really put his shoulders to the wheel on that one, and that’s not a given.

5.      Abe will visit once more as prime minister, at the end of his tenure. What he does in between will depend very much on what transpires on the international front. My point here is that he has done what he feels he has to do.

6.      (sort of)  Newspaper extras are usually reserved for calamities (wars, gargantuan earthquakes), celebrations (imperial weddings, capturing the Olympic Games), and other truly momentous events. Sankei Shimbun obviously thinks that this is one of them; surely no ambiguity as to which category it belongs. But will other dailies follow suit? I don’t think so.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Off-the-Cuff: A Bit of Contextualization for Abe’s National Security Agenda Initiatives

Not surprisingly, many people following the Western media wonder if the recent flurry of the Abe administration’s activity around its national security agenda represents a shift away from its focus on the economy a la Abenomics. Short answer: No. A slightly longer answer: That’s a media-driven perspective that fails to take into account the administrative and legislative cycles that brought the elements of the national security agenda together at this point—I can even explain why it had to be on Tuesday, and not Monday or Wednesday. Do you want a longer one? Read the following response to an inquiry, from which a snarky aside is quoted here. Hopefully, the irony is more evident within the broader context.

Aside: To the best of my knowledge, no one has pointed out yet that the FY2014-2018 Mid-term Defense Program represents “a 2% annual budget hike in real terms”. Lazy media!


There is no change/shift in PM Abe’s agenda. The three-part—does Abe do everything in threes?—national security agenda announced [on December 17] merely fills out the one he returned to office with. The timing is the outcome of predetermined administrative and legislative processes: namely the new 1)-a National Security Strategy issued conjointly with the revised 1)-b National Defense Guidelines for 2014 and beyond and 1)-c Mid-term Defense Program (FY2014-2018) in time for the FY2014 budget (hence the December timing) and the 2)-a National Security Basic Act (and 2)-b National Security Secrets Act) as the legal foundation for 1)-a (hence the legislative frontloading for the just-ended extraordinary Diet session).

The land-to-air/sea, north (Russia)-to-south(China) strategic shift is an ongoing process that continued interrupted during the DPJ interregnum. . It is in large part the reflection of the growing, increasingly assertive Chinese military and its presence in the East China Sea region and beyond, a process that in itself has continued for several decades on the basis of annual double-digit budget growth.  The newly projected defense gadgetry also reflects technological and tactical progress between the interrupted FY2011-2015 Program and the new FY2014-018 Program.

On the core issues regarding national security, Abe has had to put collective defense on hold and will likely have to moderate his stance in light of Komeito reluctance, while amending Article 9 is likely to remain a pipe dream for the same reason. The export arms ban will be relaxed while making some accommodations, again, for Komeito’s sake, but the current policy is essentially based on a Diet session response and a chief cabinet secretary’s statement, not quite written in sand but hardly the stuff of bedrock constitutional concern. The FY2014-2018 Program includes a 2% annual budget hike in real terms, which is a real turnaround but still well-behind what can be reasonably projected for China in the foreseeable future.

Is Japan becoming a “normal” country? Well, it still won’t have nuclear weapons, ballistic or cruise missiles, strategic bombers, aircraft carriers and other normal trappings of a super-state even after the 2% per year buildup, so the PLA military can sleep easy. Much of the negative response reflects political concerns. That said, it is likely that a (slightly) better-equipped and more utile Japanese military will be further integrated within the bilateral alliance; that should be displeasing to China’s national security establishment, which hopes to gain ground (and sea and air space) long-term on what it sees as a declining US.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Going out on a Limb on North Korea

20131217Going Out on a Limb on North Korea
1.      Do not expect more purges going forward.
Kim Jong Un killed the snake and its capos. If Kim hasn’t shot you by now, you’re safe. As proof, other Chang song Taek associates (presumed) are resurfacing. The small fry will fall in line, as always.

2.      The military comes out ahead.
Is Kim pulling the military, or is the military pushing Kim? Either way, the military is solidly behind Kim Jong Un on this one. Look, all the casualties have been on the civilian side.

3.      There will be no “provocations.”
No need. See 2. Besides, North Korean did enough to annoy China.

4.      Kim is safe for now.
See 2. Besides, I don’t think that the military wants to own it.

5.      No one can embarrass analysts going out on a limb like the North Koreans
Let’s face it, it’s just a huge guessing game. The one sure thing is that volatility and uncertainty are up.

TPP: The Trade Adjustment Assistance Angle, from Paul Sracic

You can find many analysts who will explain the difficulties of a severely weakened Obama administration getting fast-track, Trade Promotion Authority from the current Congress any time soon, but Paul Sracic is the only one I’m aware of who has pointed to the Trade Adjustment Assistance angle, in his Bloomberg analysis entitled “Obama’s Trade Deal With Asia: Not So Fast”.

I like people who command a few more nuts and bolts than the rest of us. If you’re interested, all inquiries should go to the address at the bottom of this webpage.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Off the Cuff: Around the Sudden Drop in Support for the Abe Administration

My snap response, dated December 10. Shigeru Ishiba calling protesters of the Secrecy Act bill terrorists then dancing around that statement hasn’t helped Abe either.


This 10 pp fall is attributable broadly speaking to the Abe administration's inability to concentrate on economic policy. More specifically, it is the immediate fallout from the new state secrets act bill that passed the Diet on the last day of the extraordinary session. Although conservative actors in the mainstream national print media (Sankei and the vastly more influential Yomiuri) supported the idea in principle, their actual coverage was relatively critical given their worries about potential constraints on media activities and more generally about public access, worries that could have been better massaged by walking the media through the process and making a better and more proactive show of addressing their concerns. I believe that the public reacted to the resultant aura of suspicion and apprehension.

The [size of the] fall would have been greater but for the steadily growing tensions with China. The impact of the fall would have been greater but for the disarray among the opposition parties on this and other matters.

Going forward, there's a growing consensus…that the economy is in an upswing in the economic cycle. Other things constant, this is likely to lift the Abe administration again and keep it there until the near-term (up to a year, say?) impact of the April VAT hike becomes clear. This means that Abe has at least one more opportunity--the next regular Diet session that should begin in early January and run through at least June and probably into July--to push the last installment of core Abenomics legislation. It also means that the Greek chorus of media disappointment at the third Abenomics arrow, which increasingly looks largely like a set of industrial policy retreads instead of the kind of labor, agriculture and other thoroughgoing regulatory reforms that Japan needs and the mainstream media largely support, will be relatively muted.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Off-the-Cuff Assessments

…in response to an inquiry from a fixed-income investment advisor. A week has gone by and my comments were given free of charge so here they are for what they’re worth.

CLB: Ichiro Komatsu

The CLB matters with regard to collective defense because of its longstanding opinion against its constitutionality. Otherwise, it does not stand in the way of any other significant policy initiatives, including relaxation of the ban on arms exports.

On collective defense, Abe must swing the Komeito his way. Achieve that and the CLB bureaucracy will follow in due time. The print media will be divided between Yomiuri and Sankei on one hand and Asahi and Mainichi on the other while the audiovisual media will feature voices on both sides of the debate. In any case, the CLB will be a minor player.

BOJ: Kuroda.

Kuroda has long held firm views on monetary policy, views that Abe has set in motion by appointing him BOJ governor. This is the one appointment (and policy decision) that Abe cannot undo.

NSC: Shotaro Yachi

Yachi is the architect of the freedom and democracy concept—containing China, actually; Russia, whatever its authoritarian leanings, is not in the Japanese sights. The Abe administration’s foreign policy has for the most part performed admirably in that respect.

Personal Secretary: Isao Iijima

Iijima favored rapprochement with North Korea; Abe did not. But that was in 2002. His 2013 Pyongyang visit can only be interpreted as Abe’s attempt to gain leverage against South Korea and to a lesser extent China. The overall role that he is playing is a mystery to me, though. (Public communications, political strategy...too vague.) He is keeping his counsel, that’s for sure.

I have nothing to say about him except that he is a holdover from the DPJ administration
Post: Taizo Nishimura chairman and Yoshiyuki Izawa

Izawa is a Hatoyama cabinet appointment; four-years-and-out in December would makes sense. He was downgraded in the Japan Post parent company when Nishimura took over in June. Nishimuro (not Nishimura) is the elder statesman of the business establishment and go-to guy for the political class. More consolidator than initiator, he gets things done with minimum friction. No enemies, no criticism as far as I’m aware. He surely favors privatization but will move no more quickly or extensively than the Abe administration wants.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

ClicheWatch: Go as Metaphor

“China is playing the classic game of weiqi, wherein it slowly expands influence through steps that are not a threshold to violence and do not trigger a forcible response,” Paal said, referring to the strategic board game known as Go in English.
By Bloomberg News  Dec 10, 2013 3:42 PM GMT+0900

It’s easy to tell that Paal has never played weiqi/Go. Go, in fact, is like war in all its permutations. An entire game can be played with little overt conflict, capped by a long and arduous stretch in which the two players meticulously settle borders to the last point.  Then again, an early skirmish can blow up into a relentless battle encompassing the entire board that only ends with one player falling in utter defeat. And everything in between.

Have I Become China Radio International’s Alan Colmes to Its Collective Sean Hannity in Discussing the Chinese Aid Difense Identification Zone?

Yesterday, I appeared on China Radio International’s 10-11AM (Beijing Time) panel discussion by landline telephone, this time supposedly to discuss China’s new air defense identification zone (ADIZ).  If you listen to the podcast, you will, in my defense, think that it was not my finest hour. In my defense, nnnn points: First, I was outnumbered three to one by the Chinese panelists. (One was based in Hong Kong but was curiously the most belligerently pro-China of the three.) There is typically another guest from Western nations on a panel of four, and the Japanese government was certainly not the only one complaining.  Second, the moderator—also Chinese—always gave the last word to a Chinese panelist. No one interrupts on the program; this is not an American talk show. If there’s a better way to make the Chinese arguments look good, ever there was a good way to make China look good, I’d like to know. Third, the moderator steered the show midway away from the talking points into a totally unscripted attack against Japan on history issues. You can see that from the talking points and the answers that I’d prepared, which I’ve pasted below. Now my basic take on the history issues is complicated and takes plenty of time to explain, as an American political scientist discovered the other day (that’s you, PS), which made it even more difficult to fight the three-on-one battle that ensued.

Actually, that was not all. After the opening question and my response, second in line—I thought I got the better of that exchange, but then, who am I to judge?—the director cut in on my line, told me that my line had gone dead. How she knew when I was no longer talking and I could still hear the broadcast though the phone line, I have no idea. Anyway, the line went completely dead after that, broadcast and all. When the line was restored, after maybe a minute or so had passed, another Chinese panelist was responding to the same question (I think). Now this is the second time that something like this had happened, and both times, the moderator went off the script. On the other occasion, the other “Western” panelist turned out to be quite critical of China. Would you believe me if I told you that my line failed and the moderator later decided to go off-script on a whim? On two occasions?

I’ve made it a point to appear on this program as often as I can because of two reasons:  One, China is putting a lot of resources into CRI to push its take on Asia through its news programs, largely in developing countries. I think that it’s useful to have what usually turns out to be a voice of dissent against the mainland Chinese perspective on geopolitical issues. Second, CRI has been generally tolerant of my decidedly non-Chinese voice, the moderation relatively fair, even if the questions can be obviously biased. (For better or worse, again, this is not an American talk show.) But I’m beginning to have serious doubts. Am I increasingly being reduced to enhancing the legitimacy of the Chinese worldview under the Xi Jinping regime?


PART I - The current dispute

Is the current crisis in East China Sea inevitable and long overdue?
Inevitable? No and yes. No, because China could have informed its neighbors that it would set up its own air defense identification zone and that all aircraft entering the ADIZ with the intent to enter Chinese airspace would be requested to inform the Chinese civil aviation authorities of their flight plans and the like. But yes, because China appears to have been aware that its maximalist demands went well beyond what other countries were doing with their ADIZs. On the second count, no, if it means that China only now has sufficient air power to effectively administer its ADIZ.

Should China have notified its neighbours and airlines beforehand rather than just set it upon unilaterally? Has China violated international laws?
Yes. But I am not aware of any violation of international laws, although the threat of possible extreme consequences on non-complying aircraft, could, if carried out, be one. 

 What do you make of the timing of the air-defence identification zone? Has China’s unilateral declaration unwittingly helped Japan to gain international attention and ‘sympathy’ for its stance?
I’m not so sure about the timing. It could mean that China only now has sufficient air power to effectively administer its ADIZ. It could mean that it’s the latest step in changing the status quo around the Senkaku Islands. But no, I don’t think it made Japan look any better in the eyes of third parties, but it certainly made China look worse.

Japan is preparing for a National Security Strategy Document due out at the end of December as well as a draft proposal in which it describes the Chinese as ‘changing the status quo by force’ and that ‘Japan will respond calmly and firmly’ to such attempts. (Bloomberg reports). Likewise, it’s proposing to revise Article 9 which would allow the country to resort to conflicts in order to solve international disputes. What could the Abe administration try next – is there appetite in escalating this dispute?
There is no interest in escalating the dispute but there certainly is plenty of interest in maintaining the status quo, which is administrative control of the Senkaku Islands. China is entering the territorial waters and airspace around Senkaku with regularity. More generally, China is increasing its presence in the East China Sea. I would say that most observers in Japan agree with the Abe administration that China is indeed changing the status quo. As for Article 9, Abe does want to revise it but will not be able to do so in the foreseeable future because coalition partner New Komeito will not let him.

Did Japan miscalculate China?
China certainly caught Japan by surprise. But if anyone miscalculated, it was China—unless it had anticipated the international response and went ahead anyway.

 How has the Japanese public reacted to this zone?
Dismay, generally speaking, although there is no sense that the threat to Japanese aircraft is imminent.

Japan, US and South Korea all have an ADIZ whilst China didn’t until the previous weekend. Why the outrage? Is this double-standard?
There is no double standard. The overall outrage is due to the lack of consultation and the excessive demands made on aircraft merely passing through international airspace and the implied threat to those who do not comply. Japan is also worried about the extension of the Chinese ADIZ to Senkaku airspace, but that’s not a major concern of third parties.

What political thinking went into establishing the zone now and Diaoyu Island/Sendaku dispute?
I can only guess. China’s foreign ministry spokesperson has stated that the ADIZ has nothing to do with territorial issues. I’ll be happy to take her word for it if China pulls back on its demands on aircraft in transit.

What long-term impact is there for China in setting up this ADIZ in securing its national sovereignty?
None, if China’s foreign ministry spokesperson is to be believed.

Since its creation, USAF B-52 bombers, Japanese fighters, surveillance and AWACS aircraft, and South Korean P3-C Orion maritime have all deliberately gone into the zone without notifying the Chinese – should Beijing be concerned by this?
I assume that this happens all the time. Remember, this is international airspace, and you can’t expect military aircraft to yield to Chinese demands there. Note also that the US announced that the B-52s were unarmed. So, no, China should not be concerned.

This is one of the most heavily-congested airspace for commercial flights in the whole world – could passengers end up being caught up in the dispute?
No. Exactly because this is congested airspace. The Chinese military will do everything to avoid doing anything that the global community might consider an actual threat to civil aviation.

 Why did China wait so long to establish its own ADIZ – does it now feel militarily capable to fend off hostile forces that it’s finally ready to flex its muscle?
I assume that China is doing it now because it can, after decades of double-digit defense budget hikes. It would have be embarrassing if China had established an ADIZ without the means to administer it.

Which side do you blame for escalating the crisis?
Obviously China’s maximalist demands on aircraft in transit and the relatively explicit threat. The lack of prior consultations is another, but this one is merely procedural.


What is an air-defense identification zone, and how important were they during the Cold War?

-an act of formalizing claims to national security interests
No. In principle, it is a piece of military protocol designed to balance national security concerns with freedom of international airspace.  
-ADIZ is created by GPS coordinates
Defined, not created, to be precise.
-ADIZ is considered international airspace so no planes can be shot down but all much identify themselves to the jurisdiction
Well, no one has jurisdiction over international airspace, right? Actually, if a supersonic aircraft makes a straight beam for Beijing and refuses to identify itself, I think that the PLA Air Force would be justified in intercepting it and shooting it down even before it enters Chinese airspace, ADIZ or no ADIZ. The US practice is that only aircraft that intends to enter US airspace is required to identify itself, and that kind of measure should be sufficient to separate legitimate fly-through aircraft from any hypothetical rogue aircraft.

China’s ADIZ requires commercial aircraft flying through air defence zone to provide advance warning even when their final destination is another country. In contrast, commercial aircrafts flying through the US ADIZ are only required to provide advance flight details when they are destined to land in the US. What does this tell you China’s thinking behind this?
We must assume that the Chinese authorities knew exactly what they were doing, so I suspect that the advance warning requirement was instituted to give it an air of sovereign authority, particularly over the Senkaku Islands. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson has essentially denied this, though, so this point is now moot. Also, the possibility cannot be completely ruled out that China fears its defense system is not sophisticated enough to weed out potential interlopers from normal civilian traffic.

A number of air defence zones overlap in this instance – how, in theory – can the various powers resolve this? Is negotiation the only way forward? China proposed to sit down with the Japanese to negotiate about this – will the Japanese take up the offer?
China proposed to sit down with the Japanese to negotiate about this? About what, actually? If it involves any talks over the status of the Senkakus, then it’s obviously a no-starter. Anyway, it’s natural that the zones overlap. But yes, there should be talks. But will China be willing to revise its aggressive protocol? Otherwise, talks don’t make sense.

A number of airlines are obeying the identification rule – notably Hong Kong’s, Taiwan’s, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and US carriers though not ANA of Japan Airlines due to pressure from Tokyo. Do these zones put airlines in a difficult position?
Does it make the Chinese authorities happy that the airlines are complying? Well, they shouldn’t, since they are gaining nothing in terms of China’s sovereignty claims while they have managed to anger not only Japan but also the United States, Australia, South Korea, and even the UK. But to answer your question, no, since the airlines are merely bystanders who do not face any imminent physical threat.

PART III - China-Japan-US ties

Was US Vice-president’s tour of the region to do with fence-mending between the neighbours or a show of solidarity with Japan? Is America neutral in this dispute?
East Asia is a priority area for the United States, Asia Pivot or no Asia Pivot, and President failed to show in Bali. The Obama administration needed to do something to reaffirm its commitment without Obama’s physical presence. Vice-President Biden is the US Plan B. But no, the US is not a neutral party; it is directly affected by China’s ADIZ. Don’t the Chinese authorities realize that US military aircraft are directly threatened by the new Chinese edict since they will never reveal their flight plans to them?

-US Vice President said that China’s growing economic and military strength means that it should “bear increasing responsibility to contribute positively to peace and security…by taking steps to reduce the risks of accidental conflict and miscalculation”. -
Yes, China could begin to do that by scaling back its demands on aircraft in transit.

How tricky a task is this for the State Department in DC having to smooth relations between two of your most important partners while standing up for your historic allies against your biggest economic trading partner?
The United States is standing up for its own security interests first and those of its allies a close second. That’s all there is to it.

Is there much in a way of trust between US and China, and US/Japan vs China? Is this a matter of trust?
It’s a matter of doing something about measures that include threats on aircraft transiting through international airspace. The issue will fester until China rectifies it.

Have US-Japan ties also been hurt by this dispute? Would Abe have consulted with the US over their decision to ignore Beijing and ordered commercial airlines to ignore likewise?
No. And no.

Does Japan have a Plan-B if this dispute lingers on?
I don’t think that there is a need for a Plan B. Why would Japan have any use for one?

How would China view America’s stance on the ADIZ – does this chime in with Beijing’s suspicion over America’s pivot to Asia and the western Pacific?
I don’t know, but I think that China should understand that it has overreached on this matter and should take steps to scale back its demands on the aircraft flying through what is, after all, international airspace.

Should US and China develop stronger military-to-military cooperation to build trust?
Of course. We all should.

How do you square US airlines adhering to the rules of the zone with identification and yet, two of its warships have been sent to the area amidst all the rhetoric supporting Japan’s (and South Korea) stance?
Warships? I thought that it was two bombers? There is no US government authority to demand US-based airlines from doing what they consider prudent, but the US military is a totally different animal. This appears to be difficult to understand from a Chinese perspective, where the state essentially can bend the private sector to its will.

With Shinzo Abe in command of a healthy majority in both the lower and upper houses, could this escalate further as his government maintains its position on the islands?
No. Why would the Japanese government want to do anything more than it is doing? It is only trying to maintain the status quo.

PART IV – South Korea

How unenviable a position is South Korea in?
I’m not conversant enough in South Korea’s domestic politics, but I am sure that it is a manageable issue for them. South Korea will expand its ADIZ, and that will be it for the time being.

-The South Korean president and her top defence officials were hosting the Chinese trade counsellor just 3 weeks ago to talk trade.
The British prime minister is in a similar situation. Likewise, the Australian foreign minister. But it’s not their problem. Look, when you’ve alienated so many people who are eager to do business with you, you have to understand that you’ve done something very, very wrong.

Are they torn between their political and strategic loyalty – let alone the presence of US troops on the ground – to America whilst hoping to not offend their biggest economic partner and neighbour, China? What do you expect President Park to do?
Stand firm, but do no more. And that will be fine for South Korea.

Do you believe that China and South Korea can work out these differences behind closed doors and with ease?
No, because China has a problem with everybody because of this, while President Park cannot be seen to back down. Maybe China did do it mainly with the Senkaku Islands in mind. But everyone has been affected.

The two countries’ contention over the submerged reef is the main source of focus – why do you think the South Korean defence zone finishes just north of Ieodo (Korean) and Suyan Rock (China)?
-There’s a South Korean research station and heliport there.
Historical. The ADIZs appear to be the heritage of the 1950s, established by the US military.

Does this dispute with South Korea also put China in an awkward position?
Not by itself. Other than the ADIZ, it’s business as usual.

How intertwined are South Korea and the US especially in defence and strategic matters? Does Seoul have a say in how it wants to deal with the dispute?
Every country appears to have a problem with the Chinese ADIZ as currently construed. The next move is up to China, not South Korea.

Does this represent a setback in China’s effort to wean South Korea off US influence?
Yes. Of course.

Would a peaceful resolution with South Korea represent a diplomatic coup for Beijing? If so, what would that signal to Japan and Washington?
No. China cannot resolve the broader issue of the ADIZ bilaterally.

Can China and South Korea’s shared mistrust of Japan and anger towards its refusal to apologise for past crimes help resolve the bilateral problems more easily?
No. China cannot resolve the broader issue bilaterally.

Conversely, could China’s action encourage a rapprochement between South Korea and Japan whose new leaders are yet to meet in person? What role could America play to foster that?

I doubt it. For essentially the same reason. Countries are responding differently because of their differentiated relationships with China. But the underlying cause is China’s overreach. China must rectify it. Otherwise, the problem will not go away.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Vice President Biden’s Contentious Courtesy Visit to China

I had my latest five minutes of fame on the Channel News Asia network at 8:30PM Tokyo Time this evening (an hour earlier than I had expected, which forced me to suspend cooking my dinner). I’d been prepped earlier in the day but had to do some adlibbing since the host of the news show went off script. Still, I did manage to air that “contentious courtesy visit” line, so mission accomplished. If I catch some flak from my Japanese former colleagues and some of my American friends, well, c’est la vie.

I will also be showing up next Monday at 11:30AM Tokyo Time on China Radio International for a panel discussion on, yes, “China’s Air Defense Identification Zone.” I’m not exactly the merchant of death but it’s rarely a good sign for Japan when I show up in the media.


Q. South Korea has declared its intention to expand its ADIZ. Does this complicate the situation in the region?

 A. Not much more than it already has been. The new Chinese ADIZ has more to do with geopolitics than national security, and South Korea will expand its own ADIZ to cover airspace over the submerged rock and the surrounding EEZ, but it does not alter the status quo at sea level and below.

Q. Will there be any direct effect of South Korea's ADIZ expansion on Japan?

A. No. Japan does not have a conflicting sovereignty claim on the sea area being contested there.

Some people do wonder if it will draw the two countries closer in opposition to China’s latest move. The United States would like to see that happen, no doubt about it. Highly unlikely, though.  The territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea is significantly more contentious from the South Korean perspective, since it is intimately connected with the so-called history issues.

Q. How are Vice President Biden's visits to the region being viewed so far?

A. About as seriously as an American vice president’s visit will ever be taken, as far as I can see from where I am in Japan. The three heads of state and government engage him in dialogue. After all, he is the vice president of the United States. However, Japan did not make any new concessions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, and the Chinese authorities did not agree to roll back the ADIZ or the reporting requirements levied on aircraft merely passing through the ADIZ.

So it’s really more symbolic than substantial. But domestic troubles in America and the conundrum that is the Middle East are casting doubt on the seriousness of the Obama administration’s commitment to the “Pivot to Asia.” Vice President Biden’s visit helps to somewhat alleviate such concerns.

I can only guess at what the Chinese are thinking. My guess is that it’s being treated as not much more than a somewhat contentious courtesy visit.