With all the news of China's blue water navy development in the past few years, another country's response fell under the radar. Yesterday, however, the unveiling of Japan's newest "destroyer" raised questions.
The "destroyer" surpasses the size of any Japanese ship built since World War II. To the uneducated (or, perhaps cynical) eye, the Izumo looks suspiciously like an aircraft carrier. Its flat top deck, allegedly meant for helicopters, is four fifths as long as an American Nimitz class deck. It also outstrips by about 200 feet the length of the Royal Navy's Illustrious class carriers
Izumo pointedly responds to China's purchase and reconstruction of a Soviet era carrier from Ukraine.
The bigger issue lies in the deteriorating relations between China and her neighbors, specifically Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
Territorial disputes between these nations lay dormant for years. Recently, technological advances in identifying and extracting sea floor resources have raised the stakes in who owns what stretch of ocean bottom. Vast natural gas and oil resources interest nations, such as China and Japan, that have little of either.
Interestingly, this issue has also separated Cold War partners Japan and the Nationalist Chinese government based in Taiwan.
Throughout the Cold War, the United States played referee to the region. Although domestically debated later, the willingness to fight in Korea and Vietnam gave friends assurance and enemies pause. Few doubted America's willingness to fight for Japan, South Korea, Nationalist China, or other friends. Moreover, few believed that the US had any goals in the Far East beyond maintaining the status quo.
American power, relatively speaking, has receded in the region as China spent more on expanding and modernizing its warmaking ability. It also has launched cyberattacks against its opponents' government and business concerns.
Unfortunately for the United States, the Chinese urge to revise the Far East balance of power echoes the shadows of a century ago.
In 1913, the British Empire managed the world power dynamic through a powerful navy and economic productive might. The German Empire under Kaiser William II aspired to "a place in the sun." This meant military might, colonial expansion, and international respect on par with the British.
They made an unwise alliance with unstable Austria-Hungary, which was locked in perpetual disputes with Russia over control of southeastern Europe. When Russia's client state of Serbia served as the base of a devastating terror attack on Austria-Hungary, the clumsy attempt to settle the score touched off World War I.
Similar dynamics are emerging now. China is setting itself against Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam in its territorial disputes. It has an unstable client in North Korea whose unpredictability could touch off a war with Japan or South Korea. It is trying, like Germany in the early 1900s, to build a fleet that can regionally challenge the first rank power.
In other words, a pattern is emerging that could unravel decades of generally peaceful relations among states that despise and fear each other.
China's bold actions mirror those of other states that fear internal discord and try to rally the people around external successes. It built a middle class, but never allowed it political participation. That has been the downfall of many authoritarian regimes. Questions about its debt and actual production numbers lend uncertainty to the perception that it is an economic power fated to outstrip the United States.
This also comes at a time when the Middle East's foundations of stability are collapsing, leftist regimes have come to power in Latin America, and Europe continues to live on the precipice of debt disaster.
Events have pushed the world's nations and people towards a time where only the brilliance of a Prince Otto von Bismarck could restore the balance. It would be in America's interest to produce such a figure because a war in the Far East would inevitably draw us in. And like Germany in the late 1800s and early 1900s, very few possible scenarios, even in victory, leave the US better off.