An increasingly violent China and dictatorial Pyongyang are threatening Japan and South Korea. Now the USA is daring to close ranks. What’s in store for us in the Pacific?
The attack by Kremlin ruler Vadimir Putin on Ukraine destroyed the post-war order in Europe, which was made clear, among other things, by the fact that the Federal Republic of Germany gave up the conviction it had held for more than seventy-five years not to authorize arms deliveries to war zones. The North Atlantic defense alliance has moved closer together, with Finland and Sweden two previously neutral states wanting to join the alliance.
The post-war order is also history in the Pacific region. An increasingly rabid and belligerent China has persuaded Taiwan, South Korea and Japan to abandon their previous attitude of seeking more protection from the United States than before and increasing military spending.
The changes that Japan has decided to make are particularly striking: After the fascist empire capitulated at the end of the Second World War, military abstinence was imposed on the brutal former colonial power, which had brought devastating suffering to China and Korea, among others. The former war enemy USA took over military alliance obligations, Japan was no longer allowed to maintain an army. Generations of Japanese later adopted a basic pacifist attitude.
But now the tide has turned. At a meeting on January 13 in Washington, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and US President Joe Biden discussed a fundamental realignment: a higher budget for the military, with which, among other things, new rocket technology is to be purchased. The US Army will also change its presence towards a rapid deployment force.
In this way, Washington wants to be optimally prepared should the People’s Republic of Japan attack. Around 50,000 US soldiers are currently securing the Japanese islands. The final declaration of the two governments justified these steps with an increasingly aggressive attitude on the part of Beijing and Pyongyang.
In August, five rockets fired by the Chinese army near the island republic of Taiwan landed in Japanese territorial waters. Japan also fears that the Senkaku Islands belonging to their territory could be occupied by China. The People’s Republic claims that these islands belong to it. Incidentally, Beijing says the same thing about the Socotra rock, which belongs to South Korea.
The nomenklatura in Beijing wants to conquer both, so that they can then claim that the sea that encloses them is Chinese inland waters. That would put Beijing in control of world trade passing through that part of the western Pacific.
Red Alert: How China’s aggressive foreign policy in the Pacific is leading to a global war
US President Biden assured Prime Minister Kishida that the United States stood firmly by its alliance with Japan. In addition to China, the communist dictatorship of North Korea and the Russian regime are also a threat to Japan’s security: On December 18, Pyongyang tested new missiles that, with nuclear weapons, could also reach Japan.
On May 24, 2022, China and Russia flew close to Japan’s airspace with six fighter bombers in a show of military might while the democratically elected leaders of Japan, Australia, India and the US met for talks.
Since Russia attacked Ukraine in violation of international law, the world structure in the Pacific has been out of joint. Meanwhile, the Moscow-Beijing-Pyongyang axis extends further to Tehran, where another unjust regime threatens to become fatal for an entire region of the world.
Neither Pyongyang nor Tehran could be persuaded in negotiations that the development and use of nuclear weapons would have devastating consequences for all of humanity. In another world, it would be nice to continue believing in the idea of disarmament and proliferation through negotiations. Although China officially rejects the use of nuclear weapons, it has increased its arsenal to around 400 warheads under ruler Xi. In addition, Beijing is suspected of supporting the Russian troops in occupied Ukraine via its partner North Korea or of not preventing Pyongyang from providing military support to them.
In the course of international nuclear disarmament after the end of the Cold War, the USA withdrew its nuclear warheads from the Korean Peninsula in 1991. North Korea’s nuclear armament with Chinese approval has now for the first time led to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol bringing these nuclear warheads back into play. In order to counter this threat appropriately, US President Biden is trying to strengthen the Atlantic and Pacific alliances of the United States and supplement them with a new Indo-Pacific alliance involving India, Australia and New Zealand.
Currently, a number of geopolitical observers believe that global trade links will ultimately prevent a war between the US and China from breaking out. Others say that the very fact that the USSR and its vassals had no ties with the US and its allies in the free world was the reason why there was no war. Because that way both sides could not get in each other’s way more or less unmolested.
The USA is currently trying to prevent constellations in Japan, Taiwan and Russia in which they could come into direct confrontation with the aggressors in the Kremlin or Beijing and an outbreak of war would be unavoidable.
As long as the future has not happened, it is open. So there is hope to the last. What is currently certain, however, is that the world is heading for a new confrontation. The reason for this is the political nomenklatura of the People’s Republic of China (not to be confused with the people who live in China) under its ruler Xi Jinping.
Alexander Görlach is Honorary Professor of Ethics at Leuphana University in Lüneburg and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. After stints in Taiwan and Hong Kong, he has focused on the rise of China and what it means for East Asian democracies in particular. From 2009 to 2015, Alexander Görlach was also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the debate magazine The European, which he founded. Today he is a columnist and author for various media. He lives in New York and Berlin.