When I look out my window each morning and think of the world, my mind and my eyes instinctively turn eastward. When I think of “the” ocean, I am referring to the Atlantic Ocean, not thirty minutes from my home. My focus on daily history takes me to the map of Eastern Europe and the Mid-East. When I read translations of comments made by diplomats from those regions, the language utilized comports with the customs and usage that I am familiar with. Then reality arrives.
There are two oceans that bookend the United States. Although the Atlantic Ocean is often referred to as “The Pond”, the Pacific not only seems so much larger and further away but on its far side, it is home to over one-half of the world’s population. I know little of that part of the world. And, probably more important, their customs and language are so much more alien than that of the East. We fought a hard and brutal war with Japan and learned of Kamikazi fighter pilots and Harakiri, the ritual suicide. These were not merely unknown and alien concepts to America and the East, but hard to understand and accept as part of daily human behavior in the late 30s and 40s. China is a far off land that has been, for all intent and purposes, closed to us in the United States. Japan was equally so, until the end of WWII. The many nation-states that border the Andaman Sea are far from our daily thoughts or visits, except for the very few of us who travel to their exotic ports of tourism.
And while China lectures the United States that it should “take a responsible attitude, remain committed to neutrality, speak and act cautiously”, its fighter planes, on four separate occurrences in 2014, have intercepted and buzzed unarmed United States surveillance planes over international waters. As predicted, the Chinese authorities first denied the incidents (“totally groundless”), were shown video evidence to the contrary, and then altered their position that Chinese fighter pilots acted rightfully and “professionally”.
China demands, that the U.S. military “should reduce and ultimately stop close-in reconnaissance”, if it hopes to develop meaningful military relations with China. In other words, China is saying, in colloquial terms, to the United States, in an ever shrinking world, get out of my backyard. In diplomatic language, it is demanding the United States change its positions on regional issues such as Taiwan, the South China Sea (where it has continued to forcefully claim it has indisputable sovereignty), and ultimately the entire Asia-Pacific region. One can say with a certain amount of confidence that demands for America to seed the Asia-Pacific zone of interest to China is not going to happen in our life-time.
Regional peace in the Asia-Pacific zone resembles playing the game of pick-up-sticks. Move one stick a little off kilter, and the whole pile of sticks either collapses or moves, and you lose. A Chinese diplomat told United States Ambassador Rice: “We hope the U.S. can promote the healthy development of new China-U.S. military ties with concrete actions.” David M. Lampton, professor and director of China Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, says an “armed conflict” between China and the United States is “possible” because an “incident” between China and one of American allies like Japan and the Philippines “could drag the United States in”. Japan on several occasions has accused Chinese planes of menacing its aircraft around the Senkaku Islands, the cluster known as the Diaoyu by China. Although it is obvious that both the United States and China are strongly self-motivated to keep their economic and other forms of civil intercourse as frictional-free as possible, those peaceful relations do not foreclose the potential of a military clash between these two giant countries. A peaceful relationship between these two countries is anything but certain.
What is not uncertain, the United States will not idly sit by if Chinese actions affect our strategic interest in that part of the world. For example, Beijing has told Washington, in light of the escalation of friction between Japan and China, that Tokyo “has become a growing liability to Washington’s pursuit of its long term interest” with China. One can only guess what was said behind closed doors when that message was received by the Oval Office.
In September of this year, Tokyo and Washington began preliminary talks of providing Japan with offensive weapons that would permit it the fire power to reach far beyond its borders. The first thought: the North Korean missile system would be an appropriate target. That conversation rattled the military and political sabers of the Chinese ruling party. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said “Asian countries had a right to be concerned about any moves to strengthen Japan’s military considering the country’s past and recent mistaken words and actions about its history.” Note, he did not refer to China’s right but to Asian countries (their claimed zone of interest).
Interesting to note is that Japan has not “fired a shot in anger since its defeat”, almost seventy years ago, at the end of WWII. Equally interesting is the economics of the potential change in Japanese security thinking: It would require that Japan would change from a purely defense military system to the purchasing of billions of dollars of offensive systems and weapons. From whom? The United States.
A yearlong investigation conducted by the Senate Armed Services Committee accused the Chinese Government of supporting the most refined form of hacking into networks of companies retained by the Pentagon on at least nineteen occasions. And it doesn’t stop there: Chinese hackers were able to breach computers aboard commercial ships, logistic companies and uploaded malicious software onto an airline computer. There have been five federal indictments of members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army on charges of cyber theft.
In another part of this strategic area is South Korea, looking north to a much oppressed, undernourished population and over-fed military compound, who announced it would create a combined army unit with the United States, reportedly tasked with destroying North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction in the event of an all-out conflict. Here, unlike the U.S. relationship with Japan, there will be a mechanized unit led by a US major general to be organized in 2015, as part of intricate preparations for any war between the two Koreas. “It will be the first combined ‘field combat’ unit to carry out wartime operations,” a defense ministry spokesman announced.
North Korea has repeatedly announced that in the event of war on the Korean Peninsula, Japan and South Korea would be “consumed in nuclear flames”. China, North Korea and, most recently, Russia (of all countries ) all seem to fear that installation of an advanced missile-deterrence on South Korean soil would increase the danger of a regional war, despite U.S. repeated guarantees that the system would only be to ward off missile attacks on South Korea. One must superimpose that conflict upon China’s escalating economic and territorial disputes with not only Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines and its capability to attack those nations with its fighter-jet the J-20 and the picture is not very bright. The capabilities of the J-20 fighter have been increased by China’s outright espionage/ stealing of design secrets from the U.S. It is claimed by some experts that China is still believed to be a long way from developing a home grown engine systems for its fighter jets. I would not want to count on that assurance in my relationship with a country whose language and customs have nuances that we have yet to master.
There are too many niceties that mask or mislead us in the true meaning of China’s and North Korea’s pronouncements. I think it is fair to say that we, as a nation, are not familiar, fluent or totally comfortable with the inner intrigues of the worlds of China and North Korea. China, in particular, presents multiple customs, not merely in the streets of their many diverse cities, but in the numerous cantons of a very large nation. Nor are we sufficiently attuned to the inner workings of the governments of China and North Korea. We have seen, often enough, that nothing can be taken at face value in the United States’ dealing with China.
So where are we? Violence flourishes up and down the Andaman Sea and we know little of that. China sits a waiting dragon, North Korea is a rogue nation-state, and we know little of either country. In addition, we have few if any, “informants” of significant importance, to aid us in the higher ranks in either in China or North Korea. So we must all start looking more diligently each morning not merely to the east but also the west.
P.S. On the front page of today’s New York Times, a bold headline blares: “Europe’s Anti-Semitism Comes Out of Shadows”. The article updates, with distressing and chilling details, what I have previously discussed. We are a long way from the atrocities committed during the Second World War, and those we openly discussed after the end of the war. The issue is today is “whether a subtle societal shift is occurring that has made ant-Jewish remarks or behavior more acceptable.” “’Death to the Jews!’ shouted protesters in Belgium and France. ‘Gas the Jews!’ yelled marchers in Germany. But the list does not end with words, it was only the beginning to be followed by fatal shots in Brussels, the bombing of a Jewish-owned pharmacy in Paris, a synagogue in Germany is firebombed, and a Swedish Jew is beaten with iron pipes.
Only the beginning –and where are all those in the United States, whose kin joined the marches against the violence of Israel in Gaza, marching against the violence of ISIS? Today a Frenchmen was beheaded. Tomorrow, who? And the silence, by those in America whose voices should be in the forefront, is not merely deaenfing it is outrageous.