Thursday, July 25, 2013

Is AP and/or the Japanese Government Really Confused About the Difference Between a Fighter Jet and a Surveillance Turboprop?

After raking the Irish Times over the coals for screwing up the headline it tacked onto the Reuters story about the alleged intrusion of a Chinese military aircraft into Japanese airspace by calling a Y-8 turboprop a “fighter plane”, I was…interested? bemused? incensed? to see AP run its story with the fighter plane characterization in the body of the text.  As in:

Tokyo expressed unease Thursday over Chinese military and maritime activity near disputed islands that Japan controls, as China defended a flight by one of its fighter jets near Japanese airspace. 

I think it was a flub by AP, though I would be interested to find out if the reporter was simply passing on an incorrect? misleading? dishonest? characterization by a Japanese government official.

Was it a fighter plane to begin with, and initial Japanese government statements got it wrong?  Or was it a turboprop, which is now turning into a “fighter jet” in order to give the story some more legs?  Inquiring minds want to know.

For military aviation enthusiasts, Wikipedia tells us that the Y-8 turboprop, when converted to an airborne early warning aircraft, is called the KJ-200 Balance Beam.  Why “balance beam”?  Ask a gymnast.  Here is a picture I found on the Internet of this fearsome armament:

Doesn’t look much like a fighter jet.  

 Anybody get a picture of the Chinese intruder?  The great thing about maritime confrontations is that there’s nobody out there except the Japanese Self Defence Forces, so the Japanese government has near total control of the stories that come out.

As I reflect on the ongoing Senkaku/maritime saga, I am increasingly of the opinion that Prime Minister Abe welcomes tensions with China because it gives him a pretext to expand? exceed? the boundaries of the pacifist constitution with new missions and capabilities for the Japanese military without the need to make difficult explanations to the U.S. government and Japan’s neighbors about his manifest desire to transform the Japanese military into a strategic asset: one that not only intimidates and deters Japan’s neighbors and gives Japan the necessary capability and credibility to construct and lead alliances of lesser regional states, but also turns Japan into a self-sufficient and independent actor in the Asian security game: one that can dare ignore or defy the United States, and perhaps even use its unilateral capabilities to force the U.S. to either endorse its actions, follow them…or get out of the way.

So aggressive Japanese government spin about Chinese intentions and actions that push the boundaries of plausibility and truth are to be expected.

As to whether Japan would actively foment or misrepresent confrontations with China, well, for now I leave that interesting question to the intrepid journos of the leading media outlets.

Who’s the Biggest Asshole in Asia?

You are!  No, you are!

Now that Shinzo Abe’s LDP has rolled to triumph in Japan’s upper house elections, we can return to the pressing matter of Chinese and Japanese fingerpointing over the Senkakus and which nation is the real source of instability in the region—while both sides nervously look over their shoulders to see which story the U.S. is inclined to believe.

Today, Japan declared that a Chinese military aircraft intruded into Japanese airspace:

Japan's Defence Ministry said a Chinese military aircraft flew through airspace between Okinawa prefecture's main island and the smaller Miyako island in southern Japan out over the Pacific at around noon and later took the same route back over the East China Sea.

 "I believe this indicates China's move toward further maritime expansion," Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters, in comments carried on public broadcaster NHK.

According to the Japanese government the aircraft in question was supposedly a Chinese Y-8 airborne warning plane (a four engine turboprop).  However, the idiots at the Irish Times headlined the story as “Japanese warplanes scrambled after Chinese fighter jets enter airspace”.

Guys, the Reuters article you cut and pasted didn’t say that; so where’d that come from?

The Miyako Islands are about 300 km from Okinawa.  That’s a lot of empty ocean, so it’s not like the PRC airforce was accused of buzzing Tokyo.  However, thanks to its island possessions, Japan has been able to cobble together a pretty much unbroken stretch of 12-mile territorial waters (the basis for determining national airspace) almost down to the Senkakus.  And foreign military aircraft—unlike foreign military vessels—have no rights of innocent passage through national airspace.

Sun Bin had a very interesting post on Japan’s impressive territorial water/exclusive economic zone assets (and also points out that Japan forgoes the 12 mile limit in the Tsugaru Strait between Honshu and Hokkaido in order to permit US nuclear subs to transit without “entering” Japan).

On the matter of China, I believe that the Japanese government is willing to lie about the details of its confrontation with China, especially in order to serve the paramount good of managing the all-important U.S. government relationship.  I am not making any moral judgments here.  I am simply stating my opinion based on what I perceive as truth-stretching by Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara during the first Senkaku crisis in 2010.

Of course, judging by the “China claims Okinawa” media frenzy of this year and the botch of the airspace intrusion story (thank you, Irish Times), it doesn’t look like the Japanese government needs a lot of help.

The PRC is unpopular, unlikable, and has been certified as being aggressive and unpleasant in its maritime claims.  Its state media is unapologetically all about serving the party and state interest, not the cause of objective journalism.  Japan gets a pass because it is perceived as the nice democracy, the hapless victim of Chinese skullduggery.

Things have changed a bit with the ascendancy of Mr. Abe.

For the first time in a long time, the United States is concerned about Japanese nationalism championed by Mr. Abe, particularly because it calls for an independent Japanese security policy and a repudiation of the U.S. victor’s justice constitution that has constrained Japan’s regional military activities.

Mr. Abe’s foreign policy stance is all about maximizing Japanese freedom of movement—while forestalling an open divergence of aims with the United States.

Therefore, it is important for Japan to appear the injured party in any confrontation with China…and, I wouldn’t put it past Japan to orchestrate its own mini Tonkin incident to make sure that the PRC gets caught out in the most conspicuous and well-documented way possible.

As the Chinese air intrusion incident grabbed the headlines, the Abe government also started its post-election nibbling at the pacifist constitution.  Per Reuters, reporting on a story in Yomiuru Shimbun:

Japan is likely to start considering acquiring the ability to launch pre-emptive military strikes in a planned update of its basic defense policies, the latest step away from the constraints of its pacifist constitution.

Apparently the first bite of the apple is the ability to launch an independent strike against North Korean missile installations, a capability that the US government, with 28,000 troops in South Korea within range of North Korean retaliation, probably finds less than enchanting.  The South Korean government, already at loggerheads with the Abe administration, will probably be equally displeased.

Maybe the media minders in the Japanese cabinet decided that it was a good idea to give the world a two-fer, balancing a piece of unsettling Japanese neo-nationalism with a story about that nasty Chinese boogeyman.

At the same time, China wants to tattle on Abe to the U.S. as the real source of instability in the western Pacific—a story that the U.S. may not be disinclined to hear, given the concern that Abe is pursuing a strategy of polarization with China that may be good for Japan, but not great for the United States.

I’m not saying the PRC won’t act like jerks and step over the line in the matter of the Senkakus.  And maybe they did send a turboprop rumbling over a meaningless stretch of Japanese ocean in order to yank Tokyo’s chain and try to get Japan to over-react.  I’m just saying I’ll give as much credence to a Chinese denial as a Japanese accusation if and when an incident occurs.

Perhaps I am unwilling to cut Mr. Abe slack because of his affinity for Dick Cheney, whom I regard as a ruthless, no-holds-barred "virtuous conspirator" who regarded the media as a tool of propaganda and misinformation that was ripe for manipulation.

For the entertainment of readers, I provide a partial history of neocon hijinks relating to China during the George W. Bush administrations—with a final twist of Abe.

George W. Bush, like his father, George H.W. Bush, had no particular axe to grind vis a vis the PRC.  However, the Bush administration’s eminence gris (or noir, if you prefer) for foreign policy, Vice President Richard Cheney, was perhaps the most committed and determined high-ranking advocate of existential confrontation with the People’s Republic of China since Douglas MacArthur.

In 2006, in the American Prospect, Robert Dreyfuss described the Cheney outlook on the People’s Republic of China, based on the account of Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, Lawrence Wilkerson.  Dreyfuss wrote:

Two of the people most often encountered by Wilkerson were Cheney's Asia hands, Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich. Through them, the fulcrum of Cheney's foreign policy--which linked energy, China, Iraq, Israel, and oil in the Middle East--can be traced. The nexus of those interrelated issues drives the OVP's broad outlook.

Many Cheney staffers were obsessed with what they saw as a looming, long-term threat from China.


For the Cheneyites, Middle East policy is tied to China, and in their view China's appetite for oil makes it a strategic competitor in the Persian Gulf region. Thus, they regard the control of the Gulf as a zero-sum game. They believe that the invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. military buildup in Central Asia, the invasion of Iraq, and the expansion of the U.S. military presence in the Gulf states have combined to check China's role in the region. …

One may speculate that Mr. Cheney’s determination to keep a threatening thumb over China’s Middle East oil artery lives on in the Obama administration’s continuing involvement in the bottomless pit of money, munitions, and misery that is US Middle East policy, despite the President’s avowed interest in pivoting away from the Middle East to the peaceful and profitable precincts of Asia.

In another interview with Jeff Stein of Congressional Quarterly, Wilkerson recounted the enthusiasm of the Bush administration neoconservatives for pouring gasoline on the smoldering embers of US-China confrontation by encouraging Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian—whose Democratic People’s Party reflected the priorities of Taiwan’s independence-inclined indigenes, rather than the Kuomintang carpetbaggers who followed Chiang Kai-shek and took over the island in 1949—to announce Taiwanese independence.

From CQ:

“The Defense Department, with Feith, Cambone, Wolfowitz [and] Rumsfeld, was dispatching a person to Taiwan every week...essentially to tell Chen Shui-bian...that independence was a good thing.”

Wilkerson said Powell would then dispatch his own envoy “right behind that guy, every time they sent somebody, to disabuse the entire Taiwanese national security apparatus of what they’d been told by the Defense Department.”

“This went on,” he said of the pro-independence efforts, “until George Bush weighed in and told Rumsfeld to cease and desist [and] told him multiple times to re-establish military-to-military relations with China.”

Wilkerson’s account was supported by Douglas Paal, former head of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy in Taipei.

“In the early years of the Bush administration,” Paal said by e-mail last week, “there was a problem with mixed signals to Taiwan from Washington. This was most notably captured in the statements and actions of Ms. Therese Shaheen, the former AIT chair, which ultimately led to her departure.”
Therese Sheehan was the previous head of AIT—and was married to Larry DeRita, Rumsfeld’s chief press flack at the Pentagon. She used her bully pulpit to push for Taiwan independence and support the credibility of the DoD approach until Colin Powell demanded her resignation and she was removed in 2004

In 2007, James Fallows recounted another anecdote concerning the Cheney China mindset conveyed to him by ex-US Senator Gary Hart:

[Senator Hart served] as co-chair of the "U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century," aka the Hart-Rudman Commission.

Early in 2001, the commission presented a report to the incoming G.W. Bush administration warning that terrorism would be the nation's greatest national security problem, and saying that unless the United States took proper protective measures a terrorist attack was likely within its borders. …

At the first meeting, one Republican woman on the commission said that the overwhelming threat was from China. Sooner or later the U.S. would end up in a military showdown with the Chinese Communists. There was no avoiding it, and we would only make ourselves weaker by waiting. No one else spoke up in support.

The same thing happened at the second meeting -- discussion from other commissioners about terrorism, nuclear proliferation, anarchy of failed states, etc, and then this one woman warning about the looming Chinese menace. And the third meeting too. Perhaps more.

Finally, in frustration, this woman left the commission.

"Her name was Lynne Cheney," Hart said. "I am convinced that if it had not been for 9/11, we would be in a military showdown with China today." Not because of what China was doing, threatening, or intending, he made clear, but because of the assumptions the Administration brought with it when taking office.

Fortunately for the PRC, as Senator Hart declared, the calamity of 9/11 intervened to shift the focus of the Bush administration and Mr. Cheney to the Middle East and China was credentialed as a U.S. partner in the War on Terror.  Nevertheless, Mr. Cheney’s right-hand man, John Bolton, was able to persuade the European Union not to revoke its post Tian An Men arms embargo against the PRC, a ban which still exists and, as a memory and warning of the PRC’s near approach to permanent pariah status, rankles Beijing to this day.

PRC President Hu Jintao had the misfortune of visiting Washington in 2006, when Vice President Cheney and his militant faction were riding high.  China's role as an impediment to Bush administration policies on Iran as well as North Korea did not make for a particularly hospitable environment for Hu's visit.

As Dana Milbank reported at the time:


 The protocol-obsessed Chinese leader suffered a day full of indignities - some intentional, others just careless. The visit began with a slight when the official announcer said the band would play the "national anthem of the Republic of China" - the official name of Taiwan. It continued when Vice President Cheney donned sunglasses for the ceremony, and again when Hu, attempting to leave the stage via the wrong staircase, was yanked back by his jacket. Hu looked down at his sleeve to see the president of the United States tugging at it as if redirecting an errant child.

    Then there were the intentional slights. China wanted a formal state visit such as Jiang [Zemin] got, but the administration refused, calling it instead an "official" visit. Bush acquiesced to the 21-gun salute but insisted on a luncheon instead of a formal dinner, in the East Room instead of the State Dining Room. Even the visiting country's flags were missing from the lampposts near the White House.

In addition to his sunglass-donning transgression, Cheney also had to deny he had marked Hu's Oval Office briefing by taking a nap in his chair (thereby, perhaps inadvertently, leaving the impression that he had actually chosen to feign sleep in order to show his contempt for the Chinese leader).

The capper to the disastrous visit was the outburst during Hu’s speech on the White House lawn by Dr Wang Wenyi of the Falun Gong spiritual practice movement, who gained access to the speech as a credentialed correspondence.

US news reports first concentrated on Dr. Wang’s dire—and legally more problematic statements—along the lines of “President Hu, your days are numbered!”

Subsequent reports concentrated on the more civil disobedience-styled Let My People Goisms such as “President Bush, stop him from persecuting Falun Gong!”. More recent reports merely described Dr. Wang as “pleading with Bush to stop the Chinese president from persecuting the Falun Gong”.

Ming Pao reported more categorically that Dr. Wang declaimed in a piercing voice, shouting exhortations such as “Heaven will destroy the Chinese Communists”, “Leave the Party”, “10 million heroes have left the party, when will you leave?”, “Judge Jiang Zemin, Luo Gan, Zhou Yongkang” and “Falun Practice is Great”.

The Secret Service did not cover itself in glory, as Milbank described:

 90 seconds into Hu's speech on the South Lawn, the woman started shrieking, "President Hu, your days are numbered!" and "President Bush, stop him from killing!"

 Bush and Hu looked up, stunned. It took so long to silence her - a full three minutes - that Bush aides began to wonder if the Secret Service's strategy was to let her scream herself hoarse. The rattled Chinese president haltingly attempted to continue his speech and television coverage went to split screen.

The revelation that the White House had granted Dr. Wang a temporary press pass in the name of the Epoch Times probably did not elicit a forgiving shrug from the Chinese government.

The Epoch Times, extensively distributed in the United States as a free newspaper, was widely known as the organ of the Falun Gong, which had been at loggerheads with the Chinese Communist Party ever since the Chinese government suppressed its practice as subversive in 1999.

Dr. Wang was not a journalist by profession. She was a pathologist, and the lead researcher on Falun Gong's hot-button issue--the alleged vivisection of Falun Gong practitioners by the Chinese government at a facility in Shenyang, and the sale of their organs for transplant purposes.

And, beyond Falun Gong’s well-known hostility to the Chinese Communist Party and Dr. Wang’s central role in Falung Gong’s most impassioned crusade against the Chinese regime, her prior personal history of confronting Hu Jintao was a matter of public record.

More Milbank:

But as protocol breaches go, it's hard to top the heckling of a foreign leader at the White House. Explaining the incident -- the first disruption at the executive mansion in recent memory -- White House and Secret Service officials said she was "a legitimate journalist" and that there was nothing suspicious in her background. In other words: Who knew?

Hu did. The Chinese had warned the White House to be careful about who was admitted to the ceremony. To no avail: They granted a one-day pass to Wang Wenyi of the Falun Gong publication Epoch Times. A quick Nexis search shows that in 2001, she slipped through a security cordon in Malta protecting Jiang (she had been denied media credentials) and got into an argument with him. [emphasis added]

It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that somebody in the White House press office thought it might be a fun prank to throw Hu together with a Falun Gong activist.

A quote from the AP report summed up the debacle:

"It's hugely embarrassing," said Derek Mitchell, a former Asia adviser at the Pentagon and now an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China "must know that this Bush administration is good at controlling crowds for themselves, and the fact that they couldn't control this is going to play to their worst fears and suspicions about the United States, into mistrust about American intentions toward China."

Mr. Cheney further earned PRC mistrust by pursuing a North Korea regime change policy whose scope threatened, either by intention or design, to undermine the PRC’s access to the global financial system.   In a lengthy process that began in 2005, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned and sent into receivership a small Macau bank, Banco Delta Asia—whose owner, Stanley Au, was a well-connected figure in Beijing--on rather dubious evidentiary grounds that it had acted as a conduit for North Korean money laundering.  In testimony before Congress, an administration figure responsible for the strategy asserted that the BDA sanction was a threat directed at the People’s Bank of China—“killing the chicken to scare the monkey”--to cease its relations with North Korea or else suffer the same fate.

In another lucky break for the PRC if not the rest of the world (there is no evidence of coordination between Beijing and Pyongyang), North Korea detonated a nuclear weapon in October 2006 to demonstrate its extreme umbrage at the United States; the shock brought the Cheney program to a screeching halt.

Vice President Cheney suffered the indignity of having his foreign policy team sidelined in favor of moderates favored by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  Nevertheless, in 2007 Mr. Cheney journeyed to Asia and personally attempted to will an anti-China alliance of the United States, India, Japan, and Australia into existence--in defiance of Bush administration policy, as Australia’s News Corp reported:

Australia has been approached to dramatically upgrade its three-way security arrangements with Japan and the US to include India in a four-way security agreement that would encircle China.

The Japanese Government and US Vice-President Dick Cheney are keen to include the growing economic and military power of India in the already enhanced "trilateral" security arrangements, locking together the three most powerful democracies of the Asia-Pacific region.

Mr Cheney gave the Japanese proposal new life on his recent visit to Japan and Australia after sections of the Bush administration rebuffed the plan.

Mr Cheney's backing for the plan, which is understood to be strongly supported by the new Japanese Prime Minister, came only two weeks before Tuesday's signing of a historic security declaration between Japan and Australia.

That declaration put security, intelligence and military relations on the highest level they have been since World War II.

The disclosure of Mr Cheney's support for a plan that would close the back door on China is likely to cause deeper concern in Beijing, which is already accusing the US of attempting to contain its growth and influence.

Readers tempted to dismiss Mr. Cheney’s Asian odyssey as the quixotic gesture of a disgraced has-been will be interested to learn that the Japanese prime minister in 2007 who so strongly supported the China containment initiative was none other than Shinzo Abe, during his first, brief, and disastrous administration.   

During his 2012 political campaign, Mr. Abe affirmed his vision of a U.S.-Japan-India-Australia "diamond" containing China.  His most striking and successful foreign policy initiative since taking office (other than deepening Japan-China enmity) has been obtaining the enthusiastic endorsement of a Japanese-Indian security partnership by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh.

Maybe "rising Japan" really is a source of instability in East Asia.

Map of Japan's territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone from Sun Bin's blog; see link above.