2012年08月07日

(My latest in Asia Times) China, Japan stretch peace pacts

My latest story for Asia Times, about deteriorating Japan-China relations. I criticized both governments which had indicated the threat or use of force against territorial integrity. The story was top news in Asia Times.手(チョキ)

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China, Japan stretch peace pacts
By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO - Asia's two giants, China and Japan, are playing a dangerous game, each indicating they are prepared to use force in defense of islands they both claim as their own.

With a side glance at China expanding its effective control of the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea, Japan has been taking a stronger rhetorical stand against Beijing to protect its own sovereignty.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on July 26 said in the Diet (parliament) that if necessary the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) can be mobilized to defend the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.

The following day, Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto also said that "action by the SDF is secured by law in cases where the Japan Coast Guard or police cannot respond" and that sending the SDF to the uninhabited isles would be "a reasonable measure" under the country's legal framework.

Moreover, Japan's 2012 Defence White Paper, published by the Japanese Ministry of Defense on July 31, raised strong concerns over China's military build-up, especially its naval expansion. It pointed out for the first time that "Chinese government ships have also been observed, which were engaged in monitoring activities for protection of its maritime rights and interests. Moreover, advancements to the Pacific Ocean by Chinese naval surface vessels are being routinely conducted."

China didn't remain silent. On the same day, Senior Colonel Geng Yansheng, a Chinese defense ministry spokesman, quickly gave a rebuttal by saying that "the Japanese authorities have recently made a series of irresponsible remarks regarding the Diaoyu islands ... Safeguarding the nation's sovereignty and [Chinese] maritime interests is the joint responsibility of all state organs including the military. We will work closely with the other organs and conscientiously fulfill our duty."

This is a very big - and dangerous - departure from the previous common principle that both governments have shared, which is that the two nations should refrain from the threat or use of force against territorial integrity.

For example, specifically, Article 6 of the Japan-China Joint Communique of 1972, signed by then prime ministers Kakuei Tanaka and Zhou Enlai, said as follows.

The Government of Japan and the Government of the People's Republic of China agree to establish relations of perpetual peace and friendship between the two countries on the basis of the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence.

The two Governments confirm that, in conformity with the foregoing principles and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, Japan and China shall in their mutual relations settle all disputes by peaceful means and shall refrain from the use or threat of force.


In addition, Article 1 of the Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1978 also confirmed non-use of their militaries.

The Contracting Parties shall develop relations of perpetual peace and friendship between the two countries on the basis of the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence.

The Contracting Parties confirm that, in conformity with the foregoing principles and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, they shall in their mutual relations settle all disputes by peaceful means and shall refrain from the use or threat of force.


While the rhetoric on both sides seems a case of bluffing, implying that force could be used appears to breach previous pacts.

There is considerable argument over who is responsible for the current state of relations between Japan and China.

While China has been accused of renewed assertiveness over its territorial claims in recent years, it was Japan that re-ignited a long-simmering territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in April.

Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara said the metropolitan government would buy three of the Senkaku Islands' five main islands from a private landowner. Driven by Ishihara's populist campaign, Noda announced a government plan to nationalize the three islands.

Observers say Noda has used the island purchase plan to help buoy approval ratings, which have plunged to a low of 22% since he took power last September. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party is threatening to call a no-confidence vote on Noda, with political fortunes suffering over a split within his ruling Democratic Party of Japan related to his plan to double the sales tax to 10% by 2015.

China's Foreign Ministry on July 7 called Japan's plan to nationalize the islands "unlawful and invalid", saying "the Chinese government will continue to take necessary measures to firmly protect its sovereignty over the islands."

This was not a bluff. Beijing moved into action, sending three government fishing patrol ships to Japanese-claimed waters off the Senkaku Islands, prompting Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba to lodge a "strong" protest with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi.

For Tokyo, the responsibility for the current tensions lies with Beijing. Japanese vividly remember China's tactics in the wake of similar territorial disputes, including the temporary suspension of exports of rare earths to Japan following a spat over the Senkaku Islands in the fall of 2010.

China's approach to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, particularly with Vietnam and the Philippines, has also alarmed Japan.

China's Central Military Commission in late July approved the deployment of a division-level military garrison to "Sansha City" on Woody Island - one of the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands - in the north of the contested maritime region. The jurisdiction of "Sansha", officially incorporated last month, covers the entirety of China's claims in the South China Sea.

State-run newspaper Xinhua reported on July 31 that the Sansha garrison is responsible for "defense mobilization, militia reserves, the relationship between the garrison and local government as well as the city guard, support for the city"s disaster rescue and relief work, and direct militia and reserve troops in the city of Sansha".


The stronger force
A Chinese military official recently told English-language state-run newspaper the Global Times that the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) is stronger than the People's Liberation Army Navy. He also accused Japan of stirring up the China threat while modernizing its army under the patronage of the United States.

The JMSDF is largely viewed as the second-strongest destroyer navy in the world, surpassed only by the US, as it boasts six Aegis-quipped destroyers and two state-of-the-art helicopter carriers.

Quality is more important than quantity in today's military world. Lacking high-tech warships with the so-called Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Integration (C4I) System, China would struggle to win a naval battle against Japan's forces. This means China is more likely to be engaged in territorial disputes in the South China Sea than the East China Sea in coming years.

Ma's proposal
Seemingly concerned as Japan and China headed for an all-out confrontation, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou on August 5 proposed a peace initiative to address the territorial disputes over the Senkaku Islands, know in Taiwan as the Tiaoyutai Islands.

"We proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative to urge all sides to seriously face the possible impact of this territorial dispute on the peace and security of the East China Sea," Ma said.

Ma called on all parties to refrain from taking antagonistic actions, to shelve their differences, to not abandon dialogue, to observe international law and to resolve the dispute via peaceful means.

Tokyo and Beijing in May started a first session of talks on maritime affairs to manage conflicts and properly handle relevant issues, but the initiative is still in its infancy. There remains much room for improvement in accordance with Ma"s proposal.

As the territorial disputes fuel nationalism and a "victim mentality" on both sides, politicians and military officers are exploiting the issue to boost their popularity and power bases. Japan and China need to take swift steps to break the spiral of mistrust. Otherwise, the situation could deteriorate further, delivering a blow to Asia's chances of being the epicenter of global growth in the 21st century.

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based Japanese journalist. Besides Asia Times Online, he also writes for IHS Jane's Defence Weekly as Tokyo correspondent. His twitter is @TakahashiKosuke

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
posted by Kosuke at 00:36| Comment(0) | Asia Times

2012年07月27日

(My latest in Asia Times)Noda feels heat over Osprey deployment

Although the US repeatedly stresses “the MV-22 is a highly capable aircraft with an excellent safety record,” the majority of the Japanese people don't believe such “myth of security” or “safety dogma” any more in the wake of the nuclear meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Until March 11, 2011, the Japanese government had long said the nation's nuclear plants were all proven safe. This has eroded public confidence in politics and sparked the nation's largest demonstrations every Friday in half a century since 1960s around when the Japan-US Security Treaty was revised.

Noda seems to be increasingly concerned over the deployment of the Osprey, which could deal a fatal blow to his already-suffering administration. His cabinet’s public approval rating fell to 20-30 percent, according to recent polls conducted by the Japanese media.

By destabilizing the Japanese government, the deployment of the Osprey seems to be providing Japanese people a good opportunity to think twice what for US bases and facilities in Japan are.


Noda feels heat over Osprey deployment
Japanese have accused Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of "subservience" to the United States following the arrival of controversial Osprey aircraft soon to be deployed on Okinawa island. Noda says historic agreements leave Tokyo no room to maneuver, but this hasn't eased fears that the tilt-rotor aircraft's safety record makes it entirely unsuited for a highly populated area. - Kosuke Takahashi (Jul 26, '12)

Noda feels heat over Osprey deployment
By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO - The US Marine Corps (USMC) this week deployed 12 Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey aircraft to its Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi prefecture of western Japan, despite concerns over the tilt-rotor aircraft's safety record heightened by two recent crashes.

More than 500 citizens on Monday staged rallies around the air base over the arrival of the Ospreys, with dozens of local people taking to fishing boat and dinghies to demonstrate in its harbor. Washington plans to deploy the MV-22s to Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan, Okinawa, in September.

In an attempt to ease local hostility, the US and the Japanese governments have agreed to refrain from test-flying the aircraft until the results of a US probe into its two recent crashes - one in Morocco in April and another in Florida in mid-June - are complete. Both governments are sticking to a plan to start full-scale operations of the Osprey at the Marines' Futenma Air Station on Okinawa in October after maintenance and trial flights at Iwakuni.

However, tensions over the Osprey will likely escalate further in coming weeks, local activists hoping to attract hundreds of thousands to the island's largest-ever protest rally on August 5.

Critics argue that Tokyo has failed to stand up to the US on the issue.

"The deployment itself is a basic policy of the US government," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said flatly on a Fuji Television program on July 16. "Although Japan is an ally of the US, basically this isn't a matter where we tell the US government what to do."

Accused by an opposition lawmaker of subservience to the US over the Osprey deployment on July 24, Noda apologized for having given insufficient explanations as to his reasons for this.

The Japan-US security treaty
According to Noda, in 1960 when the Japan-US Security Treaty was revised, then prime minister Nobusuke Kishi and US secretary of state Christian Herter conducted an exchange of notes on the implementation of Article 6, agreeing that the US would consult with the Japanese government in advance regarding important changes in US military equipment in Japan.

Noda said the matter of the Osprey is not subject to prior consultations under the bilateral security treaty as "important changes in US military equipment in Japan" only cover "nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and the like".

Noda also said the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which has governed the management and operations of the US military in Japan since 1960, stipulates that US warplanes, such as the Osprey, are allowed to fly not only above US facilities and land areas in Japan but also above any area other than those.

As Asia Times Online reported in June, the United States Marine Corps (USMC) plans to conduct MV-22 Osprey's low-altitude flight training in Japan via six different flight routes above the Japanese archipelago. (See US Marines eye Japan as a training yard, Asia Times Online, June 23, 2012)

People in Chugoku areas such as Iwakuni City have pointed out there is a seventh route, a so-called brown route, which the USMC currently uses in Japan. Furthermore, the report, "Final Environmental Review for Basing MV-22 at MCAS Futenma and Operating in Japan" (April 2012), lists plans to conduct low-level flight training down to 50 feet, or 15.24 meters above ground level.

If the USMC plans to continue using the brown route for Osprey's flight training, critics have asked why it didn't mentioned this in its report on the deployment.

Critics have demand Tokyo ask Washington to review the deployment of the Osprey, despite Noda's inflexible approach.

"There is still room for negotiation," Ukeru Magosaki, the former chief of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's international intelligence bureau, told Asia Times Online. "The US and Japan have agreed to reduce burdens on Okinawa residents. Deploying the Osprey to Futenma increases danger. This clearly runs counter to the US-Japan agreements."

The already-controversial Futenma Air Station is located in a densely populated area of the city of Ginowan, which is surrounded by more than 100 schools, hospitals and shops. In November 2003, when then US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Okinawa and looked over Futenma from the air, he said he could not believe there were not more accidents in such a place. He called it "the world's most dangerous base".

In April 1996, Japan and the US agreed to relocate the Futenma Air Station. But the local government has demanded the closure of the Futenma site while rejecting a prolonged plan to construct a sea-based replacement facility off Camp Schwab in the north of the island.

In August 2004, a US Marines CH-53 military helicopter crashed into a university building in the city, causing no serious damage or injuries but causing a major international incident. (Thanks to summer vacation, most students were off-campus.)

In 1959, a US fighter jet also crashed into an elementary school in central Okinawa, leaving 17 people dead, including 11 children. Okinawans remember these accidents vividly.

'Know nothing' stance
Okinawans have accused their central government of inaction over the dispute, saying the Okinawa Defense Bureau has ignored the issue despite the deployment of the Osprey to Futenma being announced in the US Navy's 1992 document "Master Plan for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma" and in the 1996 Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) draft.

Although the US repeatedly stresses "the MV-22 is a highly capable aircraft with an excellent safety record," the majority of Japanese are even less likely to accept such pledges following the attempted cover-up of failures that contributed to the nuclear meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following an earthquake there last March.

Noda seems to be increasingly concerned over the deployment of the Osprey, which could deal a fatal blow to his embattled administration. His cabinet's public approval rating fell to 20-30%, according to recent polls conducted by the Japanese media.

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based Japanese journalist. Besides Asia Times Online, he also writes for Jane's Defence Weekly as Tokyo correspondent. His twitter is @TakahashiKosuke

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
posted by Kosuke at 00:02| Comment(0) | Asia Times

2012年07月21日

(My latest in Asia Times) Out with the old guard in Pyongyang

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Out with the old guard in Pyongyang
By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO - General Kim Jong-eun was a highly competitive little boy with a strong fighting instinct, according to Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese sushi chef who worked for the late former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from 1989 to 2001.

In the book The North's successor, Kim Jong-eun, Fujimoto writes that he was Kim Jong-eun's favorite playmate in Pyongyang when Kim junior was aged between seven and 18. The "general Jong-eun," as Fujimoto has called him, was rambunctious and quick-tempered, he says.

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When Kim Jong-eun progressed into his mid-teens, he began to show strong leadership skills, even during sport activities. Every time after a basketball match was finished, the young master was quick to point out the good and bad points of each of his teammates, sometimes offering them a compliment by clapping his hands and sometimes giving them a thorough scolding - making a different response to each of them explicitly.

Kim Jong-eun's desire to project himself as a strong, natural leader can be seen in the major military reshuffle launched this week. While young Kim has been granted the title of "marshal", the chief of the army, Ri Yong Ho, 69, was dismissed from all posts due to "illness". Little-known general Hyon Yong Chol was then promoted to vice marshal.

"This reshuffle suggests Kim Jong-eun aims to cap off personnel affairs," Hideshi Takesada, a professor at Yonsei University of South Korea, told Asia Times Online. "This shows he is now strong enough to take bold action."

The shake-ups this week are the most significant since Kim Jong-eun took power in December after his father's death. The title of "marshal" given to Kim Jong-eun is the communist state's second-highest ranking following "generalissimo", which has been held only by his late grandfather, Kim Il-sung, and his father. In North Korea, "generalissimo" and "marshal" are the titles of the state. Lower ranks below "vice marshal" are military titles.

Only two people, Kim Jong-eun and Ri Ul-sol, a retired former anti-Japanese partisan fighter, have been bestowed the title of "marshal". Ten military men, including Ri Yong-ho, Hyon Yong-chol and Choe Ryong-hae, the present director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army (KPA), have been granted the title "vice marshal".

Ousting the old guard
Experts believe Kim Jong-eun intended to internally purge members of the old guard, such as Ri, who were cherished by his father. They also say North Korea's young leader and his closest aides will only allow Songun (military-first) politics to operate within a framework that ensures the party's superiority over the military.

While initially it was believed that the reshuffle went smoothly, intelligence reports have since emerged from the North claiming that a gun battle broke out when Ri was being removed from office, with 20 to 30 soldiers reportedly killed.

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo reported on Friday that the battle erupted when Vice Marshal Choe tried to detain Ri in the process of carrying out leader Kim Jong-eun's order to sack him. "We cannot rule out the possibility that Ri was injured or even killed in the firefight," one source told the newspaper.

"Ri Yong-ho and his parents had strong family ties with the late Kim Jong-il," said Takesada. "Purging Ri means Kim Jong-eun may want to go against his father's will. A recent musical gala featuring Disney characters in Pyongyang may be another example of his departure from his father's policy."

It is a well known fact young Kim at the age of eight, together with his elder brother, Kim Jong-chol, visited Tokyo Disneyland in 1991.

Ri played a key role in helping the young heir to establish a powerbase among the military, whose support is key to regime stability. As a career military man, Ri assumed the post of chief of general staff of the KPA in February 2009. He was then appointed vice chairman of the party's Central Military Commission in September 2010 when Kim Jong-eun established his status as successor to his father. Ri was one of eight officials who escorted the hearse carrying Kim Jong-il during his funeral in December 2011.

Yonsei University's Takesada say it was Ri, known as a hardliner, who masterminded the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel and the North Korean bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.

However, Ri's influence has been declining for the past few months. His main rival, Choe Ryong-hae, 62, had already started to strengthen his clout by becoming director of the General Political Bureau of the KPA in April and receiving the title of vice marshal.

On April 15, Choe, not Ri, stood beside Kim Jong-eun at the high podium during a military parade to celebrate the centenary of the birth of North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung. This signaled that Choe had effectively robbed Ri of his position of the young general's as top aide.

Choe is a son of Choe Hyon, a former minister of the People's Armed Forces and close comrade of Kim Il-sung during his days as a partisan fighter against the occupying Japanese.

Choe Ryong-hae, known among the intelligence community as a vigorous and radical figure, in April completed the climb to the top of the ladder by becoming one of the five members of the decision-making Politburo Presidium of the WPK, as well as vice chairman of the party's central military commission. (Since Ri was removed, the presidium has only four members - namely Kim Jong-eun, Choe Ryong-hae, Kim Yong-nam, the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, and Choe Yong-rim, the nation's premier.)

The rise of Choe Ryong-hae, despite his previous civilian status in the Workers' Party, has coincided with Kim Jong-eun's ascent to power. This means that Choe is Kim Jong-eun's strong favorite and top aide. Choe is also known to be close to Kim junior's uncle, Jang Song-taek.

Experts such as Takesada believe that Choe along with Jang Song-taek, a vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, and his wife, Kim Kyong-hui, Kim Jong-il's younger sister and a secretary of the party's Central Committee, are strongly supporting Kim Jong-eun as guardians. Jang Song-taek has strong connections with the military as his older brother was a vice marshal of the KPA and his younger brother was a lieutenant general.

However, observers aren't certain on how the recent reshuffle will impact on chances of Chinese-style economic reform.

'Skin-ship' strategy
In recent video and photos, Kim Jong-eun appears to have intensified his efforts to visit military camps, factories, farms and kindergartens, more recently accompanied by a young lady. An officer from the South Korean intelligence community told Asia Times Online that "it has not yet been confirmed" who she is.

This outgoing approach makes the young Kim seem a lot like grandfather Kim Il-sung and is a big departure from Kim Jong-il's apparent desire to avoid the public eye.

The young general's openness is also seen in the unexpected news that he has invited his former sushi chef and playmate, Fujimoto, to revist North Korea as a guest.

"Since I was invited by General Kim Jong-un, I cannot refuse," Kyodo quoted Fujimoto as saying at Narita Airport on Friday.

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based Japanese journalist. Besides Asia Times Online, he also writes for Jane's Defence Weekly as Tokyo correspondent. His twitter is @TakahashiKosuke

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
posted by Kosuke at 02:23| Comment(0) | Asia Times