The Obama Administration’s reaction to Stalinist North Korea’s attack on the democratic South was traditional, conventional, and weak. Once again, the Chinese Communist Party was able to position itself as the supposedly reasonable regional power trying to get a handle on their crazy ally – even though it has to this day refused to criticize Kim Jong-il and his crew. That said, Zhongnanhai has been unable to get policy concessions out of the president yet, and what Japan is about to do with its National Defense Policy Guidelines may get the White House to snap of out its post-attack stupor.
According to the Financial Times (UK), Japan’s military will release the aforementioned guidelines later this month, and they will call for a major shift in military policy.
Officials and analysts say the keenly awaited National Defence Policy Guidelines will signal a historic refocusing of Japan’s army and other forces toward securing the line of small islands in the southern Nansei chain that stretches from Japan’s main islands toward Taiwan and are seen as threatened by China’s rapidly growing military power.
Among the islands in the Nansei chain are Okinawa and the Senkakus, the latter of which are claimed by the Communists (they call them the Diaoyus).
The implications of this are numerous, and none are good for the CCP.
Within Japan, it means a maturing of the Democratic Party of Japan – recently elected to power on a platform that included cozying up to the Communists. According to an analyst quoted by the FT, a recent incident with a fishing boat from mainland China woke up the DPJ and the military top brass about the threat from the CCP. The long-governing Liberal Democratic Party had moved in an anti-Communist direction under Junichirio Koizumi (the last LDP leader to win an election – in 2005). Now the DPJ is joining its rival.
Regionally, the CCP may find itself repeating recent history – and not in a good way for the Communists. Last year, Zhongnanhai tried to take advantage of apparent American weakness by declaring the entire South China Sea for itself. Several American allies, including Indonesia, cried foul – and much to everyone’s surprise, America joined them. Just weeks ago, President Obama himself called for India to be made a permanent member of the Security Council. Now, Japan will be heavily reinforcing an island chain that at present includes a large (and locally controversial) American military base.
If Okinawa is now a regional front-line island, the US military may not be so unwelcome. Or more likely, a strong Japanese military presence may allow the US to pull out of Okinawa entirely, thus replacing an unpopular foreign power with a strong domestic military presence dedicated to defending the homeland, while the Pentagon can score an unexpected boon to reallocate or contribution to overall deficit reduction.
I sincerely doubt the CCP was hoping for that.
In any event, Obama, whatever one thinks of him, is clearly the most multilateral president America has had in a long time. As I noted earlier, this has led to a focus on our more well-known allies in Europe – most of whom are wheezing social democracies increasingly unwilling to defend themselves from regional and global threats.
However, in Asia, America’s allies are more practical – and the CCP threat is more pressing and immediate. As such, Obama’s instincts have lead him to be tougher on Zhongnanhai then previous Administration’s in the South China Sea. Unfortunately, the refusal to accept the reality of the CCP-North Korea alliance (i.e., that it’s a tool Zhongnanhai uses to pry democratic nations apart) afflicts Seoul and Tokyo as much as it does Washington. However, the Communists have no such deflection at the ready where the Nansei-Sankakus are concerned.
If Japan really does shift its military posture (the report has not yet been released) and Washington stands with Japan as it did with Indonesia, the Obama Administration’s unnamed-containment policy may be back on track.
Cross-posted to the China e-Lobby