Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Testing the Waters

The increasingly dangerous situation in the South China Sea has become even riskier as the United States considers the possibility of initiating systematic naval and air patrols, possibly including Japanese warships and aircraft.

The recent week-long voyage of the USS Fort Worth through the region of the South China Sea known as the Spratlys can be seen as literally testing the waters. The provocative voyage comes at a time when the security architecture of East Asia is changing almost by the day.
Even while the Fort Worth was at sea, the Japanese cabinet sent two bills to the parliament that will considerably loosen the constitutional restraints on the use of Japan’s armed forces, allowing for closer cooperation with allies and close associates.

The proposed new laws, which seem certain to pass given Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s commanding majority in both houses of parliament, put into effect the cabinet’s decision last year to “re-interpret” the country’s pacifistic constitution to allow for collective self-defense.
At the same time, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (navy) has conducted joint exercises with the Philippine Navy, and Manila announced that the US Navy would have access to eight bases in the Philippines, including a new one on Palawan that is close to the Spratlys.

Washington has been increasingly concerned about how to respond do Beijing’s frantic efforts to turn tiny atolls and reefs and other land features that barely stick up above the water at low tide into artificial islands through land reclamation.
The reclamation work that is taking place on half a dozen reefs in the Spratlys is essentially turning some of them into potential mini-aircraft carriers with runways long enough at 3,000 meters to handle high performance jet aircraft.

Japan might be obliged to send its own patrols in the South Seas. Earlier this year Vice Admiral Robert Thomas, Commander of the US Seventh Fleet, proposed such joint patrols. Tokyo demurred but the new laws would make such missions possible as they remove geographical constraints on Japanese military operations.
The USS Forth Worth is a Littoral Combat Ship specifically designed to operate close to shore and in shallow waters, such as those around the disputed Spratlys. It is permanently based in Singapore, which will ultimately be home to four such ships. They are a key element in President Barack Obama’s “Pivot” to Asia.

Beijing is well aware of these ships and their mission. It anticipated the Fort Worth’s patrol and clearly didn’t like it. A Chinese navy frigate shadowed the American warship throughout its cruise through the Spratly islands, and the American ship “encountered multiple [Chinese] navy vessels” during its patrol, according to the official Navy website.
China’s foreign ministry has already voiced “serious concern” over the cruise. “Freedom of navigation does not mean that the military or aircraft of a foreign country can willfully enter the territorial waters or the air space of another country,” said a foreign ministry spokesman about the cruise,

Freedom of navigation through the South China Sea is the overriding concern of both the US and Japan. The latter obtains 80 percent of its vital petroleum supplies from the Middle East in tankers that pass through the South Sea waters.
Neither country takes a stand on who owns what in that ocean. The various atolls and reefs are claimed in whole or part by at least six countries: China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Adding to the uncertainty is the so called “Nine-Dash Line” on official Chinese maps that make it appear that China is claiming some 90 percent of the entire South China Sea its own sovereign territory. Beijing has never clarified exactly what that map really means.
The Pentagon is undoubtedly carefully analyzing the results of the Fort Worth’s cruise and pondering the next step. One option, of course, would be to continue with the solitary patrols, avoiding close contact with any of the disputed islands, but Washington could take things to a higher level.

One option would be to send a warship into the twelve-mile territorial zone of one or more of the Chinese claimed reefs. Washington does not recognize the legitimacy of the territorial zones in the Spratlys because, under international law, an artificial island cannot be considered sovereign territory.

The US Navy routinely makes “Freedom of Navigation Operations” around the world to assert freedom of navigation against countries that it believes are not following international maritime law. An example is the Gulf of Sidra in the Mediterranean Sea, which Libya at one time claimed as sovereign territory.
Judging by the reaction of Beijing, any violation of the territorial waters it claims in the South China Sea would almost certainly provoke a response.

One option considered likely by many observers, would be for Beijing to declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the Spratlys. Such zones require that aircraft flying through the zone file a flight plan with China. It could enforce the ADIZ with fighters based on one of the new air strips that China is building on some of the reefs and atolls.
Beijing surprised the world in November, 2013, when it announced a new ADIZ over much of the East China Sea, including the disputed Senkaku/Daioyu islands. But it did not extend along the entire Chinese coast line. Beijing left open the possibilities of announcing more ADIZs.

Countries with ADIZs usually extend them along their entire coastline. The fact that Beijing has made no new announcements in the past year and a half strongly suggests that they are not really there for defense purposes. Rather they are counters in the on-going geopolitical contest over who owns the seas.
If Beijing were to declare and ADIZ in the deep South China Sea, hundreds of miles  from any mainland based  aircraft, suggests that they see this move as a means of annexing a chunk of the South China Sea without really annexing it.

Todd Crowell is the author of the Coming War between China and Japan published as an Amazon Single.







Monday, May 04, 2015

Wear and Tear

Fans of the Texas Ranger were downcast after learning that their ace Japanese pitcher, Yu Darvish, will remain on the disabled list and not play a game during the entire 2015 season because an elbow injury required surgery.
As baseball writers on both sides of the Pacific were struggling to absorb this unpleasant development, they suddenly realized that their hero’s trials were not an isolated incident.

Of the seven Japanese pitchers now playing in the Major Leagues, four will have had elbow surgery known as “Tommy John”. Two others, Yankee star Masahiro Tanaka and Koji Uehara of the Boston Red Sox have not had the surgery yet but have been troubled by painful elbows.

Tommy John is a surgical procedure in which another part of the body is grafted onto the elbow to replace the damaged ligament. It usually takes about a year to fully recover, which is why Darvish is out of play this. Most return to the same level of play.
Tanaka, the Yankee’s prized acquisition, missed half of his rookie season due to a torn ligament which as yet does not require surgery. Tanaka has made a good come back this year so far striking out eight batters over seven innings against Tampa Bay.

Another sad story is Daisuke Matsuzaka, known as “Dice-K” who played for six seasons with the Boston Red Sox but had Tommy John surgery in his fifth year. Last year he was sent to the minors, playing half a season for the Columbus Clippers, a Cleveland Indian farm team. He returned to Japan this year and plays for the Softbank Hawks of the Japanese pro league.
The growing concern over elbow injuries to pitcher is not limited to the Japanese players. For many years the Major League averaged about a dozen or more Tommy John surgeries a year, but they spiked to 36 in 2013, sparking concerns about a Tommy John “epidemic”.

These players represent tremendous investments for their home teams. The Texas Ranger shelled out about $100 million for Darvish, half of it as a posting fee to compensate the Nippon Ham Fighters for the loss of his services, the other half for Darvish himself.
Much debate in sports writer circles concerns the causes for this “epidemic” especially among the Japanese players. Many point to the wear and tear the pitchers received very young while playing in high school at a young age.

High school baseball is to Japan what high school football is to Texas, an obsession. For two weeks in the spring and later in the summer, Japanese turn their attention away from professional baseball, and a lot of other things, to watch the high school championships.
4,000 schools are winnowed down to 49 that face each other in Koshien Statium, the grand cathedral of Japanese baseball located near Osaka and normally the home field for the pro team Hanshin Tigers. The final games are televised nationally, and draw some 800,000 fans to the various venues, a kind of attention that surpasses anything the pros do.

Several big time players, such as Darvish, made their name in the Koshien. Players pinch some of the holy dirt of the infield to keep as a lifetime memento.
Marathon pitching performances are common at the high school level in Japan. Dice-K as a high school player threw 250 pitches over 17 innings in 1988 right on the heels of 148 pitches the previous days as an 18-year old pitching for his high school, Tanaka pitched in 180 innings, considerably more than the average 18-year-old in the average pitcher on American college teams of in the minor leagues.

The newest phenom, Tomohiro Anruku, threw 772 pitches in the final playoffs of the 2014 Koshien season. He is also capable of throwing 90 mph-plus fastballs even though he is only 16.
“Pitching limits should be introduced as soon as possible” says Masuni Kuwata a former star pitcher for the Yomiuri Giants. However, the whole idea of pitching limits at the high school or even the professional level remains controversial.

American managers tend to pull their starting pitchers when they get near the 100-pitch mark, even if pitching well. But it is not a requirement. It is a requirement in the World Baseball Classic, although that may come more from managers not wanting over stress valuable players in what many still consider a side show than any concern over injuries.
Japanese high school baseball training sessions are notoriously harsh, a harshness which often extend well into the professional leagues. Many coaches of the high school teams believe the pitch count issue is a myth and that with proper throwing technique pitchers can avoid elbow injuries.

Add to that the pervading feeling that for the young samurais punishing pitch counts, not to mention extreme training exercises, build character. Also few of the high school players will go on to lengthy careers in the major leagues, so coaches are not too concerned with the long-term impact of so many pitches.
The Japanese profession leagues have had some success in keeping elbow injuries down by maintaining a six-man pitching rotation, instead of five that is more common in American teams. The extra day of rest between pitching assignments apparently helps considerably.

American managers however, have resisted going to the six man rotation, because the addition of even one more pitcher to their 25-man teams can mess up the roster. Japanese managers can bring in auxiliary pitchers that are not on the roster, strictly speaking.
Editor's note: Despite a good start for the Yankees, Tanaka was back on the disabled list with a sore shoulder.





'History is Harsh'

(Abe did , in fact get his invitation to address Congress)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe capped an eight-day state visit to the United States in late April with an historic speech to a joint session of Congress.
It was historic in that the prime minister was the first Japanese to speak to the combined houses of the US Congress – standing in the very spot where President Franklin Roosevelt stood and asked Congress to declare war on Japan in 1941.

Ostensibly aimed at an American audience, his words were watched closely and parsed tightly in Japan and the rest of Asia.
“History is harsh,” Abe said in probably the most memorable phrase in the speech. “What is done cannot be undone. I offer eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during World War II.”

Much of the region was eager to learn what the prime minister had to say on the touchy topic of Japan’s role in that war, as Abe is known to hold revisionist views on the war.
This was underscored by his high profile visit in late 2013 to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the souls of Japanese leaders convicted of waging aggressive war are enshrined. He has refrained from repeating the visit, although several cabinet members did only days before the trip.

Abe’s speech seemed to be carefully calibrated for his American audience, who are not overly demanding of apologies in the same way that China and South Korea are. One such was the “comfort woman” issue of forced prostitution.

The issue drew a couple hundred Korean-American protestors outside of the capital but no untoward outbursts in the chamber, where Abe received several standing ovations. He acknowledged only that war is hard on women.
He moved quickly to other themes of more direct bearing on the current US-Japan relationship. He urged the Congress to give its support to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade zone of 12 Asia-Pacific nation.

It was a timely subject considering that the Congress is currently debating giving President Barack Obama “fast-track” authority to complete the negotiations and then forward it to Congress which can either approve or defeat the deal in a vote without amendments.

Abe noted that how as a young member of parliament, he was a staunch defender of agricultural protection. Now he says that Japanese farmers, now averaging 66 in age, must learn to adapt to the new times.

He flattered the American lawmakers by noting how many former Congressional heavyweights, such as former Speaker Tom Foley and Vice President Walter Mondale, had served as US ambassadors to Japan (Ambassador Caroline Kennedy is not a former member, but nevertheless is a political celebrity).

He welcomed the new mutual defense guidelines that were finalized and announced during his trip. Carefully synchronized with new laws governing the self-defense forces that will be submitted to Japan’s parliament this month, they turn a quasi-alliance into a real one.

“The time has come for the US-Japan alliance to face-up to and jointly tackle those [security] challenges that are new,” the prime minister said.