Commentary Magazine


Pacific Allies Look to U.S. on China Disputes

Anti-Japanese demonstrations have broken out in China, again, because of the dispute over sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are claimed by both China and Japan. This is only one of many territorial disputes that China has with its neighbors over various tiny islands. China is deliberately fanning the flames of nationalism in order, one suspects, to distract attention from a slowing economy and an illegitimate leadership whose foibles are on display in the sordid Bo Xilai affair (the senior Communist Party official whose wife has just received a suspended death sentence for the murder of a British associate).

China’s neighbors are outraged and scared and looking to the U.S. for protection. The U.S. response, alas, has been spineless. This is a point that I and other commentators have made repeatedly but now it is seconded from an unexpected quarter–see this op-ed by Democratic Senator Jim Webb in today’s Wall Street Journal. He quite carefully never mentions President Obama and his administration, preferring to speak of the U.S. government and the State Department, but his article is a devastating indictment of the president’s supineness in the face of growing Chinese aggression.

Webb, a Vietnam veteran and distinguished writer before entering politics, writes:

American vacillations have for years emboldened China. U.S. policy with respect to sovereignty issues in Asian-Pacific waters has been that we take no sides, that such matters must be settled peacefully among the parties involved. Smaller, weaker countries have repeatedly called for greater international involvement.

Webb even goes on to compare this crisis to the Western non-reaction to Japanese aggression against China in the 1930s. The analogy at first blush would appear overwrought–but maybe not. It is quite possible that one of the island disputes could tip over into actual shooting. Indeed this is now the most likely scenario involving a war with China–more likely at this point than a Chinese attack on Taiwan. The U.S. had better discover its spine and stand up for its friends in the region, otherwise the risk of war will grow because China will think it has a green light for its continuing expansionism.