China sends a message

When I saw this last night:

China’s top newspaper on Wednesday published a call for a review of Japan’s sovereignty over the island of Okinawa — home to major US bases — with the Asian powers already embroiled in a territorial row.

The lengthy article in the People’s Daily, China’s most-circulated newspaper and the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist party, argued that the country may have rights to the Ryukyu chain, which includes Okinawa.

The island is home to major US air force and marine bases as well as 1.3 million people, who are considered more closely related to Japan in ethnic and linguistic terms than to China.

The authors of the article, two scholars at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, considered China’s top state-run think-tank, said the Ryukyus were a “vassal state” of China before Japan annexed the islands in the late 1800s.

“Unresolved problems relating to the Ryukyu Islands have reached the time for reconsideration,” wrote Zhang Haipeng and Li Guoqiang, citing post-World War II declarations that required Japan to return Chinese territory.

I knew in my bones I’d see it at CDR Salamander’s place this morning.

China in the last 5 or so years has become increasingly expansionistic. As their military and economic power has risen, so to has a significant percentage of both the leadership and the population become more vocal about reclaiming territories they deem their own.

Ten years ago, the supposition was China primarily posed an expansionistic threat to Taiwan. Today, the emphasis has shifted away from Taiwan. That doesn’t reflect a change in mainland China’s goal for control of Taiwan, but rather a belief by many that sooner or later, Taiwan will fall effectively, if not de jure, under Chinese rule.

What is interesting in this case is that most of the previous recent disputes about maritime properties have related to areas with potential for resource exploitation such as oil, gas, or fishing rights. While there is certainly economic potential in the Ryukyus,  any Chinese control of Okinawa would best be seen as an outpost of a defensive chain, much as the Japanese used several chains of islands during World War II. For that matter, much as we use it as a forward outpost today.

This increasingly aggressive foreign policy has sparked something of an arms race along the Rim of the Pacific. South Korea, already committed to strong self defense against its nutty neighbors to the north has in the past few years put great effort into expanding its navy. Today is it fielding world class blue water destroyers and helicopter carriers. The North Koreans have virtually no navy, and while this buildup can be seen as a balance against Japan, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force has long had a significant destroyer force. That force never lead to South Korea building up its navy before. Once can only conclude it is in response to the expansion of the Chinese fleet.

China is also feeling its oats along the China-India border.

One wonders what major shift in US foreign policy may have occurred in the past five years that might have encouraged China to embrace an increasingly confrontational foreign policy.  Of course, the Chinese bear ultimate responsibility for their actions, but failure of the US to provide clear leadership and an unambiguous policy in the region isn’t helping matters.