Friday, October 26, 2012

Let Us Be Clear

I've written before that while we have no real stake in who controls small islands off the coast of Asia, we have an interest in making sure the issue isn't settled by force against our allies. And we have an interest in whoever controls them accepting traditional rules of the sea in keeping the nearby waters international waters where we can sail freely. China compels us to oppose them more than we'd need to by insisting that these waters are Chinese waters where they can deny us the ability to sail our warships.

The Washington carrier battle group recently sailed the region to reassure friends of our presence and capabilities. I noted that the defense of free passage was also a goal.

The captain of that battle group couldn't have been clearer:

The captain of a US supercarrier said Thursday the US Navy's presence in Asia would help safeguard "freedom of navigation", amid China's claims to sovereignty over vast waters in the region.

The commander of the USS George Washington, which is on a port call to the Philippine capital, said the United States was not taking sides in territorial disputes but stood firmly for keeping sea lanes open.

"One of the reasons we deploy throughout the region is so we can carry forth the banner of freedom of navigation. It is very important to us given the trade that travels throughout the region on the seas," Captain Gregory Fenton said.

We've long defended right of passage. China is the one that is loudly demanding that the status quo be changed. They've decided to be belligerent on the issue. If we let them get away with this, we'll be pushed out of the region and our friends and allies will be exposed to Chinese pressure to conform to other Chinese demands.

Then we won't have friends and allies in the region.

UPDATE: One of the problems with a rising power, such as China, is that they mistake "rising" for "risen." A Chinese vice foreign minister has warned Japan about the Senkaku Islands dispute:

"We are watching very closely what action Japan might take regarding the Diaoyu islands and their adjacent waters," Zhang Zhijun said at an unusual late night news briefing. "The action that Japan might take will shape China's countermeasures." ...

"If Japan continues down its current wrong path and takes more erroneous actions and creates incidents regarding the Diaoyu Islands and challenges China, China will definitely take strong measures to respond to that," Zhang said.

"There is no lack of countermeasures China might take in response," he added.

"We have the confidence and the ability to uphold the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. No amount of foreign threats or pressure will shake the resolve of the Chinese government and people."

I don't think China is strong enough to defeat Japan in a limited air-sea battle for the Senkakus--at least with any reasonable certainty in a limited amount of time before direct American intervention becomes too risky.

I certainly don't think China is capable of defeating us if we withstand their first salvo and gather our forces from scattered locations to the western Pacific.

I don't even think China would want to risk a war with Japan and/or America that could see claimants to South China Sea islands garrison their claims while China is busy with the big powers.

China's power is rising. But their pride in rising may lead them to miscalculate that they've reached the top spot.