China’s most powerful military leader, in an unusual public statement, last week ordered military forces to prepare for combat, as Chinese warships deployed to waters near disputed islands and anti-Japan protests throughout the country turned violent.
Protests against the Japanese government’s purchase of three privately held islands in the Senkakus chain led to mass street protests, the burning of Japanese flags, and attacks on Japanese businesses and cars in several cities. Some carried signs that read “Kill all Japanese,” and “Fight to the Death” over disputed islands. One sign urged China to threaten a nuclear strike against Japan.
Gen. Xu Caihou, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, considered the most senior military political commissar, said Friday that military forces should be “prepared for any possible military combat,” state run Xinhua news agency reported.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke in Japan shortly before making his way to China on Monday. He said, “Obviously we are concerned by the demonstrations, and we are concerned by the conflict that is taking place over the Senkaku islands,” he said. “The message I have tried to convey is we have to urge calm and restraint on all sides.”
He urged China to engage in efforts to resolve territorial disputes. “There is a danger that [with] a provocation of one kind or another, we could have a blow up,” Mr. Panetta said. “When you play the game of who is in charge, it starts to get risky.”
China responded, but not in the fashion that Panetta expected. WSJ reports,
At a daily news briefing on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said “China will protect foreign people and foreign companies,” adding, “Chinese citizens express their views in an ordered, legal way.”
But Mr. Hong added that the disturbances show the impact on the Chinese public of Japan’s recent move to buy the islands. “The outcome of Japan’s wrongdoing has emerged, and Japan has to take responsibilities itself,” he said.
China also ratcheted up its rhetoric on the potential economic impact of the dispute. The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, acknowledged that economic weapons were a “two-edged sword,” but it added that on issues of territorial sovereignty “China must meet the challenge.” “If Japan continues to provoke China, China must fight back,” said the commentary.
The commentary also said that Japan’s economy “would not be immune” to retaliatory actions by China, adding that Beijing could target Japan’s manufacturing or financial sectors as well as other specific export products.
Back home in the States, congressional leaders spoke out against China’s bullying. NPR reports,
U.S. lawmakers Wednesday accused China of bullying its neighbors to press territorial claims in the South China Sea but also raised questions about America’s capacity to police the region.
Three congressional panels this week are scrutinizing what they consider to be the security threat posed by China and its human rights record.
House Foreign Relations Committee chairwoman, Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said China was a “schoolyard bully towards its maritime neighbors” that aspired to be the dominant power in Asia, controlling vital sea lanes that could be used to choke off commerce and oil shipments. She said the U.S. would stand by its allies, the Philippines and Japan.
“Other global crises must not distract from our vital national interests in the South China Sea and the western Pacific,” she told a hearing addressing the issue.
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., questioned the ability of an indebted U.S. to sustain its military presence across the world, and suggested China was now “the toughest guy in the neighborhood” that would call the shots on policy there.
“At some point we better wake up and smell the coffee,” Kelly said. “We have a diminished influence because we really don’t have the ability at times to do what we say we are going to do.”
Brad Sherman (D-CA) also said that allies should be constructing their own defense. “Those nations in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly those that have concerns with China’s expansionary claims, ought to be devoting a reasonable portion of GDP to their own naval defense,” he said.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated clearly what is developing. “While the world’s attention was turned to other crises, including Iran’s nuclear program and concerns over the faltering Euro, China has upped the ante, playing the role of a schoolyard bully towards its maritime neighbors.”
“From one end to the other of the South China Sea, Beijing has increased both in belligerence and bellicosity,” she continued. “Whoever controls these sea lanes can dominate Asia—and beyond—by choking off that commerce and oil shipments to the major stakeholders in the Asian economic miracle.”