Friday, October 5, 2012

Fidley Watch: Failure to Communicate

Ambrose Bierce was, among other things, a writer for the San Francisco Examiner, and was considered one of the most prominent and influential among the writers and journalists of the West Coast. Writing to his friend in 1911 about government civil servants who complained that their salaries were too low, Bierce famously said, “What this country needs – what every country needs occasionally – is a good hard bloody war to revive the vice of patriotism on which its existence as a nation depends.”

We hold that diplomacy is far preferable to war. Despite our recent diplomatic failures, the US is still better served by addressing our national economic and security needs through diplomacy rather than military action.

While the diplomatic attentions of the country are largely focused on the Middle East, events unfolding in Asian waters should be garnering more attention.

Late last month, in the Yellow Sea, South Korea’s navy fired warning shots toward North Korean fishing boats that crossed a disputed maritime boundary. The shots didn’t hit the fishing boats, which retreated, but North Korea has long refused to recognize the western sea boundary established by the UN at the end of the Korean War.

The disputed boundary was also the genesis of hostilities in 2010 when a North Korean artillery barrage killed four South Koreans, including two civilians. Also in 2010, an explosion ripped apart a South Korean warship in the area, killing 46 sailors.

A similar conflict in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines began in mid-April, when a Filipino frigate attempted to stop several boats of Chinese fishermen harvesting seafood from waters claimed by the Philippines around the Scarborough Shoal. China sent several larger, more modern boats from one of its civilian maritime agencies, which intercepted the frigate and allowed the fisherman to escape with their catch.

A dispute over a small island chain in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese heated up recently after the Japanese government announced it would buy the islands from their private Japanese owners for around $30 million. China, which claims the islands as its own, responded by sending two ships to the area and, according to state media, drawing up an “action plan” for the defense of the islands.

The dispute has caused protest within China, where hundreds of Chinese demonstrators have been protesting outside of the Japanese embassy in Beijing since Sept. 15, expressing anger over Japan’s claims to the islands. Demonstrations against Japan have also taken place in cities across China, including Shanghai, Tianjin and Chengdu.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was greeted by a small protest outside the Beijing Embassy when he visited last month, and demonstrators in Beijing caused minor damage to the official vehicle of US Ambassador Gary Locke on September 18th after they surrounded his vehicle outside of the embassy. Ambassador Locke was in the car at the time, and the official Cadillac limousine was flying the US flag.

China claims most of the area off its coast as either territorial water or Exclusive Economic Zone, but other states in the South China Sea area have conflicting claims. For example, China takes the position that all maritime data collection activities, including military intelligence and hydrographic collection activities, fall within the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS] provisions for marine scientific research and therefore require coastal-state consent before they could be carried out in the two-hundred-nautical-mile EEZ.

Late last month, China’s first aircraft carrier entered service, underscoring the country’s desire to be a leading Asian naval power. The ship is the former Soviet navy’s unfinished Varyag, and is considered to be a kind of test platform for the future development of up to five domestically built Chinese carriers.
Writing about the new carrier in China Daily newspaper, retired Chinese Rear Adm. Yang Yi said, “When China has a more balanced and powerful navy, the regional situation will be more stable as various forces that threaten regional peace will no longer dare to act rashly.”

In light of China’s naval buildup, many of her neighbors, including Japan, India and Australia, have embarked on significant defense force modernization programs of their own, increasing their budgets for major air and naval platforms, including submarines. Meanwhile, the United States Navy has shrunk by half since 1990.

China is our second largest trading partner after Canada, and 60 percent of the world’s trade passes through the South China Sea. China’s rapid maritime rise and strategy for dominating large swaths of the Pacific need to be recognized and addressed. It’s time for the US to step up its political game. Ambrose Bierce also said, “In our civilization, and under our republican form of government, intelligence is so highly honored that it is rewarded by exemption from the cares of office.”
The time has come for our officeholders to pay less attention to politics and more attention to diplomacy.

Chris Philips,
Managing Editor