Monday, February 11, 2013

The Contrasting Levels of Voices in the Radar Dispute

All the information that I’ve come into contact with, publicly available and un-, say that government officials are no better than we are at determining the level at which decisions regarding the lock-on of PLA Navy fire-control radars on Japanese MSDF assets. Jacey, who obviously knows military radars, provides a comment, where he guesstimates that it could have been accidental.

It’s hard to tell one way or other because top Chinese officials give short shrift to the media except in rare, highly stage-managed doses (although Uncle Wen made an effort to be more forthcoming). Still, it’s striking that the foreign and defense ministry have left all the talking on the substance of the issue—did they or didn’t they?—to the defense ministry foreign spokesperson. We haven’t even heard from their foreign and defense ministers, and they are at best the equivalent of our vice ministers and deputy secretaries, outranked administratively by the respective competent members of the State Council, who in turn serve at the pleasure of the Communist Party’s Politburo and its Standing Committee. Then there are the central military committees of the CCP and the government. Contrast that with Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera man the frontlines of the public communications war. It keeps Chinese officials from straying off the reservation in public view, but the asymmetry—partly attributable in the immediate instance to the difference between offense (Japan!) and defense (China) but ultimately traceable to the difference between an authoritarian regime and a liberal democracy—can’t be helpful in finding a mutual landing point going forward.

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