A Hiatus

I am coming to a crucial part of my PhD studies (the end) and I don’t have as much time to pay attention to the comings and goings of Japanese domestic politics right now. I will attempt to post something (or some things) just before the election later this year in July, but don’t be too surprised if there is little other than that.

I have jotted down a few thoughts at JSW regarding a recent NY Times article which had the rather unnecessary headline of “Japan Moving Further Away from Pacifism.”

It isn’t short, but if you have the time and interest, then by all means.

While it Has Gone Quiet within the Senkakus…

The PRC response has finally come through over the last 24 hours. But it has been unsatisfying and shaky, ranging from surprise, to righteous condemnation of Japan’s motives, declaring the incident to be an “absolute fabrication,” now to arguing that the MSDF was silly enough to mistake a surveillance/early warning radar for a fire control radar (that would be indeed be silly, since the Yudachi engaged in evasive manoeuvres to escape the Chinese frigate!)

The Japanese have dug their feet in first by saying that the Chinese response is simply not good enough and for them to go away and think about it more carefully. Then Minister of Defense Onodera has come out and suggested (日) that there was certainly no mistake and that they have video, photographic, and if needed, electronic evidence of the supposed infraction. Onodera argues that, a “normal” radar “spins” while it is monitoring while a fire-control radar continuously tracks the “target” as it moves. 「通常のレーダーはくるくる回って警戒監視をするが、火器管制レーダーはその(目標の)方向に向けてずっと追いかける」

He also said that in addition to the confirmation of this through visual imagery, they have electronic records as well which were carefully analysed by an expert at Yokosuka Naval Base on return. Onodera emphasised that a fire-control radar is a specialized radar that emits a type of electromagnetic wave with a distinctive wave frequency.  「電波を発する機械で、しかも(周波数などが)特殊なレーダーだ。それもしっかり記録しており、証拠として間違いない」

That said, the Japanese government is still considering releasing these records due to it possibly revealing sensitive national security information. It is understood that some in the MOD are not too keen to reveal more than images.

On the bright side, a number of Japanese news agencies have all noticed that PRC incursions around the Senkaku Islands themselves have reduced since the Japanese made their accusations. It will be interesting to see if they double down on the various broad accusations they have made, or whether they will approach the Japanese for a face-saving way out of the issue (for a price perhaps?)1. Or simply ignore it? (the “pfffft….whatever” strategy that the PRC uses when things are really tricky)

Extra:

Jun Okumura has also been putting up more timely analysis regarding the latest radar incident.

Kyle Mizokami has an interesting thought experiment up at JSW regarding what could have happened between the two vessels involved in the incident militarily, if you are that way inclined.

1 This price could be an agreement along the lines of an agreement not to do such things again in the future such as I mentioned Japan and Russia have agreed to (a tacit admission that that is what happened and removes that particular tactic from the PRC toolbox). Or the implementation of a maritime “hotline” mechanism which has been mooted over the last few years and was apparently making progress towards implementation before the Senkaku controversy erupted late last year. The PRC ambassador in Japan two days ago recognized (日) the need for such a mechanism. The one risk for the PRC with such a hotline is that if it is called upon it may reveal weaknesses and irregularities in terms of the political and military chain of command, a consideration very relevant if we assume that this recent incident is a PLA-level rather than Xi Jinping-level instigated incident. Okumura above even suggests that a dialing down, but not elimination, of Chinese government patrol boats entering into Senkaku waters may be possible, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

Those Dramatic Japanese…

This China Daily “report” demonstrates two notable things.

1)  Japan’s campaign to accuse Chinese radars of “locking onto” a Japanese warship is more like a “political drama…Jiang Xinfeng, an expert on Japanese studies at the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, said a radar’s “locking on” is a common and constant reconnaissance practice in regular missions, and the other side usually reciprocates”

Suspicion and skepticism of the US or Japan’s general motives is one thing, but to belittle a rather provocative act in such a way is galling.

Interestingly, this Asahi article (日) notes that while Japan and Russia (for example) have exchanged an agreement banning such actions due to the potential for it to lead to conflict, Japan and China have not exchanged such an agreement. Nevertheless, rather than a “common practice”, it can be regarded as a simulated attack by global standards. With Defense Minister Onodera declaring (日) that such action may be equivalent to the “threat of the use of force,” and thus proscribed by the UN Charter,1 it is unlikely that the Japanese government is going to accept one Jiang Xinfeng’s assertion of innocent naivety.2  

2) “Although the Shinzo Abe cabinet chose a temporary friendly posture for thawing ties, it is still hyping the ‘China threat’,”

While Japanese hawks and conservatives are liable to do such things, the sad fact in this case is that they don’t need to. It is all too easy. With Abe resurrecting the idea of a National Security Council and putting it up for expert discussion not long before the announcement of the incident, this is quite a gift to the administration, especially given the MOD’s apparently (日) slow response in analysing and announcing the actions.

My former supervisor (pro-PRC scholar) liked to say that the biggest consumers of the “China Threat” theory were the Chinese people themselves and not seemingly cynical, suspicious, or racist Westerners. The government and the domestic media would usually take PRC-skeptical overseas content and frame it in a way for the public to show that China was unjustifiably seen as a threat. Pointing to international anti-Chinese sentiment was an important part of CCP regime maintenance as it tried to frame the outside world as a hostile place where anything less than the continuation of a stable, committed and strong Chinese government (the CCP!) could end in the loss of international power and respect for China, and even the loss of sovereignty and a repeat of the century of humiliation.

Lately, however, it seems that the Chinese media is becoming one of the biggest producers of the “China threat” theory, as deliciously demonstrated by the above China Daily report. With the victimization narrative seemingly in place and established in the minds of many, skipping the middle man is so much easier. It is also a great way to avoid taking seriously anything that you may find uncomfortable.

This article also contains further cloying examples of feigned counter-outrage (or perhaps the more succinct 逆切れ) including:

On the eve of (Shinzo Abe’s) upcoming visit to the US, using ‘radar targeting’ to hype up a ‘China threat’ as a bargaining chip to persuade the US to ‘relax restraints’ may be the Abe cabinet’s painstakingly crafted ruse

Japan has “other motives in being the guilty party accusing the victim” over this issue…To win more bargaining chips, Japan chose this moment to suddenly create the tense atmosphere of an imminent Sino-Japanese military conflict to seek concessions from the US on easing restrictions on its right of collective self-defence3

Maybe. But it is all rather besides the point.

1 Including in the defense of territorial integrity, unless there is a corresponding use of force by the other side.
2 The head of the MOD’s Defense Policy Bureau did confirm (日) that the Chinese vessel’s cannons were not positioned towards the MSDF ship during the initial period of radar “painting.” Whether or not it is a breach of the UN Charter, which may be a thin thread to hang this on to be honest, it is certainly a breach of global military custom and common sense. The SDF seamen aboard would have certainly not felt particularly comfortable during the period that the radar was “locked on” to their vessel.
It is less than clear what the relationship is here. It isn’t really the US that Japan has to convince to exercise the right of collective self-defense to protect US vessels. It is irrelevant to the incident in question in this particular case in any respect. 

The Fire-Control Radar Incident: Incompetence or Malice?

When last year’s Defense White Paper (“Defense of Japan”) came out there was much media commentary over whether it represented a new direction for Japanese security policy towards China. I argued at the Shingetsu News Agency that such rhetoric was somewhat alarmist, and that there were more continuities in the document than deviations. Clearly not an avid reader of this blog or SNA, the Chinese government seemed to think otherwise. They particularly took issue with the concern raised by the Japanese MOD regarding whether “civilian control” was really being observed in China. The MOD noted that the relationship between the CCP and the PLA was becoming more “complex,” which is far more generous than many China analysts, sympathetic or otherwise, would have been. Apparently however pointing this out was evidence of “militarists” having taken over the security agenda in Japan.

We got a crystal clear expression of why the MOD was right to raise this concern during the back and forth over the fire-control radar “painting” incident this week.

Not only did the Chinese offer a “no comment” when first asked, but in follow up questioning the Chinese MOFA admitted (日) that the first they knew of the issue was when the Japanese government announced it, and that it is necessary to ask the “responsible agency”「われわれも報道で知った。具体的な状況は承知しておらず、(別の)関連部署に聞いてほしい」!!

That is not going to be reassuring to the Japanese. At all.

Either the MOFA genuinely did not about this and is expressing its anger at PLA in a very bizarre and impotent way, or, the MOFA is playing a part in a cynical attempt to deflect international attention from a clear provocation deserving criticism. Either way it does not bode well.

Trust also that this incident is not a minor issue.

When the Japanese government recently wondered out loud whether it would employ the use of warning shots whenever a Chinese aircraft entered Senkaku airspace, this was seen as provocative. Fair enough, although we need to note two things. One, it was just talk and was always unlikely to go further than that and such talk was quietly discontinued- a sensible decision in my estimation. Two, while provocative and more a last resort, the use of warning flares, is, for better or worse, a relatively common way of of letting an aircraft and its pilots know that they are doing something utterly unacceptable.

The actual use of fire-control radar, for example, to express annoyance at MSDF vessels tracking Chinese vessels at a distance  in the East China Sea (3kms in this case) as some have suggested, is however, not part of any standard operating procedure or in the rules for peaceful maritime engagement. The last time something like this happened in 2005, when a  PLA(N) destroyer aimed its guns at an MSDF surveillance aircraft near the Chunxiao/Shirakaba gas field, Japanese defense analysts remained touchy for some time. This is worse than that and it will certainly be in next year’s Defense White Paper. And as Kevin Maher notes  (日) in the Japanese media, again for better or worse, if this happened to a US vessel, then the Chinese vessel would not have a “few minutes” as it did with the MSDF vessel before the initiation of a forceful response.

The Chinese response to this is important for many in the security community in Japan, many of whom are level-headed and traditionally have not even been particularly antagonistic towards China. At least, certainly less so than some of Japan’s politicians. From the point of view of many in this community, an unfortunate diplomatic contrast will become obvious.

When Japan makes mere mention of using the provocative but “valid” option of firing warning flares to direct a Chinese government aircraft out of contested territory under Japan’s control, a high-ranking Chinese defense official comes out with nationalistic bombast along the lines of “if Japan were to dare using such an option around the Senkakus, we would not wait to see what the follow up would be.”

Japan retreats.

When a Chinese maritime vessel paints a MSDF vessel 3kms away with a fire-control radar on the open sea for a number of minutes, the MSDF performs “standard evasive maneuvers” like it is a training exercise, and retreats. The Japanese government thinks about it for a few days, collects data, and then makes a diplomatic protest. What will China’s response be? Obfuscation? Defiance? Apology? It will matter to many, and not just the public and the usual political suspects keen to exploit the issue for political gain.

The New PRC Documents on the Senkaku Islands

As noted in my fuller exposition of the developments over at Japan Security Watch, Jiji Press went big yesterday (日) with apparently revelations that the Chinese, according to the PRC’s own official documents, actually considered the Senkaku Islands to be part of Okinawa prefecture for some period of time, in contradiction of its position that it had always considered the islands to be part of Taiwan “Province”, even before the 1968 discovery of oil.

In short, the article notes that in a document produced in preparation for negotiations regarding the San Fransisco Peace Treaty, (which the PRC did not ultimately participate in due to not being invited, and its outcome rejected anyway due to its position on Taiwan), the PRC did not once use the current Chinese name for the islands (Diaoyu-tai), used the Japanese moniker on one occasion, and did not explicitly state that they should have been part of PRC China while also expressing doubts about whether the islands were part of Taiwan province rather than the Ryukyus. This could have not only implications for the consistency of the PRC position since 1949, but raises the possibility that Chinese “awareness” that the islands were effectively ceded along with Taiwan during the Treaty of Shimonoseki, or stolen by conquest, was not as robust, apparent or widespread as has been previously argued. That said, the documents are not likely to change anything in the short-term, although may embolden the Japanese to take a more proactive position on promoting the idea of ICJ resolution.

Just How Angry is Xi Jinping Right Now?

MTC has a provocative post up that will almost certainly get him into trouble with a few people in the East Asia studies circuit, but still certainly worth a read. He very validly points out that the DPRK’s most recent launch of a missile-rocket indeed puts US military interests within range of the DPRK’s IRBM (長距離ミサイル for those keeping score), which may in turn change some of the alliance calculus over the next few years. The South Koreans have always been willing to put up with far too much from the DPRK for Japan’s liking, but now with the US being in range at some point then this may alter the balance of concern. Furthermore, it dilutes one of the bargaining chips the US has held over Japan, and has used to get Japan to do things it may have otherwise not been particularly keen on doing (Iraq, withdrawing from the Azadegan oil field in Iran). In theory, over time the North Korean “ballistic missile threat” will be less likely to be utilized as some kind of of quid pro quo in alliance negotiations and should become more of a mutual interest. Cucek also correctly notes that the Chinese will be furious and will once again see their power and influence as not having brought the respect they believe it deserves.

This will hurt the Chinese in other ways than simply pride, however.

First, it gives Japan and the US a useful issue to bash the PRC over the head with in the UNSC, especially if the PRC goes ahead and vetoes any further sanctions. China’s image will deteriorate in Japan further as perceptions have already shifted from it being perceived as a “responsible power” when it first proposed the Six-Party Talks, to it now being perceived as more of an “enabler” of the DPRK and its various military machinations.

Second, given the second stage debris of the missile-rocket landed not a few hundred KMs from the Philippines, then the PRC’s song and dance about the new X-Band Radar proposed for southern Japan and/or the Philippines is going to look all the more hollow. Japan, Taiwan, Australia and the Philippines will be officially less than amused, but may also be very pleased as any further installation of BMD architecture such as the X-Band Radar in southern Japan or the Philippines will in practice, even if not officially, bring greater protection against the PRC’s own MRBMs. Further X-Band Radar installation will also help in enabling the US and Japan naval forces to stand their ground better against the DF-21D “Carrier Killer” within the key strategic triangle of Guam-Tokyo-Taipei. If the Chinese are unwilling to cut the DPRK adrift, or unable to bring them under control, then they have little valid leverage to push back against such plans.

Third, the PRC a few months into the DPRK’s succession had many of the state-associated think tank scholars spread the word regarding the DPRK having turned over a new page, confident that the DPRK would follow the PRC’s lead and pursue Deng Xiaoping-era style reforms.  Apparently the PRC communicated to the other powers in the region that they were not to do anything that would “interfere” with the transition of power to Kim Jong-eun. Essentially this was a warning to respect China’s sphere of influence and to not attempt to put pressure on the DPRK which would destabilize it.  This had led to fears of China potentially “colonizing” North Korea economically, but yesterday’s launch may well represent a rejection of such “guidance” from the PRC, or at the very least an attempt to extract more out of the Chinese in terms of assistance before the almost inevitable threat to detonate a nuclear device rises early next year. It may also reflect a recalibration of internal politics back towards the military, although I have no particular information that would confirm this. Giving in to the DPRK’s demands however, likely in defiance or ignorance of proposed sanctions by the ROK, Japan and the US, will however hurt China’s own regional credibility as well as its own security interests, as per point two above.

Before Noda Goes to Moscow, Mori

It seems yesterday’s post was well timed. The Japanese media is now reporting (日) that former prime minister and recenty retired LDP elder Mori Yoshiro is currently preparing to fly to Moscow to meet with President Putin ahead of Noda’s visit in December. One government official has denied that this has anything to do with the government, with it being suggested the meeting is simply a catch up between old friends. It is certainly true that Mori and Putin have close personal connections. Mori was, for one, the Japanese PM at the time of the singing of the infinitely sensible Irkutsk Declaration in 2001, which reconfirmed the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration signed on the eve of normalization in 1956. The original declaration committed the two sides to signing a peace treaty which would in turn result in the return of two of the southernmost Kuriles, Habomai and Shikotan, to Japan.

Along with Suzuki Muneo, Mori has the necessary personal connections to facilitate a positive outcome if the Japanese government is open to it. Thus, giving the timing, it is hard to believe this is a mere coincidence. It is also very interesting that Mori has come out and reprimanded (日) LDP President Abe for focusing too much on getting Noda to call an election this year, something which could certainly interfere with any progress on Russo-Japanese relations and would limit Noda’s credibility in any discussions.