Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sky Wars

Tea-bagger types regularly deride the Obama administration’s (recently striking) foreign-policy achievements (Syria, Iran) by hooting that it’s all just to distract attention from “O-care”.   The danger, rather, is that press obsession with the latter will deflect attention from some potentially quite fraught developments around the world:  at present,  the quasi-confrontations in “Sino-Japanese” airspace, into which the U.S. Air Force has just now dared to tread.   For perspective -- imagine if China were to fly bombers (unannounced) over the water between New York and Martha’s Vinyard, blandly dismissing the provocation as a “routine exercise”.
If some drama of danger involves a passenger plane, Americans pay riveted attention;  but otherwise, if the aircraft are merely military, it perhaps strikes them as more like an airshow, with the romance of “Top Gun”:  War Games in the Sky.
This addlepated attitude is fine for moviegoers, but not for free men.    What do we do when China shoots down one of our planes?   As we inquired in the case of our proposed attack upon Syria (advocated by John McCain and his ilk, and successfully deflected by the President):  after the bugle-blaring curtain-opening, flags waving, what is the plan for the middle distance? [See Intervention in Syria: Cui Prodest?]  As we saw in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the Bush administration didn’t really have one.    But make no mistake about it:  the military and economic heft of China are in a whole different league from those of Afghanistan or Iraq.   Yet more, we never did go to war against those nations as a whole -- initially it was just supposed to be against the Taleban and the Sadaam Baathists;  later we got sucked in (surprised?),  but even after the quick victory over the announced targets of the invasion  and the rising of a much broader enemy caused by the invasions themselves,  we still were backed by significant segments of the local populations.   In a war against China, that would by no means be the case.

You might think it alarmist, even to use the phrase “War with China” in a sentence.  But we are now rattling sabres.   If you’re not prepared to use your sabre, why rattle it?

[Note:  I won’t comment about the merits of the Chinese move, having nothing of value to add.   But here is a seemingly even-handed summary: ]

This face-off marks the most worrying strategic escalation between the two countries since 1996, when China’s then president, Jiang Zemin, ordered a number of exclusion zones for missile tests in the Taiwan Strait, leading America to send two aircraft-carriers there.
Plenty of countries establish zones in which they require aircraft to identify themselves, but they tend not to be over other countries’ territory.

Für psychologisch tiefgreifende Krimis,
in pikanter amerikanischer Mundart,
und christlich gesinnt,
klicken Sie bitte hier:


There is another dimension to all this, quite apart from the game-theoretic calculations of diplomacy (a game of General Tso’s “Chicken”, you might say).  Consider this article from the morning’s press:

Japanese protesters have demanded that ethnic Koreans “go home or die,” disrupting the once-bustling neighborhood.

This reminds us that the East Asian cauldron contains more antipathies than just a bilateral face-off between China and Japan.  Do we really want to stir that particular pot?

And not only Koreans are in the rifle-sights of an increasingly noisy fringe in our … ally … Japan.   Here, an animated crowd of Japanese welcome some Western visitors outside their hotel:

“White Pigs Go Home”

Imagine what things will be like if we get more deeply involved in their mess.

Add to these, Taiwanese sensibilities, and you have sixteen reasons (two-to-thefourth bilateral antagonisms) for us to stay out.


The whole region is a prickly thicket of mutual antipathies.   And he who toucheth pitch …   Indeed, already we have, in letting-in their populations, let in some of their meshugaas.  A reader of the WaPo article commented:

In the US in many school systems with Korean populations the Koreans have agitated for and gotten the school to change their geography maps. The Sea of Japan is now the Eastern Sea.

2 lessons to be learned here:
1) Americans of Korean decent have learned their community organizing liberal fascism well.
2) Our schools are more interested in politics, grievances and sensitivities than education.

[Update Sunday, 1 December 2013]  After months of taking the public pulse by wading through American readers’ comments, which, whatever the initial subject, generally devolve into Obamaphobic rants, it is almost refreshing to get a glimpse of the wedge-brained craziness that prevails in other arenas.  In a comment on this week’s Time blog on the subject of the Japan-China island dispute, one reader vents:

    The Diaoyu Islands are belong to China

You go, guy!   “R U basis is bewrong 2 Us !!!”

Actually, that post interestingly reveals, two of the wretched outcroppings actually bewrong, de facto, to US:

The eight barren isles — two of which are under control of the U.S. military — are called the Senkaku Islands (in Japan) and the Diaoyu Islands (in China). … Japanese citizens cannot land on either of the islands without first getting permission from the U.S. military

Incidentally, that blogger as well is worried that this shadow-play of feints and parries, might spin out of control, for he headlines his post

China’s Restriction on Airspace Over Disputed Islets Could Lead to War
Weekend declaration by China ratchets up chances of conflict with Japan and the U.S.

If that were to happen, it could make the Korean War and the Vietnam War seem like a stroll by the carp-pond, a walk in the park.


The  U.S. intervention in this dispute, while morally and geopolitically understandable, smacks of brinksmanship:  Are we in fact willing to go over the brink?

The Sea of Japan is no stranger to provocative airborne incidents, fraught with peril for all concerned:
At the time, there was considerable speculation in some quarters that the passenger plane that was shot down  may actually have been a ferret flight. (W-Allahu a`lamu…)

China, Japan, Taiwan and Korea, all facing off and snarling at each other.
And then, as though advancing a pawn, we place some of our own assets in harm’s way.   The analogies with Sarajevo are obvious.
Destiny -- your move.

(By the by, there is also North Korea, lurking in the wings.  So far they haven’t figured in this scenario, but their usual role is to act unexpectedly and Make Things Worse.)


It is actually reassuring that the Administration announced a  geostrategic “pivot to Asia”.  This means that the situation there has their full attention, and they are not just winging it, despite that gadfly distractions that daily buzz up from the Republicans, and the media’s obsession with mayflies.

And indeed, Obama recently pulled off a neat bit of brinksmanship in the Middle East, threatening the Syrian regime if it did not give up its chemical weapons.   Calling the bluff, al-Assad didn’t blink; but then the President turned around and called Congress’s bluff concerning the Right To Declare war, whereupon those playpen blowhards slunk off with their tails between their legs, and the adults got down to business, so far with stunning results.


This morning, as my wife set off for the gym, to abye her sins by trudging  for an hour on a treadmill in front of a TV screen (this would be reckoned cruel and unusual, had a court  ordered it), I requested that she check out Fox and CNN, to see how they were handling this story.
She reported back:   Neither had touched on it  during the hour she watched.  They spent the whole time covering a local train derailment.

So we turned to the foreign press.

France having had no colonial history with any of the four principle countries in this standoff,  we may look to commentary from that source  for a comparatively dispassionate summary of the basics of the case;  France knows that it is here just an onlooker.   Here is some that is well-phrased:

Chine-Japon : jeux dangereux en mer de Chine
Depuis plus de 40 ans, Japon et Chine se disputent un petit archipel inhabité en mer de Chine. Mais jamais la crise n'avait connu une telle escalade.
"Nouvelle incursion de bateaux chinois dans les eaux territoriales des Senkaku" : il ne se passe pas une semaine sans que ce titre ne barre la une des journaux nippons. Priés par les garde-côtes du Japon de quitter les parages de ces îles de mer de Chine orientale, les navires gouvernementaux chinois n'obtempèrent pas. "On n'a pas de raison de partir, on est chez nous", répondent-ils en substance.
La querelle ne date en effet pas d'hier, mais elle s'est intensifiée depuis le rachat en septembre 2012 par l'État nippon de trois des cinq principaux îlots Senkaku à leur propriétaire privé japonais. Cette nationalisation de fait a mis en rogne Pékin qui depuis multiplie comme jamais les actions provocatrices à l'égard de Tokyo.
La bataille autour des Senkaku est actuellement le point noir des relations sino-nippones, mais c'est surtout le symbole d'un conflit historique entre les deux nations qui se disputent la suprématie en Asie.


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