WASHINGTON: “Pure intimidation” is how one of America’s most respected analysts of the Chinese military characterized the act of a Peoples Liberation Army Navy skipper who “painted” a Japanese naval ship with his fire control radar.

The action raises the stakes in an already troubled dispute between the two Pacific powers as they maneuver for influence, with the current focus being on the uninhabited Senkaku Islands. What’s particularly worrying is the involvement of warships, when previous confrontations were largely limited to Japanese Coast Guard and Chinese non-military “maritime surveillance” vessels. Keep reading →

WASHINGTON: There’s an increasing consensus in Washington that America’s future lies in the Pacific. It’s one of the few things both parties can agree on. Unfortunately, if we can’t reach an agreement to get our fiscal house in order, the governments in the Asia-Pacific region will have every reason not to take our strategy seriously.

Republicans and Democrats agree that “the future, and the history, of the 21st century will be written in the Asia-Pacific region,” declared the State Department’s top official for the region, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell. While the US is not abandoning the Middle East, Europe, or the rest of the world, he said, “the wheel has been turned and that we are now proceeding in what is our national destiny – as an Asia-Pacific strong partner.” Keep reading →

[Updated Friday 12/21] CAPITOL HILL: It looks like the country’s getting a defense bill for Christmas, with provisions on everything from boosting cybersecurity to sanctioning Iran to loosening export controls on satellites.

In what passes for high efficiency in Congress these days, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees completed their conference on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 only two and a half months after the start of fiscal ’13 and just two weeks before sequestration may make many of their carefully wrought compromises moot. Keep reading →

WASHINGTON: Wars have started over less. Even as the administration “rebalances” to Asia, it is scrambling to stay out of the region’s escalating territorial disputes. None is more baffling to outsiders than the three-sided conflict over the tiny, uninhabited islands known in Japanese as the Senkakus and in Chinese as the Diaoyus or the Tiaoyutai.

And that dispute keeps escalating. Just this morning, China’s Xinhua news service announced four warships of the rapidly growing PLA Navy had “patrolled” the waters off the Japanese-controlled isles, just the latest in a series of naval probes. On the U.S. side, the Senate passed an annual defense bill that included a (non-binding) “Sense of the Senate” amendment from Virginia’s James Webb pledging the US will stand by its treaty commitments to defend “territories under the administration of Japan,” explicitly including the Senkakus, against “armed attack.” Keep reading →