29 November 2009

Search and Rescue Cooperation

China and Japan are two of the most important powers in East Asia (with South Korea right behind), and so it's very heartening to see these two working on military cooperation, even if only on maritime search and rescue.

There are still worries about budgets and misrepresentations, but all efforts to increase cooperation between US allies and China will help keep the region stable, particularly if it can help keep China happy and not paranoid about the intentions of the US and its allies.

Recurring theme

One of the recurring ideas I've been struggling with recently is the idea that concessions and respect earn dividends. I won't claim that its something new or unusual, at least for middle powers, but it seems that much of the American pundit class is having trouble with it.

Fortunately, there are some who are showing how it can work, including Barack Obama. This can be seen in concessions made by China after Barack Obama left. Andrew Sullivan (commenting on reporting done by Jim Fallows) helps to show that. On three of the four major issues that most people have been pushing Obama to push China on (the fourth being human rights), China shows progress after the President went home. That suggests (though does not prove; I don't want to be accused of post hoc/propter hoc issues) that the President had some effect while he was there.

And this is the essence of diplomacy. Loudly demanding things from countries gets you nowhere, even if you are the unipower. Perhaps, actually, especially if you are the unipower.

18 November 2009


This is one of the most asinine things I've seen in awhile.

The author (Daniel Blumenthal) tries to take two fairly empty statements about the US cooperating with China and turn it into some kind of monstrous concession to Chinese dominance of the world.

The first passage that Blumenthal has a problem with:

The two countries reiterated that the fundamental principle of respect for each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity is at the core of the three U.S.-China joint communiqu├ęs which guide U.S.-China relations. Neither side supports any attempts by any force to undermine this principle. The two sides agreed that respecting each other's core interests is extremely important to ensure steady progress in U.S.-China relations.
Blumenthal says this "comes closer to officially accepting the Chinese claim of sovereignty" over Taiwan. Even if Taiwan was the subject of this part, it in now way says that we accept that Taiwan is part of China's territory. I agree with him that this respect was not the core of the original agreements (kicking Soviet butt, geopolitically, was), but at this point without a bare minimum recognition of this we do nothing but play into Chinese paranoia.

He also complains that Obama hasn't sold any weapons to Taiwan, despite "being bound by law." He ignores that, by international law (aka the treaties communiques we signed with China) we have been bound to reduce those sales over time. Hasn't happened. Also, as of right now, Taiwan is fine. It will need more military ales later, but hopefully that will be at a time when our economy has recovered and we are no longer so reliant on China.

However, this is not as bizarre as his statements on China and India. Responding to this bit of text:

The two sides welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.
Somehow, this is a horrible capitulation to China and an attempt to force India to deal with Pakistan, rather than helping India do what it wants by confronting China. Somehow, this is attempting to keep India down as a regional, rather than world power.

And, even if somehow, some way, having India help in dealing with Pakistani and Afghani problems really does boost Chinese power...it doesn't change the fact that right now, in the world of today (and not 10 years or 20 years away, when China might actually be able to rival the US), we have troops in Afghanistan and we are fighting in Pakistan. Right now, we need Indian help there, not in containing the China of twenty years from now.

Blumenthal is also upset that this "elevates" China while "demeaning" India, making it a "regional" power rather than a "global" one. It ignores the realities on the ground in South Asia, including that there are continuing issues between the two nuclear armed powers in the region. It also ignores that, right now, that's what India is. I'll be the first to say that we need to work with India, and make it a key partner and support its bid to greatness. But to ignore reality in order to make accusations at Obama and China is patently ridiculous.

Obama's Trip

Overall, I'm really happy with Obama's trip abroad. Despite some cranks, Obama presented an America comfortable with its roles and comfortable with its relations to its allies.

Now, Obama is in South Korea for a fairly routine visit. It's weird that now the US-South Korean relationship is so strong and trouble-free again. "Anti-Americanism" in South Korea was one of the biggest topics just a few years ago, when I first started paying attention to the politics of the area. Now, the US and South Korea stand firm on almost everything again.

I'm hoping then that the small concessions to Japan (particularly on the Okinawa issue) can lead to keeping that alliance just as firm. I would love to see a ROK-Japan alliance in the future (I know, there are so many historical issues, but once upon a time so did the US and British). That kind of three-sided, democratic alliance could do a lot of good in stabilizing the region. We'll have to see.

15 November 2009

North Korean special forces

Kyle Mizokami at War is Boring has an interesting post up describing the new enlarged North Korean special forces as (possibly) an insurance policy for the regime, rather than forces designed to attack South Korea. The basic idea is that the spec ops forces are to be a ready-made insurgency just in case the US or ROK forces conquer the country. This would be a sensible idea, as there is no way for the DPRK forces to prevent a US/ROK combined takeover, assuming of course China does not intervene again.

The only problem with the thesis is that we have no evidence that the special forces are trained for that. All of the evidence points to them being trained for surreptitious crossing of the border and from there conduct traditional guerrilla warfare. On the other hand, Kyle reports them being trained in IEDs.

If nothing else, this should help to persuade US policy makers that force is not going to be very successful against the Kim regime.

Makes me happy

This is the right way to go about it. Prudent cooperation, minor concessions to allies who have felt neglected or slighted, and a push for human rights that carries no threats. Contrary to some, this is not a position of weakness. The US does not need to be fighting with either its own allies or China, even though it has the military might to probably do so just fine. Instead, it is a pragmatic way to make the country more safe now, and into the future.

12 November 2009

Indian/Japanese Relations

Galrahn at Information Dissemination has a post up about new ties between India and Japan. The two moving together, possibly forming an axis with the US and South Korea, could be a strong force for stability in East Asia. This would also fit in well with the "network" approach brought up in some of the ASEAN readings. A network of bilateral ties could help strengthen into a web of cooperation and support.

The fear, of course, is in establishing a system like that prior to WWI ,when the overlapping alliances led people to be pulled into war. However, with the off-shore balancer always on the horizon now (rather than conceivably remaining aloof, as it was prior to WWI), it should be less likely. At the very least, the US should try to encourage these kinds of ties between US allies and the states the US is trying to bring on as allies.

Preparing for any eventuality

Armchair Generalist links to a Defense News piece about US-ROK plans for dealing with DPRK nukes after the regime falls apart. I'm glad that the Pentagon has realized how much more dangerous North Korean instability can be than North Korean attack. In particular, nobody wants rogue elements within the North Korean state (or starving scientists in the worst-case post-Soviet scenario) getting those bombs or even the nuclear material. While I'm not saying that this should be the center of planning, it is important.

One thing that the original article notes that I think Armchair Generalist neglects is the China angle. I believe that these are the kind of plans that can and should be shared with China, to the degree consistent with national security. Any intervention in North Korea will be politically perilous, and surprising China with it would only make that worse. If we can even get Chinese support in a post-collapse intervention, so much the better. Obviously, capabilities, yada yada yada should be protected, but if there was ever a moment to show trust and hopefully build some in return, this could be it.

11 November 2009

Still going to have bilateral talks with North Korea

This is despite the skirmish with South Korea a few days ago. Since this is not a new idea in the wake of the skirmish, I can't really see how this can be spun as "giving in" to North Korean pressure or as a "reward" for bad behavior, but I'm sure someone will try to. Nothing about the skirmish negates the usefulness of bilateral negotiations. Fortunately, South Korea agrees.

Relatedly, why does North Korea bother lying about what happened? The DPRK is claiming to have driven the South Korean vessel off, a lie that can be easily disproven. It makes no sense.
It is sad to see some talking about an end to the "special relationship" with Japan. As the strongest, longest democracy in East Asia, this relationship has helped to maintain stability and prosperity for both sides for 50 years now. In particular, I hope that Obama can get things back on track, particularly after some impolitic moves by SecDef Gates.

I believe this is a good moment for some strategic appeasement on the US's side. While shuttering the Okinawa base would be overkill, some concessions to show that the US accepts the full equality of the partnership. (One can make a case that the US-Japanese alliance is in no way equal, but even if one accepts that, it is no way to keep an alliance.) Honestly, Japan is a stronger ally than many of the newer NATO allies, and deserves a position that recognizes that, and the current institutions in place don't seem to do that. Some small moves that way will go a long way toward fixing the current rift.

10 November 2009

Thai/Cambodian Rift

I doubt this will boil over into war or anything, but the near soap opera of the fight between Cambodia and Thailand over the appointment of former Thai prime minister Thaksin is intriguing. I don't even claim to understand what Cambodia was thinking in appointing Thaksin to an advisory post on economics (I know, he was a successful businessman and had some limited success in alleviating poverty, but only limited success). They had to know that it would piss Thailand off, though I didn't expect an extradition request.

Will this go to war? I doubt it. I don't even know if Cambodia has a functioning military, but Thailand has enough to deal with in its own south. But it's something to keep an eye on.

Korean Firefight

Once again, the two Korean militaries are firing on each other again. Of course, this happens all the time, and no one should get too excited. However, this time supposedly ended in North Korean deaths, which is the first time in a while.

Here's hoping it's just the same-old, same-old.

09 November 2009

China in Malaysia

A Chinese bank will be opening a branch in Malaysia


I often wonder about the usefulness of any given military base. One good example of this is the massive base in Okinawa. It is tremendously unpopular with the people of Okinawa, who have fairly consistently asked for the US to leave. (At the same time, it seems pretty clear that the Okinawans want the Japanese out, despite being legally part of Japan.) From any kind of liberal democratic standpoint, maintaining the base there against the wishes of the inhabitants screams colonialism, even if it is abetted by the "national" government (that many Okinawans also do not recognize).

This seems like one of the most controversial ones, though, because Okinawa occupies a particularly useful position in the area. It's halfway between Japan proper and Taiwan, and helps to solidify the first "band" of islands around the Chinese waters. If one was at all worried about trouble with China, it would be the most logical place to have a base. Japan knows this as well, and wants to keep the US troops where they are.

I do not really have an answer to this, except to keep in mind that these are actual competing claims on the national interest, and probably should not be swept under the rug. However, due to the assorted other bases this would have implications for (including Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean), I don't see any real accounting for this happening any time in the near future.

04 November 2009

So, just as North Korea announces that it is producing more nuclear material, one of the other rock-star heads of state is taking a stab at dealing with, though not in person.

Sarko has a history of this, and it has often paid off. Also, it's possible the North Koreans might accept bilateral negotiations with the French as a substitute for bilateral negotiations with the Americans.

The biggest difference is that Sarko is not the one going, but instead the Socialist and former Culture Minister, Jack Lang. It makes a lot of sense for Sarko not to go himself, but I wonder how much the North Koreans will care about a former Culture Minister. We had to send Bill Clinton to get our journalists back, though in this case the French are considering concessions that we weren't.

Good luck Land and Sarko. Anything that can break this impasse right now, no matter how improbable, should probably be commended.

02 November 2009

Definition of Insanity

China is launching a brand new "strike hard" campaign in Xinjiang. This is the second time that China has done this. The first time, it temporarily put down the uprising (in an extremely brutal fashion), but also radicalized the entire generation. Perhaps, this time, they think they can't radicalize the Uyghurs anymore than they have.

Actually, from a nationalist perspective, it makes great sense. Right now, they are more worried about the Han in Xinjiang revolting, and right now the Han are scared enough that they are also questioning the ability of the government to maintain order. However, I still don't see a good ending to all of this.

01 November 2009

Dalai Lama and China, round 5,256

China recently executed two people for their parts in the riots last year in Lhasa, and now is prosecuting a movie maker. The movie showed regular Tibetan people expressing their love of the Dalai Lama and heaping scorn on the Chinese authorities and the large number of Han moving into their lands. The man who made it, Dhondup Wangchen, knew that it was likely he'd get arrested (and so sent all of his family away to India for protection). Supposedly, he has been tortured, but the Chinese government has not allowed anyone to have access to him.

Why does this matter for East Asian security? Every outrage like this gives more credence to China's greatest boogeyman, the Dalai Lama. How can China dispute the words of the Dalai Lama if they constantly do exactly what he accuses them of? Moreover, though the Tibetans have long been more pacifistic than the Uyghurs (and, despite what the PRC government says, the Dalai Lama is more pacifistic than most), there is probably a limit to the amount of pushing and repression.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the biggest sticking points between India and China is Tibet. India shelters the Dalai Lama and his entire government-in-exile. The other big sticking point is the exact boundaries of Tibet vs. India. The more tension there is between the Dalai Lama and China, the more tension there will be between India and China. It really is in China's best interest to reach SOME kind of accommodation with a guy seen as one of the holiest men in the world.