Inside China

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CHINA ON JAPAN’S DEFENSE

China sees “ulterior motives” behind Japan’s annual defense white paper that warns for the first time of Tokyo’s concern about Beijing’s growing assertiveness.

On Thursday, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng announced China’s “resolute objection” to the publication.

In the annual report, China’s assertive naval and maritime activities in and near Japanese waters are meticulously documented.

They include last year’s dramatic ramming of a Japanese coast guard ship by a Chinese fishing trawler near the disputed Senkaku islands; the unannounced passing through a narrow Japanese strait in Okinawa of a Chinese guided-missile destroyer fleet; and the buzzing of a Japanese destroyer by a Chinese helicopter that flew an “extremely dangerous” 130 feet over the warship.

Unlike past annual defense reports since 1970, the official 2011 Defense White Paper stresses a new pattern, not isolated incidents, of Chinese aggressiveness. Particularly irksome to Beijing is the addition of a new section on China’s assertive maritime activities in the South China Sea.

In addition, the timing also offended China because Japan was supposed to be greatly weakened by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March and, according to Beijing, should be humble about its defense gestures.

In traditional fashion that has marked Chinese reaction to such perceived Japanese offenses, authorities allowed public outrage to surge in China at a small memorial wall to Japanese settlers in a county in northeast China that was part of Japanese-controlled territory in the 1930s. On Friday, the memorial was ordered torn down.

NAVAL RACE ESCALATES

China officially announced Wednesday the long-anticipated start of sea trials for its first, refitted Russian-made aircraft carrier.

As China continues its political intoxication with aircraft carriers in recent days, neighboring countries, especially those with territorial disputes with Beijing, are quietly stepping up the pace of their naval buildups, underscoring increased tensions with China.

Within months of China’s April 2009 parade showing off newly acquired naval might, Vietnam began negotiating with Russia to buy large naval vessels, including advanced diesel-electric Kilo-class fast-attack submarines to counter China’s naval buildup. Vietnam has multiple territorial disputes with China.

China has purchased about a dozen similar submarines from Russia, most of them the improved and very difficult to track Project 877 versions.

Last week, the Vietnamese government announced a six-year plan to form a new submarine force that will be “the strongest in the South China Sea region,” according to Vietnam’s defense minister.

The underwater force will be equipped with the six advanced Kilo submarines to be delivered by Moscow through 2014. In March, Vietnam received the first of its purchased Gepard-class frigates from Russia.

The stealth-enhanced 2,100-ton ships, equipped with an array of advanced weapons including SS-N-25 anti-ship missiles, are ideal for shore patrol and interdiction operations.

Vietnam also has invited Indian naval ships for port calls at its Cam Ranh Bay naval base, which has made China unhappy.

FINANCIAL WEAPONS

Within 72 hours of the decision by Standard and Poor’s to downgrade the U.S. credit rating, the People’s Daily newspaper, the official Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, published a column by the paper’s editor, Ding Gang, with the glaring title: “China Must Punish U.S. for Taiwan Arm Sales with ‘Financial Weapons.’ “

The opening line of this battle cry read: “Now is the time for China to use its ‘financial weapons’ to teach the United States a lesson if it moves forward with a plan to sell arms to Taiwan.”

What Mr. Ding proposes is for a massive sell-off of $1.1 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds purchased by China.

But wouldn’t this be suicidal for China’s economy, too?

No matter, Mr. Ding says, with this punitive action, “U.S. treasuries will lose value, which will also affect the value of China’s U.S. treasury holdings. However, as the situation [with congressional advocacy for arms sales to Taiwan] has gotten out of hand, allowing Washington politicians to continue their game might lead to more losses.”

Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached a mmilesyu@gmail.com.

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