China Military Report: US Seventh Fleet

Peter Ennis at Dispatch Japan has wrapped-up a series on the thoughts of four important Washington DC foreign policy experts on the Obama administration’s much touted “East Asia pivot.” It makes for interesting reading. Read over some of the highlights from the interviews below and click on the links for the full interviews.

Senator Jim Webb, chairman, East Asian and Pacific Affairs, subcommittee, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

Dispatch Japan: Neither Tokyo nor Washington can say what each is thinking [on the Futenma Replacement Facility issue].

Senator Webb: The two national governments are paralyzed by these expressed positions. The only way to change is if there is a specific proposal to move toward. We can’t theorize anymore about this; it’s been going on for 15 years. That is the box they are in.

I suggested to Defense Secretary Panetta, before he visited the region in October, the idea of expanding the Naha runway facilities into a joint-use facility. That would help Japan commercially, but would also give us a mobilization fall-back. We’ve done this in Germany. We did in on Guam many years ago, which had a runway that was military on one side and commercial on the other.

This is just a thought. My point is that we do not have to be paralyzed between the existing Futenma facility and the Henoko option that doesn’t seem realistic.

Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and and Pacific Affairs:

Dispatch Japan: How do you expect our force structure to change in the Asia-Pacific region?

Assistant secretary Campbell: The mantra the Pentagon uses is that we are politically sustainable, sensible, that we  are dispersed rationally, and that we work with a range of partners. I think it is undeniable that we have strong and important commitments in Northeast Asia, but that we need to work more with fiends and partners in Southeast Asia, and take the necessary steps to follow through on the commitments the President made in Australia.

So, we will see a level of American military commitment that is continuous, even in a period military downsizing, and in some places may see more naval and other capability. We think sending that message right now in the Asia-Pacific region is of central importance.

Dan Sneider, associate director of research at Stanford University’s Asia-Pacific Research Center:

Associate director Sneider [on the administration's "pivot"]: Yes. The Obama Administration is certainly investing not only rhetoric, but the time and energy of senior leaders on East Asia on a scale much greater than previous administrations. The President’s extensive commitment to host the APEC summit and to attend the East Asia summit all point to this trend. The administration is genuinely working to come up with a coherent policy toward the whole region, which is a major change.

However, I continue to believe that if one could draw a pie chart measuring the collective brain of the US national security establishment, you’d see that far greater amounts of time are still devoted to the Middle East and Europe, and, relatively speaking, East Asia is still not a priority.

Mike Green, professor of Political Science at Georgetown University:

Dispatch Japan: It [the "pivot"] seemed quite a different approach from the initial Obama policy.

Professor Green: That’s right. The Obama administration started off, in 2009-2010, emphasizing more of a concert of power with China.

That’s the problem with the “pivot.” It seems to come out of nowhere, and it comes after the 2009 statement with Hu Jintao saying that we respect each other’s core interests, and after statements about strategic reassurance. We sent signals that the US would go the extra mile to cooperate with China on climate change, strategic reassurance, due respect of core interests. All of a sudden there was a jarring new agenda which makes it implicitly all about China.

Dispatch Japan: Would this [the "pivot"] have occurred if China had been cooperative on the Cheonan sinking, on climate change, and on currency matters?

Professor GREEN: The Chinese brought this on to themselves to some extent because of their position on the Cheonan, on the South China Sea, the Senkakus. All of these incidents brought out animosity in Asia, a desire in the region for the US  to counterbalance China. The Chinese created the conditions where the administration, to its credit, really enhanced relationships, particularly in Southeast Asia, but with all of our allies.

I don’t think a lot of countries in the region necessarily appreciate the pivot label, because they don’t want to be implicated with us in putting a stick in China’s face. The foreign minister of Indonesia has questioned the pivot.


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Corey Wallace joined Japan Security Watch in 2011. He writes on Japan security-related topics, focusing on issues and stories that may not find their way into the English language media. He also hosts the blog Sigma1 where he writes on Japanese domestic politics and broader issues in international relations. Prior to taking up a PhD Corey was a participant on the JET program (2004-2007) and on returning to New Zealand he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology from 2007-2010 as a policy adviser. Corey lectures two courses at the University of Auckland. One is on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, which contains a significant focus on East Asia security issues. The other is a course on China's international relations. His primary academic interests before his current Japan focus were science and technology politics/policy, issues of ethnic identity, and Chinese modern history and politics. He carries over his interest in issues of identity and history into his PhD where he is looking at generationally situated concepts of national identity and their impact on foreign policy ideas in Japan.
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