Why Asia’s Arms Race Risks Spinning Out Of Control
Why Asia’s arms race risks spinning out of control? It's the biggest arms race Asia has ever seen, with three major nuclear powers and one that is growing quickly, the world's three largest economies, and alliances that go back decades all trying to get the upper hand in some of the most contested land and sea areas in the world.
The United States and its allies Japan and South Korea are in one corner. China and its partner, Russia, are in the other corner. North Korea is the third.
Everyone is stuck in a circle that is getting out of control because everyone wants to be one step ahead of everyone else. After all, what stops one person is what makes another person angrier.
Ankit Panda, an expert on nuclear policy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told CNN:
We’ll continue to see these dynamics spiral in East Asia, where we have no measures of restraint, we have no arms control.
- Ankit Panda
COPYRIGHT_BP: Published on https://bingepost.com/asias-arms-race-risks-spinning/ by Cecilia Jones on 2023-01-16T01:56:57.533Z
This was made clearer by the fact that Japanese leaders went to Washington last week. On Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida talked about how worried he was about China's military activities in the East China Sea and the fact that in August, China fired ballistic missiles over Taiwan that landed in waters near Japan. This was right after he met with US Vice President Joe Biden.
Kishida warned Beijing not to try to "change the international order" and said it was "absolutely imperative" for Japan, the US, and Europe to stand together on China. Just a few days before, ministers from the US and Japan had warned about China's "ongoing and accelerating expansion of (China’s) nuclear arsenal."
North Korea and China, on the other hand, say that Japan is the aggressor. They have heard that Tokyo recently promised to spend twice as much on defense and buy weapons that can hit targets in China and North Korea.
And their alleged worries will have grown since it was announced a few days ago that the US Marines will be sending more troops to Japan's southern islands, including new anti-ship missiles that can stop a first strike from Beijing.
For the US and Japan, these kinds of moves are about deterrence, but for Beijing, they are about escalation.
China says that its worries have to do with the past. It says that it is afraid that Tokyo is going back to the aggressive military expansionism of World War II when Japanese forces controlled large parts of Asia and China got the worst of it.
During the eight years of fighting with Japan from 1937 to 1945, about 14 million Chinese people died and up to 100 million were forced to leave their homes.
Beijing says that Japan's plans, which include buying long-range "counterstrike" weapons like Tomahawk missiles that could hit Chinese bases, show that Tokyo is once again a threat to peace in East Asia.
But critics think that China is also trying to distract itself from its own military buildup by reopening old wounds.
They say that even though Beijing strongly rejects US and Japanese worries about its growing military power, it has been building up its naval and air forces in areas close to Japan while claiming the Senkaku Islands, a chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea that are controlled by Japan, as its own territory.
Late in December, Japan said that Chinese government ships had been seen in the area around the islands, which China calls the Diaoyus, 334 times in 2022. This was the most since 2012 when Tokyo bought some of the islands from a private Japanese landowner.
From December 22 to December 25, Chinese government ships spent almost 73 hours in a row in Japanese waters near the islands. This was the longest time that this has happened since 2012.
China has also been turning up the heat by making its relationship with Russia stronger. A State Department official recently told CNN that this had not only led to some agreements between the US and Japan but that Russia's invasion of Ukraine had "moved things on warp drive" because Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had shown how close they were before the Beijing Olympics.
When it comes to Taiwan, a self-governing island with 24 million people that the Chinese Communist Party claims as its land even though it has never controlled it, Beijing's aggression has been especially clear.
Xi has not ruled out using military force to bring the island under Beijing's control, and China has increased its aggressive military activities around the island, especially since then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit in August.
In the days after Pelosi's visit, China held military drills around the island that had never been done before. They fired multiple missiles into the water near the island and sent warplanes to harass it.
China sent 28 warplanes across the middle of the Taiwan Strait as recently as last week. These planes included fighters (J-10, J-11, J-16, and Su-30), bombers (H-6), drones (three), and early warning and reconnaissance aircraft (EW&R). The People's Liberation Army did something similar on Christmas Day when it sent 47 planes across the median line.
In spite of these actions, the US has kept its resolve. In line with what it said it would do in the Taiwan Relations Act, Washington has kept approving more and more military sales to the island.
Talk of cooperation on the Korean Peninsula is a dim and fading light a thousand miles north of Taiwan.
Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, wants his country's nuclear weapons to grow "exponentially" starting in 2023. He is also building a fleet of "super large" mobile rocket launchers that could send a nuclear warhead to any place in the South.
In a report released on Thursday, the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) in the South said that Kim's plan could turn into 300 weapons in the next few years.
That is a big improvement from 2022 when the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said he had built 20 nuclear weapons and had enough fissile material to make up to 55.
Three hundred nuclear warheads would put North Korea ahead of France and the UK, which have had nuclear weapons for a long time, and only behind Russia, the US, and China on SIPRI's list of nuclear stockpiles.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has said that he will build up his own army if this happens.
Yoon said this week, as reported by the Yonhap news service, that the most important way to stop attacks is to build a strong military that can hit back 100 or 1,000 times harder than the attacker.
He even said that South Korea could "deploy tactical nuclear weapons or possess its own nukes."
US leaders are very worried about the idea of more nuclear weapons being on the Korean Peninsula, even if those weapons belong to an ally.
South Korea would also lose some of its moral high ground because Pyongyang has repeatedly broken the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which South Korea has stuck to so far.
So, to reassure its ally, the US has made it clear that its support for South Korea is "ironclad" and that it will use all of its military power to protect it.
Adm. Mike Gilday, the US chief of naval operations, told a virtual forum of the Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS) on Thursday that the US will not hesitate to keep its extended deterrence promise to South Korea by using all of its defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, and missile defense.
Gilday used the fact that a US aircraft carrier went to the South Korean port of Busan last year as proof that the US helps the South. But North Korea sees it as a threat when one of Washington's most powerful warships is shown off in its own backyard. So the spiral keeps going.
Still, as Asia's arms race speeds up, it has become clear that the US, Japan, and South Korea will act as a group, not as separate countries.
This has been clear to everyone who has seen Kishida and other Japanese leaders in Washington over the past week. Adm. Gilday said of the three-way cooperation during his speech to ICAS:
The closer that we work together, the stronger that we become. Hopefully (that will) convince any potential adversary it’s not worth it to make a move.
- Adm. Gilday
In the face of constant pressure from opponents, it's important to keep going, he said.
We shouldn’t be deterred, and we shouldn’t lose our nerve in terms of what it takes for all of us to come together.
- Adm. Gilday