Saturday 21 December 2013

China/Japan - of more import than US-Iran?

This is quite a hard one to ponder. The dispute between China and Japan has been building all year long. In truth, it is for decades. China has never forgiven Japan for its occupation in the 1930's and 1940's; and it was a barbaric occupation by any standards.

Chinese schools teach their students of the horrors, whilst Japanese schools tend to ignore the nasty buts because after all, it was 2 generations ago.

So does this explain the rather weird stand off over some fairly tiny islands in the East China Sea. It seems to in part. There are oil fields and gas fields of some significance, but nothing compared to say the North Sea which several countries were bounded too and happily drew up an agreement to share.

In the South China Sea, things are a bit more obvious. The Spratly's and Colonia Islands are chock full of oil and gas reserves, in the main untapped. Here one can see much more clearly the realpolitik of the Countries and states with competing claims.

The worrying part is the escalation of claims against one another. It could well be that China decides in the near future to use hard power. Its use of soft power in North Africa and the Middle East has produced underwhelming results. And in reality, who is going to challenge China's military a few miles of its coast?

Whereas in Iran, the Country itself is a tinderbox with a move to becoming slightly more moderate and the West is impotent enough to sign a deal that gives them little except a fig leaf to pretend that Iran will comply with reducing its Nuclear ambitions. But its seems neither side are keen for a war, whereas the tension in the East China Sea goes the other way.


DtP said...

Whilst Japan isn't supposed to have nukes it wouldn't be too churlish to think that somewhere, beyond the oversight of those who don't need to know, there's some awesome contingency ability.

It's the mindset that's so hard to fathom - they both treat their states in ways which are rooted in a collectivist delusion that freaks the begeezus out of me. It's as if it's all or nothing and compromise is failure and the leaders are the bloody worst of the bunch.

The saving grace is that it's over there but it's not madness to envisage the dominoes falling for a total clusterfuck of consequential apocalypsia.

I may be being nieve but i've always thought Iran was sabre rattling as bluff to maintain internal order and because it is a sort of geo-political fissure where every bugger is playing the dirty. I'm defo more worried about the orient as they're as hard as anyone, tooled up to fuck and resent third party involvement. Hmm...

K said...

I've long thought that WWIII will start over in East Asia somewhere. These island disputes have been going on for years (Japan vs South Korea is particularly petty) but have only become mainstream in the West rather recently since the chattering classes were far too obsessed with Israel or the US to notice.

The thing about China's tactics are that they seem so out of date. With freedom of the seas and international trade (i.e. post Atlantic Charter) there isn't much point in the hassle of land grabs and colonisation. However, China has added a 21st century spin as they are not interested in land or people but resources under the sea.

The Senkaku's dispute is just a test round. You can't really frame it as WWII grievances or a something similar to the Falklands or Gibraltar when China makes such ridiculous claims as these:

China is trying to frame Japan as being on a path of remilitarisation and to scare Asia with WWII memories but I don't think it will work. The war was two generations ago and Japanese culture is very popular with youths.

If it really comes to it, I think all of Asia would support US led action. The key will be to show to China that actually they don't have any friends in this fight and nobody is interested in their own "Co-Prosperity Sphere", but they have such a sense of Han supremacy that I don't know if they will even care.

If China takes the islands by force and Japan backs down (a strong possibility I think), China will just take all their other claims too. Then what? Peace in our time?

Asia is full of well developed countries with high levels of nationalism and racism. Just because Europe is tired of wars doesn't mean everyone is.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese have long memories - they've still not forgotten the Opium Wars, or forgiven either. They're certainly still feeling raw about the Japanese invasion of WW2, not helped by Japan's almost psychotic reticence to recognise what they did.

I do foresee something happening, the Chinese are being pushy and the Japanese don't seem inclined to be pushed, but I hope I'm wrong. It's all at a bad time with Russia busy trying to rebuild the Soviet Union - if the US gets dragged into a war featuring China, Japan and the Korea's (anybody really thinking the Norks wouldn't try something during the chaos?) I could easily see Russia heading westwards militarily - the lessons from the break up of Yugoslavia is that the EU, as a whole, would respond with the square root of fuck nothing, with only the UK and France offering anything meaningful. And, sad to say, I don't think that'd be enough. Or even _that_ meaningful.

Very much hoping none of that comes to pass, mainly as I cannot see the West coming out on top - the Chinese have been busy investing in the kind of weapons that would negate the US air and sea superiority, and I suspect any conflict between the two would go ill for the US - and, for all its flaws, I quite prefer our society over with what we'd end up with.

DJK said...

I've nothing intelligent to add on China/Japan, beyond noting, as others have done, our complete ignorance of what the various regional governments are actually thinking.

But I can't help reflecting on the loss of the BAE Typhoon order for the UAE, apparently because the UAEians think the French are more likely to bomb Syria and Iran than we are. Coming soon after the loss of an Indian air force contract, also awarded to the French, and no doubt soon the Saudis switching their Typhoon order to the French, if nothing else it shows that politics is everything in defence procurement, and the impact of Prime Ministerial trade delegations is the square root of F-all.

Malcolm Tucker said...

Before WW1 people thought a European war would never happen again as the trade between European nations was so great that any conflict would do too much economic harm to the participants than they could hope to gain through war.

The British Empire and Germany were doing great trade together. And so was the French Empire.

The missing ingredient for that shattered illusion was all sides need to be democracies.

Oh dear!

Electro-Kevin said...

The point is - I believe - being missed here.

We are on the cusp of a new era - one of East Asian supremacy.

Does America sit back and just let it happen ? While it has 10 super carrier battle fleets in operation and space superiority ?

Or does she 'play fair' cave in, because of her economic debts, and hand over everything to China ?

I have long predicted a war. One contrived by the Americans against China.

Anything less is surrender.

Nick Drew said...

at this time of the year in 2007 I predicted (in the annual C@W Predictions round) that shortly after the Beijing Olympics Russia would invade one of its neighbours, just to prove she could

the only thing wrong with this prediction was that they had the effrontery to do it during the Olympics (leaving the Chinese gasping with outrage)

I'd say China now wants to show us all that she, too, can do such things

biffing a close neighbour is always so much easier than projecting force over long distances - interior lines of logistics, etc etc

DtP said...

Bit daft taking on the Nips though - high stakes! I always thought China V India Mk2, Kashmir type fuck up. It's ace that they're going east. Total loons and for volunteers only.

SumoKing said...

It is difficult to see china winning anything other than a land war and possibly an air battle close to its shores.

There is a big love for pointing out the chinese long range "carrier killer" missiles but it is a damn sit easier to hit a static land based launcher/airfield than a ship trying to hide. It is also true that a very near miss at sea is a total miss, while a near miss on land is probably going to do pretty heavy damage.

So all japan needs to do is lob a barrage of cruise missiles at static chinese military targets while sending its fleet (I think they have at least 45 destroyers?) to play the blockade game.

The exact same way Britain made china capitulate in the first place, send ships to cut food supply, china starves pretty quick

rwendland said...

ND, for all Russia's ills, I think it's a bit of a mis-characterisation to imply it decided to invade a neighbour. Georgia started it, and the response was pretty predicatable: the choice of retreat or repond was forced upon Russia.

I'd be surprised if China turns the island issue hot. I think it is more focused on difficult internal matters, and would be vary wary of external conflicts until it has near fully industrialised and GDP per capita exceeds half that of Europe. eg little reported that China only has ~35 nuclear missiles capable of reaching Washington, half very old and is only slowly modernising them - unlike the 1000+ US and Russia, or even our ~160 operational Trident warheads.

rwendland said...

Interesting Japan & Iran are in the topic. Japan is a "virtual nuclear weapons state" in the parlance, and the west has never objected to that, even assisted in some ways. Iran would like to become a "virtual nuclear weapons state", and is taking early steps toward that, but is being roasted by the west. We need to be careful that these double standards (see also India) do not cause the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty consensus to fail.

Many people think Japan could create nuclear missile in under a year. If the island issue became hot, Japan would find it difficult internally not to do this. And the international consequences would be nasty.

Japan has:

* about 9 tons of plutonium (mostly produced in the Magnox reactor UK supplied in the 1960s, and reprocessed in UK/France)
* a uranium enrichment plant
* building a nuclear reprocessing plant (produces plutonium)
* has good plutonium handling skills (and "lost" some down the back of a glove box until spotted by the IAEA) for MOX fuel
* has a solid fuel (space) rocket capable of quick launch and carrying 1.5 tonnes
* has carried out space sample reentry missions (with NASA help ISTR), so has the knowledge for missile reentry & guidance

Tricky one, the west having let all that happen without much of a squeak.

Anonymous said...

TheNameIUseAtChristmas said...

The most telling operation of recent times was the Israeli strike on Syria about 3 years ago.
The Syrians had just had the latest Russian AA/Radar installed and the Israelis flew right in, undetected and took out the targets. The Syrians were resigned but the Russians went nuts; they couldnt figure out how the Israelis did it.
For months afterwards tv signals in Israel were disrupted as Russian satellites repositioned and constantly scanned Israel to find out how they did it.
I would assume a similar scenario on Japan Vs China; to paraphrase Jim Morrison 'we got the guns but they got the numbers'...
Nothing will come of it...... unless the withdrawal of QE causes severe contractions in East Asian economies.

Blue Eyes said...

Anyone who hasn't read the Cryptonomicon should do so.

Merry Christmas capitalists and heathens all.

Gullible's Travels said...

Well I've watched Homeland so I know Iran is all done and dusted.

K said...


Georgia started the battle but Russia had been antagonizing them for years for daring to join NATO, which is why so many people predicted it the year before. For example, it seems like Richard North has quite a few articles on the increasing tensions through 2007-8. However, like with so many things, the media was late to the show and started their narrative in a misleading place.

Japan is luckier and already has a defence pact with the US, but then the UK had NATO when Argentina invaded the Falklands. If China's internal troubles become uncontrollable then who knows what could happen.


I seem to remember some article in Jane's or whatever from a year or two ago saying they reckon China's stealth tech is about where the UK's was in 2000 and far behind the US. And this was comparing publicly known Western aircraft against China's latest leaked info so things could be even further apart.

Without wishing for a war, I'd really like to see how these 21st century destroyers with Aegis and such fare in real combat. If they're duds then probably much of Europe's small but high tech military is useless. If they're better than expected then it could mean that MAD is over if nobody can actually land a missile on its target anymore.

Nick Drew said...

thus far, in the period since Sputnik gave the US a much-needed kick in the pants, western kit + capability has regularly amazed (and appalled) the eastern powers

@5:36 above recounts one such story

I have recorded before the tale of Gulf War 1991: NATO's Air-Land Battle had never been tried for real, and the Russians figured it wouldn't work

to their complete horror (and they had a ring-side seat) it worked near-flawlessly, with several thousand daily air missions (continuously for a couple of weeks) being coordinated over a relatively small airspace, and even the French fitting seamlessly into the command structure

Ryan said...

@K, @ND

Personally I think China is over-rated as a military power. It has always relied on sheer manpower for its assumed supremacy.

But imagine how difficult it is to deploy a million men into theater? Is it really more effective than say 100,000 men?

The Chinese did not do that well in Vietnam and Korea considering they were on the doorstep and supply lines did not present the issue they did for the Americans.

As for tech, the Chinese are known to have spied on the US space programme for decades and yet they are still 47 years behind even though microelectronics has made the job a whole lot easier. I would find it hard to believe they are bang up-to-date with stealth technology, but such a story will certainly help the US and UK industrial-military machine justify further expenditure on tech!