On Monday, the United States and South Korea began a massive round of war games simulating defense and invasion scenarios vis-à-vis North Korea, called the Ulchi Freedom Guardian Games. The 12-day military exercise comes amid bellicose rhetoric from an increasingly isolated Kim Jong-un regime in Pyongyang, and at a time when China increasingly believes that the United States is meddling in regional affairs, disturbing the delicate balance of power in the eastern Pacific.
Over the weekend, it was learned that China had previously threatened war against Japan over a dispute regarding islands in the East China Sea, as well as Beijing’s irritation at the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, refuting China’s territorial claims. Beijing also threatened a military response to cooperation between Japanese naval forces and the United States in conducting freedom of movement exercises in the region.
In this context, as tensions over the South China Sea rise in conjunction with parallel regional concerns, including the placement of a THAAD missile defense shield on the Korean peninsula, disputes between China and Japan over the Senkaku islands, and a growing US military presence in the Pacific, the increasingly belligerent rhetoric espoused by all parties in the region threatens to erupt into a full-scale conflict.
On Wednesday, diplomats from Japan, South Korea and China met in Tokyo to try to head off the winds of war and bring a lasting resolution to disputes that face Asia, without Americans in the room.
Loud & Clear’s Brian Becker sat down with author and international affairs expert Patrick Lawrence to discuss the talks and the possible implications for regional and global security.
"I am not at all surprised by developments this week and you are quite right, that these exercises are having exactly the opposite effect than they should. There are a number of things that I like about this trilateral meeting," said Lawrence. "Asians, and by that I mean the non-West, have a certain sense of identity. They have their many differences of course and countless tensions. But they do, at bottom, have a certain sense of identity, whereby their inclination is to solve their problems themselves, without reference to historically superior powers. I couldn’t approve more."
"You have China, South Korea, and Japan sitting at the same table. All three of those, no matter how you cut it, have differences with the two others. But they are sitting down," said the expert. "North Korea is one issue, the islands are the other big issue, and the Americans are not there. I look forward to seeing what they are able to come up with on their own."
"China is on the record fifty ways from Sunday that they want to resolve outstanding bilateral issues cooperatively. The only people who don’t understand that are people whose reading is confined to the American press," said Lawrence. "The American position in Asia is very vulnerable now, appearances notwithstanding. Post-1945 we were the cop, everyone knows that, and the imperial powers went into decline. The British went broke, the French were done in Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and so [Asia] was ours."
"Now we are at a point where we might not be so needed. The published position is that we must be there, we are the only ones who can solve the islands question, and the rest of Asia wants our protection against the aggressive Chinese. It is simply not so," said Lawrence. "I don’t think they want us to leave. As I’ve said in columns previously, America has a lot of frontage on the ‘Pacific Lake’ and everyone is fine with that, but a lot of other countries do as well, and America is only one among them."
"America is a Pacific power, it is not an Asian power. There is a big difference."