Archive for December 4th, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Press Review: The Big and the Small Bricks in Asia

Under the pretense of a “China threat”, Japan was stepping up its armament process, Huanqiu Shibao wrote on Thursday, November 25. The Japanese defense ministry prepared a program for the deployment of more than twenty submarines for the first time since 1976. On November 24, Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun‘s website 1) (日本《读卖新闻》网站) had reported that Sasebo City had contacted the defense ministry to have six of the submarines stationed at the city’s naval base, according to Huanqiu Shibao. Huanqiu quoted further: it was the base closest to China and could best counter the movements of the Chinese navy. Huanqiu points out that Sasebo was the point from where U.S. submarines usually set out from during the Korean war, to monitor Soviet and Eastern European ships coming from the Malakka Strait, bound for Chinese ports, and for tipping off the Taiwan KMT navy which was conducting a blockade against China (为对大陆进行海上封锁的台湾国民党海军通风报信).

At the end of the article, Huanqiu Shibao cited some Japanese media which doubt the benefit of increased spending on the military for international clout.

On Friday, the picture of Huanqiu Shibao’s military coverage was somewhat mixed.

While Chinese Navy Military Academy researcher Li Jie (李杰, pictures from a Sohu online discussion last year) explained why a country that wants to become great can hardly do without an aircraft carrier, be it in times of peace or war, Xiong Zhiyong (熊志勇), professor at the China Foreign Affairs University (外交学院), recommends isolationism as defined by American politics in the country’s earlier development stages – staying away from conflicts. Xiong cites George Washington’s farewell speech 2) as an example.

Isolationism as a term shouldn’t be taken literally, he writes. It mainly meant that the U.S., for one century and a half, had pursued a neutral and non-aligned policy and avoiding the risks of disputes with other – especially strong  – countries.


Japan and Germany, on the other hand, had chosen the old ways of rising countries – under the banner of patriotism, populists had taken the countries onto the road of militarism. In the end, the two countries had suffered heavy defeat under the resistance of America, Britain, China, and other countries.

Isolationism, however, is no easy option when North Korea is one of your nearest neighbors, and your closest ally. Besides, South Korea’s incoming  defense minister Kim Kwan-jin told a parliamentary confirmation hearing that North Korean aggression would result in airstrikes from the South. He said South Korea would use all its combat capabilities to retaliate. North Korea’s regime might wish to put his promise to a test.

The BBC’s correspondent Nick Childs commented on the BBC World Service on Friday that, in connection with current U.S.-Japanese naval exercises,

I don’t think that Japan or Washington will be unhappy if these are seen as a show of strength as far as Pyongyang is concerned. But I think there are much broader strategic issues at play here. The Americans and the Japanese want to show that their alliance is strong – it’s been going through a bumpy period recently -, and against the backdrop of broader strategic tensions, a broader powerplay with China. So I think that if anyone, China is the focus of the message there. 3)

In addition, isolationism in the “Washingtonian” sense as interpreted by Xiong Zhiyong, in that a rising power should engage in world trade, but keep out of conflicts, is exactly what China’s leaders claim to be doing and what puts them at odds with other governments – the American government first and foremost, but with others, too. In its pure sense, it would mean that China wouldn’t join any politically-motivated international sanctions. In that case, it would either need to abstain in pertaining UN security council votes, or veto them in order to secure the legality of its own trade with countries in question. Both choices in themselves would spell conflict with other countries. America’s era of isolationism happened long before there were comprehensive international bodies.

Another question is where China’s own geographical borders are, from Beijing’s perspective. If the Senkaku Islands are considered Chinese territory by Beijing and a probably sizable nationalist mob4), there can’t be isolationism. If Taiwan is considered Chinese territory, there can’t be isolationism either. Understandably, Xiong Zhiyong’s article doesn’t go into technicalities – the devil is in the details.



1) The Yomiuri Shimbun is described as a pro-US media group in an article by Shamshad Ahmed Khan, research assistant with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi. In an article for the New York Times in 2005, Canadian journalist Norimitsu Onishi cited the Yomiuri Shimbun as applauding revisions of Japanese school textbooks which, in the words of a South Korean reaction, justified and beautified Japan’s imperialist past.

2) The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

3) BBC Newsbriefing, December 3, 2010

4) Latest comments on Prof. Xiong’s article include both nationalist and thoughtful ones, and there seems to be little censorship at work – even rather rude replies to the article are still there. An angry one is in – sort of – an agreement with the BBC’s Nick Childs’ view of the American-Japanese military exercises:

“There are too many of such military good-for-nothings who are presumptuously called experts. Mentioning America during the second world war and China now into the same breath – what were or are their environments like? The classical saying about the big brick needing the support of the small bricks – how can this obvious truth not be grasped? Many countries on China’s borders have become America’s allies, or are occupied by America. If you let America take all these small bricks, how can there be security? Hard to believe that someone doesn’t see that America’s military activities next to China are ultimately aimed at China.



Govt must address China’s arms buildup, Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov 28, 2010

Sasebo city asks to host new submarine base, Mainichi Daily News, Nov 25, 2010

Zhang Zhaozhong: “Asian NATO” looming, Oct 15, 2010

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