November 14th, 2012
10:59 AM ET

How U.S. can help avert Asia crisis

By Patrick M. Cronin, Special to CNN

Patrick M. Cronin is senior advisor and senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own.

Mounting tensions over the East and South China Seas are threatening to torpedo the Asian Century. China and the Philippines locked horns near Scarborough Shoal this past spring. Now, China and Japan are in the midst of a dangerous standoff over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.  The United States, bound by treaty to help defend Japan, is caught in the middle of this fracas. America’s power and purpose are in jeopardy if the world’s three largest economies cannot step back from the brink.

The proximate cause of the problem is China’s insistence on creating a new status quo. A weaker China once kept mum over the islands, but a stronger China is reasserting its historical claims. Japan is equally convinced of its sovereignty, having regained control over the islands as part of America’s 1972 reversion of Okinawa. Japan rightfully worries about Chinese “salami tactics” that seek to gain territory one slice at a time. After all, China does not recognize Japanese sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands and some even claim the “ancient Chinese kingdom” of Okinawa. Japan’s muscular use of its Coast Guard, coupled with occasionally inflammatory public utterances about history, only fuels nationalist sentiments.

There is no swift and definitive resolution.  The intractable nature of the maritime disputes in these semi-enclosed seas off of China’s eastern and southeastern seaboard derive from conflicting perceptions of history, sovereignty and national identity. But successfully managing these differences can demonstrate the leadership necessary for all nations to benefit from the global power shift across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

An interim solution should be based on simple principles: doing no further harm, putting aside differences, and expanding areas of mutual interest. China and Japan alike should want to stanch economic and political hemorrhaging and avert either a new cold war or a brief hot war. The United States’ overriding interest is to keep the peace, by reassuring its ally and the region, while simultaneously preserving cooperation with China.

More from CNN: Behind the islands dispute

A good start would be for Chinese maritime patrol vessels to refrain from testing the territorial waters of the islands. Competing national law-enforcement ships needs to be kept at a safe distance from one another. Putting differences aside requires both countries to live by the old maxim of “same bed, different dreams.”  That is to say, each should accept as fact that the other believes its right to sovereignty and that it would be untenable for any official to disavow such rights.  But both governments can agree to disagree and instead focus on shared interests.

A common agenda should focus on fishing and maritime safety. An existing bilateral fishery agreement exempts the area around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands because of disagreement over how to enforce it. China and Japan should renew discussions in the spirit of enlarging fishery cooperation, including the delicate issue of enforcement. A similar attitude should apply to an existing agreement on oil and gas exploration. At the same time, Beijing and Tokyo should urgently reopen a maritime safety dialogue. An agreement on maritime safety can provide a firewall from inadvertent escalation at sea.

These baby steps towards dialing down tensions should occur within the context of a high-level diplomatic understanding between China’s new leadership under Xi Jinping and the current or next prime minister of Japan (probably Shinzo Abe, who may be elected as early as next month).

For both Chinese and Japanese leaders, the crisis in the East China Sea can be a crucible from which springs an enlightened statecraft expected of major powers.  Will a rising China brazenly treat its neighbors like tributary states, or will it instead treat them as respected economic partners? China’s increasingly aggressive behavior in these seas appears to be part of a strategic reappraisal. Many Chinese have been clamoring to reassert themselves and their rapidly modernizing military rather than simply biding time and hiding capabilities, as Deng Xiaoping once advocated.

For Japan, there is an analogous leadership challenge. As with China, Japan is also becoming more aware of the need for it to shoulder greater international responsibilities. Will a more normal Japan – one that is neither the Chinese stereotype of 1930s’ militarism nor the perpetual postwar abnormal state that renounces armed force – be able to defend its interests without destabilizing the region?

As President Barack Obama heads to Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia to maintain momentum behind America’s “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region, he has an opportunity to refine U.S. objectives.  If America’s rebalancing means anything, it should be that Washington is locked in for the long term on tapping into the geographical center of the global economy. Because the promise of the Asia-Pacific can only be realized by a durable peace, the United States, as a resident Pacific power, is committed to preserving freedom of the global commons – the maritime, air, outer space and cyber space arteries of 21st century connectivity. Such a commitment is being fulfilled through the gradual expansion of commercial, cultural, diplomatic and military engagement.

If President Obama carries one message to his summit meeting with other regional leaders, it should be that encouraging a de-escalation of tensions in the contested waters of the East and South China Seas can ensure that the rising tide of the Asia-Pacific’s promise lifts all boats in our globalized world.

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Topics: Asia • China • Foreign Policy • Japan • United States

soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. LOL

    The US can only create crisis.... The US government, controlled by the military industrial complex post WWII, which done nothing good for the world.
    Really, how naive are you author? More tensions in Asia = more weapon sales, can't the US sell more Boeing airplanes or something???

    November 14, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • General Sherman

      Thank you, LOL. You said it all!

      November 14, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Maersk

      Another typical American kwok zucking kwok zucker employed as writer to badmouth China.

      November 14, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
      • Lyndsie Graham

        Yes Maersk, we need to work with the Chinese instead of antagonizing them as these nitwit right-wingers here like to do!

        November 15, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Mickey Mao aka Chairman Mouse

      What is 50 Cent Party?

      The 50 Cent Party are Internet commentators (wǎnglù pínglùn yuán) hired by the government of the People's Republic of China (both local and central) or the Communist Party to post comments favorable towards party policies in an attempt to shape and sway public opinion on various Internet message boards. The commentators are said to be paid fifty cent of RMB for every post that either steers a discussion away from anti-party or sensitive content on domestic websites, bulletin board systems, and chatrooms,or that advances the Communist party line.

      November 16, 2012 at 7:01 am |
      • UHHH

        ^ 1 dime CIA agent at work, can't even give a real argument, resorting to personal attacks, sheesh!

        November 16, 2012 at 11:45 am |
      • auu

        your comments is much bias with facts, the govenment will not handle the things in such a stupid way.

        February 16, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • rabbiVo

      The USA should stop admitting chinese immigrating from red china.

      communist chinese like to pretend that they are the best in the world.

      In reality, communist chinese are just copying and imitating original ideas or stealing technology from the US and the west. communist china has no capability to generate the original idea and are totally dependent on the USA. for original ideas and state-of- the-art technology. Even if they claim to have a 5000 year history, the communist chinese will always lag behind America .

      God's blessing is on the USA because the USA is founded on the judaeo-christian values of worshiping and loving God and loving ones neighbor.

      God's blessing will never be on communist chinese atheists because chinese communists despise the spiritual things of life ; chinese communists do not believe in God nor worship God but instead worships their own selves because of their selfish egos similar to Lucifer's arrogant pride.

      chinese communists have no morals and no shame and are nothing but thieves with big egos. Their obvious goal of global domination will never succeed and surely fail because of their shameless dishonesty and because they are morally bankrupt with absolutely zero integrity and zero honor.

      the chinese communists should ask themselves honestly why despite their claim to have a 5000 year history, they cannot deny the truth that:

      it was the free, God-fearing people of the USA that invented the following:
      sewing machine, telegraph, telephone, light bulb, AC, electric power grid, automobile, airplane, radio, atomic bomb, hydrogen bomb, television,transistor, integrated circuit, personal computer, microsoft, windows, internet, google, facebook, twitter, ipad, iphone, first man to land on the moon, curioisity landing in mars, voyager 1 and 2 break through the boundaries of the solar system etc... ?

      All communist china can do is copying and imitating original ideas of the USA and stealing technology and shamelessly claiming that they are the best in the world.

      If the chinese communist are really the best as they delusionally think they are, then how can they explain these facts of reality:

      1.Why is it that hundreds of thousands of chinese students are lining up every year to come study in the USA (note that not all of these chinese students come to spy on the US)? Is it because the USA has the best educational system in the world ?

      2. Why is it that all the people around the world, including chinese, want to immigrate to the USA? Why is it that among all the people in the world, no one in their right minds want to immigrate to red china?

      3. Why is it that even the sons, daughters and relatives of the past and present chinese communist party leaders come to the USA to study and some of them even became US citizens?

      To the chinese communist spies who are living here in the USA and enjoying the benefits and freedoms here in the USA and yet without shame, are against the USA, Why are you here in the USA? Why don’t you go back to china?

      Why do you lie to yourselves ? Why do you deny the truth that the USA is the best and yet you lie with your tongue about the falsehood that communist china is better even you see the evidence that the USA is the best country in the world?

      Scripture says that Man does not live by bread alone but by every Word from the mouth of God.
      The Word of God is Spirit and Truth and Life. Yet chinese communists despise it and persist in living in dishonesty, falsehood and inequity and injustice. Can the chinese communists unrepentantly offend God without being severely punished? Can chinese communists defy God?

      January 28, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
      • andyho

        among all the religious in the world the buddhism is the best to maintain the world in peace. it's true usa had done great contribution to drive the world development, chinese can do the same when the people opened their mind, they dont necessaryly to invent high value creations but they do have spiritual of working hard, with this essential spirit chinese will conquer the world .

        February 16, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • JET

      shut up. you dont know what you are saying. China started all these. Americans should crash China now and bring back all the factories to the U.S.

      November 29, 2013 at 12:03 am |
      • veron2010

        Are most people here just blind or IGNORANT TO THE FACT that China has Hundreds of Intercontinental Nuclear Missiles Targeted on US Cities/ This is not Iraq..........Cant bully your way through everything with military force....

        November 29, 2013 at 12:35 am |
  2. deniz boro

    Strange and serious kind of complicated forces and tensions. And I continually failled in my Pysics classes. I did understood friction and static energy though.
    LOL, you are almost right, but luxory cars have more chance before weapons. Let me summorize it this way.
    Sanctions on China lifted- Chine production burst put small production in the world out- (No humans' right, working ethics, labor health and security issues in HUNGRY CHINA) – China cheap goods hit the western market- GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISES- China rich- China is newly rich- Second wave of global crises hit the western world "CHINA IS NOT ONLY GOOD IN HANDCRAFT BUT CAN INNOVATE/IMPROVE- Western industry has to get out of its slumber....the castle is shaking at the roots. West is not well armed. ARMED? Hahaaaaaa. But remember the Eastern hinterland and resources.

    November 14, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  3. deniz boro

    I guess the correct answer would be to look back in history back to about 1975ish. When the small cars became an alternative.

    November 14, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  4. j. von hettlingen

    It looks as if that tensions in Asia will be there to stay for a while. Asia has many fast-growing economies. With prosperity comes popular self-assertiveness and nationalism. Leaders dance to the tunes of their citizens' music, whenever they seek their support.

    November 15, 2012 at 7:42 am |
    • Lyndsie Graham

      In fact j.von hettlingen, J apan does need to become more self assertive and far less willing to carry out orders from Washington D.C. At least, if I were J apanese that's the way I'd feel.

      November 15, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  5. henry ford

    Non-intervention and/or neutrality does not necessarily requires that the US remain silent or just issues polite diplomatic sentences... that's what we have been doing for decades and find ourselves with limited options. We must push for peaceful solutions among claimants in these complex disputes, but vocally call out Chinese aggressor that militarily escalates hostility and disrupts international laws/orders. Bully fears only stronger forces!

    November 15, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  6. thumbsihave2

    China loves using those small ships to harass and antagonize. Little money invested in the ship itself or the small number of crewmen upon them. More agile than bigger ships. And if they happened to get rammed and sunk, then it would be portrayed and perceived as the bigger ship being the bullying aggressor. Nonetheless, for other countries, they really represent the bright and shiny but distracting object when it comes to China's navy and military overall

    Also, have to chuckle at the Chinese Communist Party's claims to these and other islands in the area, ie, others not respecting boundaries. If all of the cybertheft, not respecting intellectual property laws, physical theft of things, etc. directed by and committed upon their behalf were exposed for all the world to see, they might become rather quiet.

    November 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  7. peace1

    This is one more area (sic) where US does not have to get involved. This is purely an Asian affair, and will get sorted out one way or other between the parties. US is yet to get out of Afghanistan honourably; is involved in an unsolvable problem in the Middle East , where there is no business to be involved. Why come into one more conflict?
    The only solution to such disputes, where US and others have genuine concerns on world peace , is to have a multilateral solution that will be respected by all parties. The UN was conceived for this purpose. It has now become a club with the SC dictating to the rest of nations what it wants (or usually does not want) to happen. A strong and respected UN is the way to go. Not one ignorant policeman trying to enforce his ideas of peace.

    November 16, 2012 at 3:21 am |
    • ZM

      It's true if one have never traversed beyond 50 miles radius.

      November 27, 2013 at 12:27 am |
  8. Mickey Mao aka Chairman Mouse

    What is 50 Cent Party?

    The 50 Cent Party are Internet commentators (wǎnglù pínglùn yuán) hired by the government of the People's Republic of China (both local and central) or the Communist Party to post comments favorable towards party policies in an attempt to shape and sway public opinion on various Internet message boards. The commentators are said to be paid fifty cent of RMB for every post that either steers a discussion away from anti-party or sensitive content on domestic websites, bulletin board systems, and chatrooms,or that advances the Communist party line.

    November 16, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • effin

      chinese people are so pathetic

      January 22, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
      • tiger

        you are pathetic

        November 27, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Reall?

      LOL, coming from a sheep with no real information or compelling arguments. This is the lowest of the low, in types of arguments. Get out of your cave would be step one to recovery!

      November 29, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  9. rabbiVo

    The best and simplest strategy that the USA should employ today in South East Asia is this:

    The Filipinos are the most steadfast, loyal ally of the USA in Asia , from 1903(end of the Fil-Am war), through World War 1, World War 2, Korean War, Vietnam War, up to the present.

    Instead of pouring billions of dollars to Pakistan and Afghanistan (these have dubious loyalties to America), USA should pour those billions of dollars of military aid instead to the Philippines.

    The Filipinos are not afraid of the chinese communists.

    During the Korean War, a single battalion combat team of the Philippine Army decimated an entire chinese communist division in the battle of Yultong,

    Properly armed and expertly led, Filipinos are some of the best fighters in the world. Filipino warriors are never outfought. Even General Douglas MacArthur was impressed by their bravery.

    The chinese communists will never win a war against a fully- armed Filipino warrior force.

    The Philippines can defeat the chinese communists in the West Philippine Sea.

    To successfully defend the West Philippine Sea against chinese communist invaders, the Philippines can employ an Area-Denial, Anti- Access strategy.

    First, while letting the chinese communists think that it is defenceless, the Philippines quietly arms itself, making sure that all preparations are unknown and unseen by communist spies.

    Phase I.
    a) Convert all large islands of the Philippines into unsinkable aircraft and missile carriers.

    b) Cover the entire Philippine territorial air,land and sea with sufficient number of surface-to-air missile batteries and air-superiority fighter aircraft (at least 15 squadrons).

    Phase II
    a) Deploy mines on the approach routes of chinese communist ships.

    b) employ accurate,long range, surface-surface cruise missiles from secure batteries along the coasts of Palawan, Luzon and the nearby islands , to knock out the chinese communist ships.

    c) follow-up with drones to overwhelm and finish off any remaining chinese communist resistance.

    d) employ sufficient number of submarines (at least 9 squadrons) to interdict any naval reinforcements from communist china.

    Phase III.
    Unleash sufficient number of naval strike aircraft ( at least 9 squadrons) to destroy any remaining communist vessels and prevent their escape back to communist china.

    Phase IV
    Unleash the newly refurbished Philippine Navy surface fleet to clear and sweep the entire West Philippine Sea of any remaining chinese communist invaders.

    chinese communists like to self glorify themselves as the best but in reality they are nothing nor even deserve to be respected despite their 5000 year old history.

    chinese communists are shamelessly dishonest and morally bankrupt. chinese communist will never succeed in their goal of global domination because their lies and falsehoods can easily be defeated by the Truth.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • LOL

      You must not be a Filipino if you're so willing others go to war for your twisted ideals, pathetic!
      Why don't you attempt to attack "communist China" from your compute, lol. People like you are one of the reasons the US is being more disliked by the world.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Rob

      rabbivo, bravo my friend. your comment is the only one that make sense in the comments here. that's what most filipinos wants, arm us and we will fight to the death to defend our country!

      November 24, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Richard

      You are only asking for 2 to 3 trillion dollars worth of equipment then there would be another couple of trillion in training maintenance etc. Who is going to pay for all this. I am surprized you don't want a couple of carrier battle fleets as well.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
      • Butty

        Okay,give them.

        November 28, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Spuance42

      Best post. Excellent.

      November 25, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
    • veron2010

      lol ,Moron, China is a superpower not Syria.........The US should be rearming itself and not other countries........

      November 29, 2013 at 12:42 am |
  10. Matt

    Burma nuclear weapons. It is a messed up place. That is a positive, it is a big deal, that is why he is going, gone.

    November 18, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  11. deniz boro

    The economic balances in China will eventually bring about the Political Balances.

    November 19, 2012 at 7:35 am |
  12. john

    The Philippines are started making their on arms to fight the communist just in case...we reserved the republic of the phil is willing to fight in case the govt of Chna declare war against with the Us..what ever gonna happened we will help our govt to protect our land..We our the true warrior coming from Mindanao supporting our Country..

    November 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
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  14. Erick Holmes

    If a war breaks out, let it happen. You can't talk diplomacy every time. And China doesn't care at all. We need to take a stand and quit bowing down to them.

    November 26, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
  15. veron2010

    Are most people here just blind or IGNORANT TO THE FACT that China has Hundreds of Intercontinental Nuclear Missiles Targeted on US Cities/ This is not Iraq..........Cant bully your way through everything with military force....

    November 29, 2013 at 12:36 am |
  16. terry

    Why does U.S. has to deal in this ?????

    November 29, 2013 at 1:06 am |
  17. GrinOlsson

    The United States needs to disengage from the Middle East in its entirety – because the Muslims are distracting our nation for our real National and International Security issues as well as financial well being. On another note, the United States needs to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Philippines and demand that China remove their ships from the Scarborough Shoals – which is a former United State Naval artillery range that was transferred to the Philippines upon nationhood – or send in Marines to restore legal control over them as China can literally monitor every American ship coming into Manila Bay.

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