Sunday, November 28, 2010

Power Politics Flying High above Korea and Japan

Okinawa elections fueled by citizens' anger at US military base

One major issue is the future of the US military forces stationed on the Okinawa island since 1945. In particular, the Marines forces base relocation to Henoko is a major disagreement on the islands. Activists and residents complain they can't bear any longer with noise, pollution and contribution to crime on the southern islands. But Japan's local and national government dual positions could ignite further tension in East Asia.

Okinawa Sunday’s gubernatorial election involves major candidates such as incumbent governor Hirokazu Nakaima against the former mayor of Ginowan City, Yoichi Iha. Relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station is one of the core issues in Sunday’s election, with Nakaima insisting it needs to move "outside the prefecture", while his opponent is demanding the base be moved completely "overseas or out of the prefecture." The overseas option preferred by Iha garnered 57% of the votes, while "within Okinawa Prefecture" scored 18% and move to "mainland Japan" picked up 15% of the local poll votes. (Agencies polls)

In the survey over the weekend, 49% of respondents said the economy was what the candidates should be worrying about, while only 36% felt the "base problem" as important. Analysis of those responses showed that those concerned about the economy tended to support Nakaima, while those worried about the base relocation were backing Iha.

In the background of Okinawa election all appears as a never ending psychological battle between Japan and the United States. On one hand, both state that they are to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation in the event of a contingency in Japan such as the North South Koreas historic disputes. On the other hand, powerful citizens movements and Japanese business lobbies appear as involved to get rid of the US forces off Okinawa to transform Okinawa into a paradise for tourism industry.

The result of the Okinawa election is to be quite a sport for Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and U.S. President Barack Obama as both agreed in their meeting in Yokohama on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit to issue a joint statement on deepening Japan-U.S. security ties when Kan visits the United States next spring 2011. How deep?

The military aircraft carrier USS George Washington

The Okinawa election happens while the United States and South Korea began a planned 4 days of naval exercises today seen as a warning to North Korea after last week’s with deadly artillery attack on a island populated by South Koreans in the Yellow Sea during South Korean military naval drills.

"This weekend's arrival of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea aggravates tension in the region according to Beijing: Should it protest angrily and aggravate ties with Washington, or quietly accept the presence of a key symbol of American military pre-eminence off Chinese shores" comments the center left Mainichi Shimbun (curiously) quoting an AP dispatch on its web, Nov 27th.

Alarming today, BBC aired, is that for a while "North Korea has moved surface to surface missiles on her coast with ROK" today Nov 28. Orders and counter orders were given, making the population worried with intense psychological maneuvering flying high on the Far East agenda these days. "These naval drills alarm China and North Korea," according to Japanese and western media. Really? For whom? "Actually, Chinese media focus more on the closure of the Asian Games than on a tense military tension that appears as a power game played by Japan ROK and initiated by the US to grab control of the Far East seas situation," according to some sources. The Chinese media are more on festivities than tension, as seen here:

Indeed, some speculate on the real motives behind this tension in the Far East seas: Tobias Harris wrote on his blog 'observingjapan': "Can we really draw a straight line from regional instability to closer security cooperation between the US and Japan? Arguably this logic has worked in the past, with North Korean provocations from 1994 onward stirring Japanese policy-makers to bolster Japan’s capabilities and launch new bilateral initiatives with the US, ballistic missile defense being perhaps the most notable example. And there are signs that the DPJ-led government is remarkably more realist in its approach to the region than many expected."

We have long valued here too the fact that the US Japan military alliance is getting old, and remains of a limited security relationship which basically focusses on deterrence in and around Japan and it is better than having any other plan for the alliance that so far only benefits systems rather than people. Last week DPRK shelling were contained to a limited area. Much talked about by media under control in ROK and Japan. Beijing since entered in diplomatic talks with all rulers of this part of the world.

Chinese submarine monitoring the Asian seas

For the time being, China and DPRK try to contain their reaction. Lots of diplomatic negotiations went on in the last few days. Violent tones of angry generals versus lamenting statements of uncommitted politicians were heard in Japan and Korea. After all, North Korea called the civilian deaths in the attack on Yeonpyeong Island "regrettable" in a quite outstanding gesture coming from this regime unaffected by respect of human rights and freedom of thoughts. Naturally, the announcement of the ROK drills last week angered both North Korea and its main ally in the region, China.

And to this day, it remains unexplained who exactly shelled and bombed in the first time. According to Nov 26th story in the Chosun Ilbo Quote: "The North Korean military moved a battalion of 122-mm Multiple Launch Rocket System shells from the Fourth Corps to a coastal artillery base in Kaemori in Kangryong, South Hwanghae Province just before shelling Yeonpyeong Island on Tuesday, but despite detecting the move in advance, the South Korean military fired back at the base along the shoreline in Mudo, not Kaemori. This raises concerns about the ability of the military to deal with attacks." Unquote.

Next? After Okinawa election, a citadel for the US military forces and the control of their interests in the Far East, Chinese president Hu Jintao is scheduled to make a state visit to Washington in January 2011, prior to Kan's visit to DC. The dinner is to be hosted by US president Barack Obama with a state dinner, something unseen for a long time at the White House --I'm told that President George W. Bush never gave such dinner to a Chinese leader--

Prior to this visit and anterior talks between US and Chinese military top generals, General Ma Xiaotian, one of the commanders who objected to the George Washington's deployment earlier this year, is to go to Washington for defense consultations. Until January 2011, everyone involved in politics in the East Asia region will play their respective tricky power-games.

The military and nuclear weapons armada of Pyongyang remains a threat to South Korea and the whole of Asia and sanctions have never limited Pyongyang's power games in spite of the UNSC rhetoric and China leverage. Democracies have failed in their moral responsibility.

DPRK and the Kim's dynasty remain entrenched into an illogical situation for Asia watchers and conflicting historians (while distant war mongers go for the kill, others favor negotiations and remedies) but is it just China's responsibility and America's problem? How could the world get along and secured with a simple truce on the Korean peninsula and the China Taiwan division for such a long time while Asian societies are calling for a politically autonomous, mature and developed Asia?

"Strategic trust is almost zero among the players involved. The efforts China makes in promoting regional stability are often offset by US strategic intentions in the western Pacific. China's efforts also often get the cold shoulder by North Korea. The "on again, off again" Six-Party talks best exemplify the difficulty." Global Times wrote Nov 26.

Here, I would agree that the answer is to come from Beijing and the other members of the UNSC as many expect a shift of attitudes and condemnation on the latest military development, allegedly provoked by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. The DPRK nuclear issue being part 2. Patience is great virtue in Asia until it appears as a weakening of authority and of members' international responsibility. For the time being, citizens are getting nervous, agitated and worried in such a context which does not favor stability and safety.

Sources: Agencies, Reporter's notes.

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