Britain may have “ruled the waves” for many lifetimes before the twentieth century, but the country that does so now, and has done so at least since World War II is the United States. While the size of the fleet has been reduced, the lethality and power of its weapons have grown. In fact, due to the classified nature of some of our weapons, they are very likely to be more powerful and sophisticated than we are aware.
That doesn’t make the US Navy invincible, but it does make it a force with which to be reckoned, and one that is unsurpassed among the navies of the countries of the world in projecting power beyond the home countries’ borders. And keep in mind that much of our navy is concealed below the surface – “The Silent Service” – and is one whose capabilities are also classified.
Nevertheless, pride does go before a fall. Hence it is essential for the US military to evaluate the forces it might find its navy opposing. China comes to mind as it seeks to flex its muscles around the artificial islands it has created, and also in the Korean crisis. And the United States is not the only country concerned about China’s intentions.
Japan as well as the US are both on alert in the wake of China’s latest naval exercises around Korea in the Sea of Japan. While some tensions still remain between Japan and China going back to World War II, it’s China’s increased exercises in these waters that are raising concerns in both the US and in its Japanese ally.
“Japan’s annual defense report is focused on the threat from North Korea, but it also has a good deal to say about China.
“Those two Japanese concerns converged in a live-fire exercise held by the Chinese Navy off the Korean coast this week, in which dozens of different types of missiles were tested, air intercepts were simulated, ground assaults were practiced, and submarines prowled the waters.
“Japan’s report cited the growing number of fighters scrambled to intercept Chinese aircraft probing Japanese airspace, warning that Chinese naval and air activity may ‘pick up pace in the Sea of Japan from now on.'”
Recall that Japan’s Constitution, written during the occupation of the nation by the United States after World War II, places restrictions on the size and type of its military forces, referring them to “self defense forces.” It’s no surprise that the Japanese leadership has considered amending that Constitution to remove those restrictions in light of the growing potential for hostilities.
One issue that is exacerbating tensions is the dispute over territorial claims in the South and East China Seas.
“Japanese analysts said China ‘continues to display what may be described as a heavy-handed attitude, including its attempts to alter the status quo by force’ in the South and East China Seas, where Japan and China are embroiled in territorial disputes.
“‘China’s activity in the South China Sea is a threat not only to Japan but to the international community. We recognize its calls for the preservation of maritime freedom that is based on the law are of great importance, and the Defense Ministry will continue to cooperate closely with the international community in dealing with this problem,’ Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Tuesday, as quoted by Japan Times.”
Needless to say, this statement did not go over well in Beijing.
Into this already contentious and potentially explosive conflict, we now add the problem of North Korea and its threats to fire nuclear missiles at enemies including the United States. While there is doubt as to its ability to do so effectively at this time, it would be unwise to assume they’ll never get it figured out.
As President Trump has pointed out, China is a key in the dispute with North Korea. Just how much influence does China really have over Kim Jong-un. Is he really just a puppet on China’s string who is allowed to act like he’s independent at times? Or is he truly a loose cannon over whom China has very little control? The answer to that vital question remains illusive, and that only makes matters worse.
In other words, to what degree can the US or any other nation count on China to keep Kim Jong-un from starting a nuclear war if he so desires and can?
So far, China has stated that if Kim Jong-un starts a war with Japan or the US, China will remain neutral. However, if Japan or the U.S. attempts to conduct a preemptive strike on North Korea, China will “prevent” it.
Now might sound hopeful, but there are several problems.
In the first place, China cannot “prevent” a first strike against North Korea by US forces. That much is obvious. Without engaging in hubris, US naval and air assets can hit North Korea anytime they are ordered to do so, and all China, or North Korea for that matter, can do is react. Now that reaction is nothing to dismiss and can take a number of forms. But China knows it cannot stop a preemptive strike by US forces, so it realizes that is an empty threat. It’s the response that is the real issue.
The question must also be asked as to whether China would really honor its claim to remain neutral if North Korea strikes first. While the death toll of a renewal of full-scale hostilities between North and South Korea would be horrific, with the US honoring its treaty obligations with South Korea, the ultimate result is not in doubt. Kim Jong-un, if he survived, would no longer have an independent country to govern. North Korea would lose.
So would China want a unified Korea, one that is an ally with the U.S. and Japan on its border? Hardly.
We’re now back to the issue of China’s maritime claims and its disagreements and conflicts with nations besides just Japan. That might be China’s real focus in all this diplomacy and carefully worded statements regarding North Korea and potential hostilities with Japan and the United States.
In other words, what is China’s real game plan? Unraveling that might be the key to understanding what Kim Jong-un really intends.