Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | June 4, 2011

Weird times in the Far East, Part 2

Part 1 can be found here.

Strange winds

For the last 40 years, Russia, China, and Japan have each relied on the presence and policy of the US to act as a stabilizing counterweight to the other two.  US policy in the region has not changed in its fundamentals since Nixon signed Okinawa back over to Japan in 1971.

But in late 2010, rumors were accumulating in East Asia that the US, tiring of a dispute with Japan over the placement of a Marine Corps air base in Okinawa, was beginning to look further south along the Asian perimeter for places to base American forces.  The Obama administration’s activities fed those rumors.

The reported intentions of the US about rebasing forces carried implications of a particularly destabilizing nature: first, that the US commitment to Japan might be weakening; and second, that America was looking to base Marine Corps and naval forces closer to the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca.  Hillary Clinton did nothing to dispel alarms about US military intentions in July 2010, when she proclaimed the disposition of the disputed South China Sea archipelagoes to be a US “national interest.”  (The US position had always been couched previously as an interest in freedom of the seas through chokepoint areas rather than the disposition of the islands.)

August 2010 saw a historic joint naval exercise between the US and Vietnam in the South China Sea, punctuated by the equally historic visit of USS George Washington (CVN-73) to Da Nang.  Much to Beijing’s chagrin, George Washington has also been a frequent visitor to the Yellow Sea in the last two years, after she became, in October 2009, the first US carrier to penetrate those waters since the Korean War (see here, here, and here).

The dual perceptions that the US may be losing interest in Japan, but is out to probe China’s most sensitive areas, are a potentially explosive combination.  China is bound to react badly to them, and that cannot fail to alarm Russia.

Russian forces in the Far East

So observers of the Russian military were interested, but not surprised, to learn in May that Russia would be deploying the first squadrons of her new Ka-52 army assault helicopter to the Far Eastern base of Chernigkova – instead of to a base in the Western theater facing Europe.  Other Asian reporting indicates Russia’s newest fighter jet, the Su-35, will also be deployed to the Far East.  Both types of aircraft will be based to the east of China’s extreme northeast border, facing the Sea of Japan; they are not being placed on the border with China in the Asian interior.

Russia is also planning to put the Mistral-class amphibious assault ships being purchased from France in the Far East.  The emerging character of the build-up in the region is one that would enable Russia to project power around China’s eastern flank, rather than confront China head-on in the continental interior.

Continued in Part 3.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.


Responses

  1. […] 1635 […]

  2. So, the new fighters and assault choppers being sent to the East mean the Russian invasion of Poland isn’t imminent?

  3. —-” perceptions that the US may be losing interest in Japan” —-

    the perception is that the Okinawans have been demanding the removal of our troops and the return of the big chunk of their land. Prime Minister Hatoyama promised to move the base off of Okinawa altogether and received an overwhelming share of the Okinawans votes in response.

    Following a visit from Clinton two weeks ago, the PM announced that the Americans were staying. A Japanese newspaper reported that about 60% of people responded that if the Americans stay, the PM should resign.

    Our presence in Okinawa is deeply resented, but the Japanese government doesn’t really want us to leave as long as the NorKs are aiming their missiles at Japan.

  4. The Okinawa base is a relic of the occupation of Japan post WWII and the subsequent cold-war. That’s how the Japs see it. It has also acquired a certain notoriety because of the behaviour of some of our servicemen. Its significance as an irritant in US-Japanese relations far outweighs any remaining strategic value. We would save ourselves a lot of money, and considerable goodwill, by handing the base back to the Japanese.

    The main strategic realitiy for both ourselves and the Russians is the fact that China has more than twice our combined populations. When China began developing its economy, it was inevitable that it would ultimately become the preponderant power in the region. However, for China to remain powerful it also needs to consolidate its economic progress. To do this, it needs to trade – just like us. Getting involved in conflict with trading partners is a no-win policy for ourselves and China.


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