Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Yasushi Tomiyama

【#251】Pentagon Gives Warning on Senkaku Contingency

Yasushi Tomiyama / 2014.06.18 (Wed)

June 16, 2014

     The U.S. Department of Defense has clearly grown more alert to moves of Chinese military, as indicated by an annual report titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2014,” released on June 5. Representing a distinct difference from the previous one, the latest Pentagon report specifically notes that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is placing emphasis on preparing for potential contingencies in the South and East China Seas as well as Taiwan contingencies. In a manner to hint at its growing alertness, its executive summary at the outset refers to Chinese preparations to deter third-party (that is U.S.) intervention in a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. The White House has thus allowed the Pentagon to release a report indicating a tougher attitude toward China. Does this mean any change in the Obama administration’s conciliatory attitude toward China? We must carefully watch the development.

Chinese military exercises aim at seizing territories
     The latest annual report notes that the October 2013 MANEUVER-5 exercise in the Philippine Sea, which included participation from all three PLA navy fleets – the North Sea Fleet, the East Sea Fleet and the South Sea Fleet – was the largest PLA Navy open-ocean exercise seen to date and that China conducted the three-part MISSION ACTION series of joint military exercises in September and October, combining PLA ground, navy and air forces in large-scale maneuvers along China’s southern and southeastern coasts. The latter, including amphibious landing exercises, apparently came under the assumption of seizing the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea or even the southern Ryukyu Islands, as noted by an intelligence officer of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at a seminar last February.
     The report also demonstrates the Pentagon’s sense of crisis against Chinese forces’ buildup in the South and East China Seas, pointing out (1) that a probable Chinese unmanned aerial vehicle was noted for the first time conducting reconnaissance over the East China Sea during September 2013 and (2) that China developed a new corvette to augment the PLA Navy’s littoral warfare capabilities in the South and East China Seas and put nine corvettes in service in 2013.
     Highlighting U.S.-China military rivalry over Taiwan, the latest report describes China’s preparations for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait as including “deterring or defeating third-party intervention.” Such description was not seen in the executive summary of the previous annual report.

Obama still reluctant to use force
     The U.S. government has growingly condemned China for taking provocative actions in the South and East China Seas, including China’s unilateral installation of an oil rig near the Vietnam-claimed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea and Chinese government ships’ intentional collisions with Vietnamese vessels in the area, as well as Chinese fighter jets’ abnormally close approach to Japanese Self-Defense Forces aircraft on routine warning and surveillance flights over high seas in the East China Sea. The latest Pentagon report meets the recent U.S. trend.
     But it is uncertain how far the Obama administration is determined to check China’s dangerous actions. In an address to a U.S. Military Academy commencement ceremony on May 28, President Barack Obama said, “The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it.” But he added, “On the other hand, when issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, -- then the threshold for military action must be higher.” President Obama thus indicated his consistently negative attitude toward using forces overseas.
Many Japanese people who espouse the so-called “Peace Constitution” must wake up to the reality of the world that reliability of the United States is decreasing while China’s threats are increasing.

Yasushi Tomiyama is Senior Fellow and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.