Trying to catch up on my Asia reading, as things are heating up there:
- The Japanese scrambled jets last week in response to a Russian violation of airspace over the Kuril Islands.
- China has been pressuring North Korea not to conduct an announced nuclear test.
- Tokyo is complaining that Chinese radar “locked on” to Japanese ships, a step generally associated with initiating an attack, in the East China Sea (where the two countries dispute sovereignty over the Senkaku/Daioyu islands).
The smart money is still betting that China and Japan won’t go to war over uninhabited islands that Japan administers but China claims. There have been recent rumblings of a possible accord between Russia and Japan on the Kurils. It is of course welcome that China should restrain its North Korean friends from defying the UN Security Council again with another nuclear test. It is unclear whether Beijing will succeed.
The US Navy, facing budget and reducing its presence in the Middle East, has found a useful “hegemon” and bully in China. In the mist of preparations for the Quadrennial Defense Review, naval advocates would like to regain at least some of the budget momentum they lost when Mitt Romney–a strong naval advocate–was defeated for the presidency.
But that doesn’t mean the needs are not real. America’s ships are vulnerable, even to Iranian never mind Chinese cruise and other missiles. Washington has a lot of obligations in Asia: to Japan, to Taiwan, the Philippines, to South Korea. It also has some relatively new friends to oblige: Vietnam and Burma in particular. It is not going to be easy to meet all the needs in a severely constrained budget environment.
Those who complain about US inattention to Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and even the Balkans need to remember how many other commitments need to be fulfilled. Asia represents an important slice of the future of world economic growth. It also represents a serious risk of armed conflict on a scale that would have global consequences. We may not all be able to pivot to Asia, but we should keep an eye on it.
And I just realized: I am in Asia today, in Antalya, Turkey. Maybe that’s why my eyes have turned east, though the East I am writing about here lies thousands of miles away. Here’s the scenery from my hotel room: