President Obama just completed a swing through Asia, assuring allies that he had their backs against China’s aggressive moves to take over the whole South China Sea. It’s part of his so-called “pivot” to the Pacific.
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The countries bordering the South China Sea have cause to worry. China’s territorial claims take it way beyond the 200-mile limit and show its claimed area coming close to the shoreline of Vietnam, and awfully close to the shorelines of Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.
One of the key flashpoints are islands north of Taiwan in the East China Sea claimed by Japan since 1895 and now also claimed by China. Japan got the islands along with Taiwan as a result of the Sino-Japanese War. To this day many Taiwanese can speak not only Taiwanese, but Mandarin and Japanese as well as English. The U.S., which occupied Japan after World War II, gave Taiwan back to China and returned the Shenkaku Islands to Japan in 1972. Taiwan became the last refuge of Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists after Mao Zedong and the Communists took over China.
The 1894 Sino-Japanese War was a culmination of years of tit-for-tat and tension over Korea, a Chinese suzerainty. The Japanese relied on Britain to train their navy and Germany to develop their army. It worked. Japan got Taiwan and Korea got its independence. Later attempts by Russia to install its choice for king in Korea plus disputes over Manchuria eventually led to the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. In that war the Japanese Navy and Army destroyed the Russian Pacific fleet in Port Arthur. Then the Russians sent their Baltic fleet around the Cape of Good Hope and it was destroyed as it transited the strait between Korea and Japan on its way to Vladivostok.
As a result of World War II, Russia got back all of Sakhalin Island as well as the Kuril Islands.
Now, what of the U.S. “pivot” to Asia? In the Winter 2013-2014 edition of Crossroads of the Corps is a summary of a speech by Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, the 30th chief of naval operations. The Sept. 25, 2013, speech at the George P. Shultz Lecture Series in San Francisco carried this information: “He described the impact of ‘sequestration,’ which equates to a 14 percent cut across the board. That cut, which went into effect in essentially the last nine months of the past fiscal year, required the Navy to take $11 billion out of its budget. Instead of being able to maintain three carrier battle groups and three amphibious ready groups, the Navy has only been able to maintain one…”
So, with but one carrier battle group, where’s the pivot to the Pacific from the Middle East, which means the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean?
Here’s an item of note from the March 2014 issue of Stars and Stripes: “Adm. Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said the resources currently at his disposal are insufficient to meet operational requirements. ‘The ability for the services to provide the type of maritime coverage, the air coverage of some of the key elements that we’ve historically needed in this part of the world for crisis response, have not been available to the level that I would consider acceptable risk [due to recent budget cutbacks],’ he told lawmakers March 5.”
Adm. Greenert’s congressional testimony, according to Stars and Stripes, is as follows: “The Asia-Pacific is important, and we are rebalancing toward it. [But] if you go from 11 to 10 carriers, you exacerbate that what is already a very difficult [force requirement] problem to the point where … the deterrence factor goes down dramatically when you have gaps [like that],” he said.
And finally, this from a Joshua Keating article in the April 23 edition of Stars and Stripes: “The promised transfer of U.S. warships, Marines and other military resources to the Pacific has been incremental, and limited by Pentagon budget cuts. The military component of the pivot was always a bit less than met the eye. The plan to have 60 percent of the Navy’s fleet based in the Pacific by 2020 isn’t all that impressive considering it was already 55 percent before the policy…”
A carrier based in San Diego and two in Bremerton, Wash., have gone to the Persian Gulf, as well as the Pacific Fleet, serving Afghanistan. The Navy has a nuclear carrier and its strike force plus some destroyers based in Japan. That, along with Marines and Marine pilots based on Okinawa, plus some naval facilities in Guam, constitute the 7th Fleet, which guards the Pacific. One aircraft carrier. The pivot is all talk and no action. It is a pivot lost in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.