US-Japan powerhouse in the Pacific

>> Sunday, March 5, 2017

Perry Diaz   

It is said that when the bully in the neighborhood is harassing you, you seek the aid of a bigger bully.  And that’s precisely what Japan did who is being harassed by China over the Senkaku Islands, an unpopulated group of islets in the East China Sea.  Both countries claim ownership of the Senkakus but Japan has administrative control over them. 
In November 2013, China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) covering most of the East China Sea, which restricts air traffic over the area.  Japan refused to recognize the ADIZ and continued to fly over the islands. 
With Chinese warships sailing around and aircraft flying by the islands, Japan was constantly on guard, scrambling her fighter jets each time Chinese aircraft approach the islands.
In April 2015, the U.S. and Japan finalized a new set of defense guidelines for bilateral defense cooperation and envisioning a more global role for their alliance. 
As reported in the Defense News, “The new guidelines take into consideration Japan’s revised defense posture, including the Abe government’s decision to reinterpret a constitutional provision to allow for Japanese participation in collective self-defense.”  “The changes reflect Japan’s worries over China’s rise and enduring concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program,” the report said.
Security partnership
Recently, the U.S. and Japan have increased the amount of real-world operations conducted together to further strengthen their partnership.  This includes developing an integrated air and missile defense network to deal with the growing threat of hostile ballistic missile activity in the region.  
As the two nations conduct joint operations more frequently, China is put on notice that a newly revised U.S.-Japan defense pact is ready to face China if China attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas. 
But as both the U.S. and Japan know it, China’s ultimate goal is to break out into the Western Pacific by way of the Miyako Strait (between Japan and Taiwan) or Bashi Channel (between Taiwan and Batanes Island).  These two waterways are the weakest points in the First Island Chain that links Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo, Malaysia, and Vietnam. 
If China penetrates these waterways, she’d be able to project naval power in the Western Pacific.  However, without a forward operating base in the Philippine Sea, China would have difficulty in providing logistical support to maintain permanent presence in the Western Pacific.  
But once China breaks out into the Philippine Sea, she would be able to deploy her growing fleet of ballistic missile submarines within striking distance of American territory, including the full length of the U.S. West Coast, from Alaska down to California.  The specter of Chinese missiles raining down on the West Coast is making America’s defense planners nervous.
Right now, the only defense the U.S. has against missile attacks on the West Coast is the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD).  It is a major component of America’s missile defense strategy to counter incoming ballistic missiles.  Known as “interceptors,” 40 of these missiles are based at Fort Greely, Alaska and another four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. 
Formidable as it might seem, the GMD is the “last line” of defense to protect America from missile attacks.  However, any defense planner would conclude that this “last line” of defense should never come to use; the incoming enemy missiles should be stopped at the First Island Chain, which is much closer to China.   And this is where the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system comes into play. 
THAAD provides the critical capability to defend against short and medium range ballistic missiles.  In other words, THAAD could defend America and her Asia-Pacific allies by installing it as close as possible to potential adversaries, particularly China and North Korea. 
With THAAD already installed and operational in Guam, it would soon be installed in South Korea before the end of 2017.  Japan is also considering purchasing THAAD and so does Taiwan. 
For this reason, China is building ballistic missile submarines round the clock.  She’s also building two or more aircraft carriers in addition to the one that is already deployed to the East China Sea. 
With the ultimate goal of projecting blue water naval power in the Western Pacific, China’s problem is how to provide logistical support to her naval assets.  Wouldn’t it be ideal for China to take control of the undefended Bashi Channel and establish logistical support bases on the west side of Luzon facing the Philippine Sea? 
Flirting with China
Indeed, the prospect of having Chinese naval bases in western Luzon must be in the Chinese military planners’ minds.  And this begs the question:  What does it take for China to bring the Philippines to her side?  Sad to say, with the current President Rodrigo Duterte flirting with China and threatening to terminate the Philippines’ defense agreements with the U.S., China might not even have to fire a shot to turn the country into a vassal state… or territory.
Just a few weeks ago, Duterte threatened to declare martial law and form a revolutionary government, presumably with the aid of the local communist movement that includes the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), National Democratic Front (NDF), and New People’s Army (NPA). 
Abe-Duterte understanding
But something happened that changed the dynamics. Last January 12-13, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Philippines at a time when Duterte was contemplating an alliance with China and Russia.  But Abe’s visit changed all that. 
The two leaders signed various memoranda of agreement on economic and defense assistance including agriculture, transportation, small and medium enterprise, infrastructure, counter-terrorism, drug-rehabilitation projects, and security cooperation. 
Abe also promised to give the Philippines $8.66 billion (1 trillion yen) in aid, which would be spread over five years.  However, Abe emphasized the significance of enhancing cooperation between Japan, the U.S., and the Philippines.  Duterte then acknowledged the importance of the Philippines’ alliance with the U.S.
He also assured Abe that he did not enter into a military alliance with China and that he would insist on the rule of law in the South China Sea.  Abe agreed that the role of the U.S. remains vital for stability in the region and that the territorial disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved under the rule of law.
Recently, newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump said “it might not be such a bad thing if South Korea and Japan were to develop their own nuclear weapons in self-defense.”  Japan might just take on Trump’s suggestion.  After all, she has the capability to produce nuclear weapons on her own.
In an editorial I wrote on January12, 2016, I said: “What is interesting to note is that Japan, who doesn’t possess nuclear weapons at this time, could produce them if she wanted to. She has 47 metric tons of weapons-usable plutonium, which is enough to make nearly 6,000 warheads like the one the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki.
This huge cache was the by-product from reprocessing of spent uranium and plutonium used in Japan’s nuclear plants, which makes one wonder: Would Japan make nuclear warheads and use them if she were threatened with nuclear extinction by North Korea [or China]?”  
In the final analysis, what we’re seeing today is a seamless fusion of the most potent security partnership between the U.S. and Japan.  Seeing the two former World War II enemies forge a unified force to maintain the status quo in the region goes far beyond the wildest expectations of the geopolitical crystal-ballers.  Yes, the U.S. and Japan will be the powerhouse in the Pacific for years to come. (


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