Code-named "Iron Fist", the three-week-long US-Japan military exercise featuring "seizure of a small island in joint operation" is going on. The present drill bears some new features. First, the venue is shifted from the usual location--Japan's surrounding areas to American territory; second, the scenario is set to take back with live ammunition a distant, isolated island occupied by enemy, the target is clear but sensitive; third, the operation is not of large scale, with only 130 troops from Japan's Self Defense Forces, but lasts as long as three weeks; fourth, plan of the exercise has been revised many times before settling down to the current version.
The operation drew wide press coverage from both countries, and most Japanese papers expressed blatantly that the exercise targets China, suggesting that the US and Japan prepare to jointly defend by force the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. However, the two sides have different intentions viewed either from their respective national strategic considerations or disagreements exposed during their drill preparations.
Japan is no doubt the major promoter of the exercise. According to Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, Japanese Defense Ministry had prepared for a year and a half before a substantially reduced scale of the drill could be accepted by Washington last August. Japan's strategic intention is crystal clear: through such a sensitive mode of "seizing the island jointly", it hopes to show its surrounding countries the closeness of Japan-US alliance and indicate its ability to obtain US military support in case of land disputes with neighbors. While securing a psychological satisfaction like a fox who "borrows the tiger's fierceness by walking in the latter's company", Japan is in no lack of attempt to drag the US into its rifts with neighbors. The country's Self Defense Forces also hope to receive training from the US marines which have strong landing combat capability, so as to cope with such possible future threats.
However, Washington is not in the mood of being used as "the tiger". The country started its overseas forces reshuffle last year and has felt inadequate due to exhaustion in Iraq. To make up for its strategic withdrawal and avoid getting too much entangled in overseas disputes of allies, the US needs Japan to defend itself and therefore training for the SDF should be strengthened.
However, in today's international security, political and economic affairs, the US has been attaching more attention to China's influence. Given that its ties with Japan are quite stable while that with China are more subject to twists and turns, the US is increasingly tending to consider its Japan policy under the framework of China policy. The US has no intention to offend China directly on questions not so intimately related to its own interests, so at the strong request of Japan, Washington finally chose to conduct such a queer military manouevre on its own land with invaded Japanese interests as the imaginary target. Before the operation, US officials displayed a mild attitude by repeating their hope of avoiding irritating China.
In fact, although continuously expressing loyalty to the US and roaring up "China threat" theory in recent years, Japan clearly knows that Washington will not be readily utilized. As China is focusing on creating a stable external environment to facilitate its participation in the international community, there is no sign whatsoever to suggest that any non-peaceful Chinese solution to the Diaoyu Islands dispute be used.
Even so, Japan has spared no effort to realize the military drill in order to on the one hand, stress friendship with the US and demonstrate a "dauntless" gesture to its neighbors, and on the other hand to continue its irritation strategy on China to rally more domestic support for the ruling party. So it's reasonable to believe the exercise carries more political significance than military.
Although the scaled down exercise cast no less negative impact on East Asian security, and may as a matter of fact enhance Japan's confidence and capability in seeking for solution by force, while keeping vigilant, one must understand that it is the US who dominates the US-Japan relations and serves the major counter balance in East Asia situation. As long as China sticks to its current road of peaceful development, influence of such US-Japan military operation will be limited and there is no need to give excessive attention to media hypes abroad.
This comment by Liu Weidong, deputy research fellow from the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, is carried on the third page of People's Daily, Jan. 18, and is translated by People's Daily Online.