An imminent casus foederis inEast Asia?

The USA and the Sino-Japanese Sovereignty Dispute in the East China Sea

Martin Wagener

In part 1 (ÖMZ 2/2015) of the essay at hand, the basic information, legal conceptions, motives of action of decision makers, and efficacies of the conflict on the Senkaku-/Diaoyu-Islands were presented. Now, in part 2, the following questions will be answered against this background: Which role do the USA play in the Chinese-Japanese territorial conflict? How likely, given the latest escalation of the situation in the East China Sea, is the proclamation of the American-Japanese case of confederacy, and how could it develop? In addition to that, possible triggers of an escalation of the territorial conflict will be delineated. In the 1990ies, the USA were confronted with a situation in East Asia for the third time within 60 years, in which they were in rivalry with a dominating, competing and aspiring great power. From 1941 until 1945 they were at war with the then Far East hegemony power Japan. During the East-West-Conflict, bipolar structures – the “superpowers” USA and Soviet Union – dominated the security architecture of the Far East. There, China was held the balance several times. When the Cold War had come to an end, the USA were suddenly the only relevant military power on site, among other things also because of the fact that potential rivals had failed. The Soviet Union had perished in 1991. Russia, which had arisen from it, first had to find its way from a security-political point of view, and in 2002 finally decided to give up its last military post in Vietnamese Cam Ranh Bay. China, on the other hand, due to internal turbulences caused by the quelling of the democracy movement on Tiananmen-Place in June 1989, was too weak to be a relevant factor of power in the Far East. After this quite natural confusion of a power political phase of upheaval, a new strategic constellation has developed in East Asia in the past years, where Washington and Peking are in a classic great-power-conflict. While the USA intend to keep their position as hegemony power of the region, China has taken over the role of peer competitor who, in the long term, will try to turn Pax Americana into Pax Sinica. From this perspective, the territorial conflict in the East China Sea gets its special global importance. In East Asia the USA appear both as strategic rival of China and as ally of Japan. China has the notion that Japan behaves so self-confident in the conflict on the Senkaku-/Diaoyu-Islands because it can rely on the support by the USA. If the case of confederacy occurs, the USA will have the choice: plague or pestilence. If the USA abide by their commitments, there will be war against China. If, on the other hand, the USA let Japan down, their time as the regional hegemony power accepted by most states of East Asia will be over. The trustfulness of many American security and alliance partners would be deeply shaken, and this would have unforeseeable consequences for the security architectures in Europe, in the Near East as well as in East Asia.