Expanding US military presence, alliances in Asia aimed at China

Jan 7, 2013- Washington is stepping up its military deployments, war games and alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, including with Tokyo where recent elections brought back into power the Liberal Democratic Party led by Shinzo Abe, who calls for taking a tougher line against China and remilitarizing Japan.

The Pentagon has begun a five-year program to deploy stealth, radar-evading warplanes to bases within striking range of China. This includes Air Force F-22s and B-2s and Marine Corps F-35s, reports Wired.com.

The U.S. Army is also ramping up exercises in the Pacific with “as many as 15,000 soldiers to train in places such as South Korea, Japan, India, New Zealand and Australia,” reported the Army Times Dec. 12. “And that’s just the beginning.”

Among exercises in the works are Balikatan, involving about 2,850 U.S. soldiers in the Philippines in April; and Gema Bhakti, to be conducted for the first time with the Indonesian Joint Forces in June. The Army is also seeking to undertake a battalion-sized field exercise in Bangladesh and is conducting “land force talks with Vietnam,” the Times reported.

As part of long-term efforts to counter the economic and military rise of China, Washington has been exploiting mounting tensions between Beijing and other governments in the region over territorial claims to islands and waters in the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast reserves of oil and gas.

Both Beijing and Tokyo claim control of the uninhabited islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. In a provocative move, the Japanese government in September bought the islands from their private owners.

After a small Chinese propeller plane flew near the island Dec. 13, the Japanese military dispatched eight F-15 fighter planes to the area. They arrived after the plane had already left the islands’ territorial airspace.

The Chinese plane “wasn’t a military aircraft,” reported the Wall Street Journal. “Warned by a Japanese patrol ship not to enter Japan’s airspace, it replied, ‘This is Chinese airspace,’ Japan’s coast guard said.”

U.S.-Japan military ties

In August the U.S. and Japanese governments signed an agreement to deploy drones to monitor Chinese activity in the East China Sea. The following month Tokyo and Washington agreed to deploy a second major advanced missile defense radar on Japanese territory.
With another planned to be placed in the Philippines, it will be possible to track ballistic missiles launched from North Korea and large parts of China.

In November, Washington and Tokyo conducted a 12-day joint military exercise involving some 37,000 Japanese and 10,000 U.S. military personnel, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry.

These actions build upon a new U.S.-Japan bilateral defense-cooperation agreement signed in April that “calls for strengthening ‘interoperability’ between U.S. and Japanese forces, and building permanent training facilities on Guam and in the nearby Northern Mariana Islands,” reported the Journal. “Such facilities will mark the first permanent post for the Japanese military within U.S. territory since World War II.”

At the same time, the presence of 26,000 U.S. troops in Okinawa remains unpopular among many working people in Japan. The Pentagon imposed a curfew for all U.S. soldiers in Japan after two U.S. Navy sailors were arrested and charged by Japanese authorities with raping and robbing an Okinawan woman outside the Kadena Air Base in October.

In the Dec. 16 parliamentary elections, the Liberal Democratic Party beat the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. While its popular vote was only 30 percent, the LDP won 294 out of 480 seats, up from 118 in the 2009 vote.

The Liberal Democrats ruled Japan for nearly half a century until being defeated by the Democratic Party of Japan in the last election.

LDP leader Abe was named prime minister Dec. 26, a post he resigned from six years ago after serving a one-year stint. Abe campaigned for a more nationalist foreign policy, increasing military spending and vowing to rewrite Japan’s constitution, which was imposed on the country under U.S. occupation after World War II and limits Tokyo’s use of its armed forces abroad.

Japan’s Self Defense Forces, however, are among the world’s largest armed forces, with annual military spending ranking sixth in the world last year—in Asia second only to China—according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Washington is also increasing its military presence in the Philippines, with more U.S. troops and increased stopovers by U.S. warships for training and exercises, reports Agence France-Presse. A rotating force of 600 U.S. special forces has been stationed in the southern Philippines since 2002.

Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario has also called for use of Japanese armed forces in the Pacific region, despite the fact that the country was occupied by Tokyo during World War II.

In addition to Tokyo, the governments of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam are involved in territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.

China claims sovereignty over all land inside the South China Sea, including more than 40 islands. In June Beijing set up a new national prefecture headquartered in the Paracel Islands, which Hanoi also lays claim to. The following month China’s Central Military Commission announced it would deploy a garrison of soldiers to guard the islands in the area.

In another development, the Barack Obama administration is planning to sell four Global Hawk surveillance drones to Seoul, the first sale of this aircraft in the Asia-Pacific region, reports al-Jazeera.

This proposal comes less than two weeks after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea launched a satellite into orbit Dec. 12, which the White House condemned as “a highly provocative act.”