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Pivot to Asia
China's Air Defense Zone Drives Wedge Between US, Japan

China has reason to be happy with its controversial Air Defense Identification Zone: it is helping drive a wedge between the US and its Asian allies, especially with Japan. The FT has the story:

Joe Biden, the US vice-president … stopped short of joining Japanese leaders in demanding that the zone be scrapped.

[E]ven as he reiterated that the US was “deeply concerned” that China’s declaration of a wide air defence identification zone in November risked “accidents and miscalculations”, he did not demand that the perimeter be formally withdrawn.

Beijing will be pleased. Part of its “cabbage strategy” is to gradually push the US military out of east and southeast Asia by probing the limits of the US commitment to the region and, hopefully, estranging the US and its Asian allies. Washington taking a weaker line on China’s ADIZ than Japan will be seen as a sign the strategy is working.

The US “pivot”, and Washington’s enduring commitment to stability and prosperity in Asia, is one of the most important geopolitical strategies of the Obama administration. It is a bipartisan goal, and whoever takes office after President Obama will likely support it. But in this sensitive time, as rising China tests the US and other Asian powers, Washington mustn’t give its Asian allies any reason to doubt that the US is anything short of fully committed to the region for the long term.


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  • Kavanna

    The “pivot to Asia” is vacuous. In fact, what’s happening is simply that American influence is on the decline there as well. It’s declined sharply in Europe, as well as crashed and burned in the Middle East.

    The decline in Asia is slower, but just as obvious.

    “Smart diplomacy”!

  • AD_Rtr_OS

    Joe Biden has never, in his time in public life, been on the correct side of any foreign policy issue – why would we expect that to change now?

  • rheddles

    The strategy the Chinese are implementing requires more than 3 years to deliver results. Another reason to be thankful for the XXII amendment.

  • Thirdsyphon

    I actually view this as a positive sign. In the past, when one side or the other has been forced to climb down from an unsustainable military posture, the quid pro quo from the losing side (whether it’s the US backing down from conducting further EP-3E spy plane missions in early 2000, or China backing down from carrying out more tests of anti-satellite weapons systems in 2007, or the confrontation over the ADIZ now) has always been “no crowing.” If the US and China have indeed reached a deal whereby all sides quietly forget the ADIZ ever happened (which I think is the most likely outcome) Biden’s measured and nonconfrontational public statements are exactly what we’d expect to be seeing reported.

    • gabrielsyme

      I wish I could share your optimism in relation to the likelihood of China backing down through anything less than overwhelming pressure. This was a calculated move, and an extremely public one on China’s part, and difficult to back down from.

      This response seems designed to make China think its policy can succeed, erode confidence and cooperation between Japan and the United States and ultimately allow for the expansion of Chinese hegemony in the region.

      • Thirdsyphon

        It’s hard to know for certain whether a given public statement by “Uncle Joe” is Administration policy or yet another instance of the VP planting his foot in his mouth at the worst possible time. I’d be tempted to say that the ADIZ is too important for Biden not to mind his tongue, but experience has taught me that, if anything, the importance of an issue makes a gaffe on his part *more* likely rather than less.

        That being said, even if your analysis is correct and Biden’s statements have served to undermine the Administration’s position rather than support it, the outcome for China from the ADIZ confrontation will be exactly the opposite of what the PLA (and many analysts) were expecting it to be.

        Until China took this action, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe was viewed as a troublemaking ultra-nationalist by US analysts for his obsession with pressing Japan’s claim to sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands. Like Japan’s squabble with Russia over the equally uninhabitable Kuril Islands a generation ago, America’s position on the Senkakus was scrupulously neutral.

        Officially, it still is; but leave it to China to find a way to turn American neutrality into a problem for themselves. Simply by upholding the status quo, we find ourselves being thrust by China into the arms of an eagerly rearming and increasingly assertive Japan.

        China’s leaders certainly won’t relish climbing down from this fight. Chinese domestic media is more or less containable, but that will do little to help Beijing’s credibility with the foreign governments that were supposed to have been overawed and cowed by this gesture. Still: they will find that they have no other choice.

  • Pete

    The Japanese can’t help but feel that the U.S. will sell them out just like we did to all our allies in the Middle East. Fact.

    • S.C. Schwarz

      Exactly. The Chinese saw what happened in the Middle East and judged, correctly, that this was a president that could be had.

      The decline accelerates.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Incompetence thy name is Obama!

  • Jim__L

    Now that China can likely predict our diplomatic moves thanks to various Leaks, all they have to do is take actions that cross our allies’ red lines but not the Obama administration’s, secure in the knowledge that Obama’s inaction will estrange us from our allies.

    Great. Just great.

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