China has displayed a marked propensity to intimidate the United States and US allies in East Asia going by the record of events of this year. While US allies could be susceptible to Chinese intimidation, it is not understandable as to why the mightiest nation on this globe should let China get away with its intimidatory tactics. After all, China in no strategic terms is the equal of the United States. The United States needs to seriously ponder as to whether it can afford to let China get away with such behavior as what is at stake is United States global prestige in politico-military terms. The United States is the only nation which can impose restraint on China’s strategic waywardness and it must do so before it is too late.
The first major event this year concerned the sinking of the South Korea Navy Ship
CHEONAN’ by a North Korean submarine in the East China Sea not far away from Mainland China. It was an unprovoked and aggressive act by North Korea which could not have taken place without China’s tacit consent. In response to this aggressive act, the United States announced the conduct of joint US-South Korea Naval Exercises in the East China Sea. The United States Navy ships were to be led by its latest Aircraft Carrier. No sooner this was announced, China raised vociferous protests that the United States was deliberately provoking North Korea and China and that China would not stand such exercises being conducted in the East China Sea.
The United States instead of sticking to its original principled stand that the exercise was being conducted in international waters reacted by shifting the locale of the exercise from East China Sea to further southwards to the Sea of Japan. While the United States acted prudently in not escalating tensions in a volatile region, it sent a wrong message globally that China could get away by intimidating the United States.
More importantly, a wrong message was also perceived by United States allies in the region, namely South Korea and Japan. South Korea was sorely dejected that the aggression against it by China’s ally, North Korea, went unpunished. Japan too perceived that in East Asia, the United States would tend not to displease China even if it meant the loss of face for US allies in the region.
In the last week or so, it was now Japan’s turn to be intimidated by China. A Chinese fishing trawler in Japanese waters rammed into Japanese Coast Guard ship which was ordering it to get out of Japanese waters. Rather than doing so, the Chinese trawler deliberately rammed into the Japanese Coast Guard ship. The Japanese authorities arrested the Chinese captain for questioning and investigation. The Chinese Government instead of diplomatic behind the scenes negotiations for release of the Chinese captain went ballistic in issuing publicly ‘grave warnings’ to Japan to release the Chinese captain and that serious consequences would follow for Japan. It also reacted by restricting export of Chinese minerals to Japan.
Such Chinese reactions smacked of political and military arrogance and high-handedness of a powerful nation adopting threatening stances against its lesser powerful peace-loving neighbor.
Japan after holding out to Chinese threats for a week or so caved –in and released the Chinese captain on ‘diplomatic grounds’, a pitiable loss of face for Japan. Probably Japan may have held out against Chinese threats had more open support had been forthcoming from the United States.
The United States would now have to seriously consider whether it can afford to let the impression grow that China dictates the shots in a volatile region like East Asia.