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Bullies in Beijing

Dec 9, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 13 • By GARY SCHMITT
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It doesn’t help that little over one month after affirming at the “two-plus-two” meeting that the U.S.-Japanese “alliance is the cornerstone of peace and security in the region,” national security adviser Susan Rice declared, in a major policy address at Georgetown University, that, with China, the United States will “seek to operationalize a new model of major power relations.” The phrasing was first put forward by China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, and Beijing reads it as Washington conceding China’s great-power status and prerogatives in shaping the Asian order.

In this context, although the Senkakus are relatively insignificant in size, the question of their control isn’t. The Senkakus sit astride a key strategic maritime node and are an important pathway for the Chinese Navy to escape the so-called first island chain and out into the broad Pacific. Hence, as a matter of deterrence and maintaining American naval preeminence in Asia, keeping the Senkaku Islands firmly in Japanese hands and, most immediately, continuing to exercise the American and Japanese militaries’ right to fly freely over the island group is critical.

If Susan Rice truly wants a new model of great-power relations with China, the first step the Obama administration should take is to make sure Beijing’s use of the old model of great-power bullying isn’t in any way tolerated or rewarded.

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