Experts share opinions on US-Japan military drill

Updated: 2012-08-23 08:10

By Chen Weihua, Zhang Yuwei and Wang Chenyan (China Daily)

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Editor's Note: On Tuesday, Japanese forces will join US Marines in waters near Tinian Island on the western Pacific Ocean for a month-long military drill, playing out a scenario where they must take back islands occupied by enemy troops. Although no country was named as the imaginary occupier, an official with the Japanese Ministry of Defense hinted that the war game is targeted at China, according to a report by Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun.

China Daily reporters Chen Weihua, Zhang Yuwei and Wang Chenyan approached several international experts about their views on the matter. Each expert was asked the same three questions.


Why did the US and Japan choose to stage such a drill at a time when tensions between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands have been gravely heightened?


Does the joint drill run contradictory to Washington's alleged neutral stance toward the China-Japan dispute and give rise to more suspicion over the United States' true intentions in the Asia-Pacific?


As tensions between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands have not ceased, what kind of impact will the US-Japan joint drill have on the China-Japan dispute and the triangle tie between China, Japan and US? Will the drill further intensify the regional situation?

Experts share opinions on US-Japan military drill

Wu Xinbo

professor at the Center for American Studies and associate dean of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University

Washington is delivering several messages through the drill that envisions retaking islands.

First, the US wants to demonstrate its strong presence within the region.

Considering island tensions are flaring up, it is also reasserting its support for Japan over the Diaoyu Islands.

It says it takes no stance on "territorial issues", which has implied a very tricky meaning. That is, it does not choose a side when discussing the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, but it supports the Japanese administration.

As for the third message, it is playing war games with Japan to deter China. Since tensions between China and Japan over the islands might escalate, it aims at preventing China's possible military response.

Every year the US conducts drills under various names in this region, so there is no reason to be too surprised. But we must make clear that it is the US that created the Diaoyu Islands dispute and we must be aware that its support will encourage Japan's hard-line and right-wing politicians to keep provoking China on the issue.

Experts share opinions on US-Japan military drill

Zhiqun Zhu

Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

The joint military drill can be considered as part of the US' "pivot" or strategic rebalancing toward Asia. It would be naive to think that its "return" to Asia and this military drill is not aimed at China. Actions speak louder than words. No matter what the US or Japan says about this drill - such as "it is pre-scheduled" and "not aimed at a particular country" - the fact that the drill is taking place at such a sensitive time is regrettable and disappointing. It shows that the US and Japan are willing to escalate tensions in the region to preserve and strengthen their alliance.

The US is obviously taking sides and backing Japan in the Diaoyu Islands dispute despite its claim that it's neutral over the sovereignty of Diaoyu. The recent US move is very unhelpful and can only complicate the dispute. Unless the US is also doing something to rein in Japan's rightist/nationalist sentiments, America's credibility as a neutral and stabilizing power will be lost in the eyes of the Chinese.

Japanese rightists will feel emboldened by the apparent US support. More Japanese citizens and even some Japanese officials may attempt to land on Diaoyu to claim sovereignty.

The Japanese government does not even acknowledge that there is a dispute over Diaoyu Islands. It claims that Diaoyu is Japanese territory and there should be no dispute. The Japanese official position is rude to say the least. Japan's position will harden as the US steps in to offer tacit support. So Sino-Japanese relations are unlikely to improve in the near future. Distrust between China and the US will also deepen as the US continues to beef up its alliances and reassert its presence in East Asia. East Asia is slipping into the classic security dilemma. Lack of mutual trust is the essence of the problem here.

The US could have played a more positive role in promoting peace and cooperation in East Asia. Unfortunately, the US is too obsessed with the growing Chinese power. It does not seem to know how to work with China. The only strategy it seems to have now is to build up strong relations with China's neighbors to counter China. So the fundamental solution to security problems in East Asia, including the South China Sea and East China Sea, is a stable US-China relationship that is built on trust, respect and equality.

Experts share opinions on US-Japan military drill

Douglas Paal

vice-president for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The US retains its complex position on the Diaoyu Islands. The islands are under Japanese administration and the US defense treaty obliges US support for Japan there, but the US takes no stance on the territorial issue.

The exercise will take place a long way from the islands. It will be at Tinian, which is roughly 2,000 km away in the Western Pacific. So I see nothing new in US policy or practice there.

Experts share opinions on US-Japan military drill

Li Wei

Director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Both Japan and the US benefit from military cooperation.

Although Japan knows the US focuses on its own interests in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan is willing to be "a donkey in a lion's hide" and spares no effort to take full advantage of the powerful US to carry out its own military strategies.

The US legitimizes its presence and keeps strengthening it in the name of Japan's fear of being attacked by rivals such as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and even China. It asks Japan to contribute location and money, but will American mothers agree to send their sons and daughters to fight a bloody war in support of Japan's claim over some tiny remote island? I doubt it.

Experts share opinions on US-Japan military drill

Sheila Smith

senior fellow for Japan studies at Council on Foreign Relations.

This drill was not the first amphibious landing exercise to be held between the Japan Ground Self Defense Force and the US Marines. Although the Sankei report of Aug 17 was cited, the exact timing of the drill was first reported by Japanese media on Aug 3 citing an announcement by the Chief of Staff of the GSDF, Eiji Kimizuka, after US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Japan's Minister of Defense Satoshi Morimoto met at the Pentagon. This drill was not organized in response to the events of the past week.

Japan's concerns about its defenses in its southwestern region have grown, however. In the National Defense Program Outlines of 2004 and 2010, the MOD placed a high priority on the defense of offshore islands and airspace. Thus, this predates the citizen activism but it does suggest that the incident in September 2010 played a role in shaping Japanese perceptions.

The US government during that episode of heightened tensions between Tokyo and Beijing reiterated that it does not take a position on the territorial dispute between China and Japan, and supported the peaceful resolution of that dispute. Yet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also clarified that Article 5 of the US-Japan Security Treaty, which provides US assistance to Japan in the case of a threat of or actual armed attack, would apply to these islands as they are under Japanese administration.

No one wants to see an armed conflict emerge over these or any other territorial disputes in the East China Sea.

I'm not sure what suspicions you are referring to, but cooperation between the US and Japanese militaries in preparing for the defense of Japan have long been practiced. What is new is the regional uncertainty. The DPRK's nuclear and missile proliferation as well as rising regional concerns about Chinese capabilities and intentions are unsettling to Japan and the ROK and therefore to the US. Thus, much can be gained by having strategic dialogue among the countries of the region so we can better understand how to ensure conflicts will be peacefully resolved.

This drill is not related to the landing of the Hong Kong-based activists on the islands, and therefore should not be seen as having any impact on the dispute. More salient will be the steps taken by Beijing and Tokyo to enhance their maritime confidence building mechanisms for the East China Sea. Incidents at sea could result in more dangerous activities for citizens of both countries, and both governments need to be prepared to ensure that any type of incident - accidental or miscalculated - does not flare up into a more serious crisis.

(China Daily 08/23/2012 page11)