Anxious in the neighborhood

Anxious in the neighborhood

These past few days, within hours of each other, we saw two major developments that quickly sent ripples across the East Asian Marginal Seas, which include the East Sea (also known as the Japan Sea, EJS), the Yellow Sea, and the East China Sea.

The EJS is a deep (at 3500 meters plus or minus), semi-enclosed sea and is connected to the Pacific through narrow and relatively shallow straits.

We are referring to Sunday’s event in Beijing, when the 69-year-old Xi Jinping secured a consequential third term as China’s leader and promoted some of his closest Communist Party allies, cementing his position as the nation’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

Xi, the paramount leader of China since 2012, is the son of Chinese Communist veteran Xi Zhongxun, the former exiled to rural Yanchuan County as a teenager following his father’s purge during the Cultural Revolution.

The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party elected Xi as its general secretary for another five-year term, Xinhua reported, tilting the country decisively back towards one-man rule after decades of power-sharing among its elite.

The 69-year-old is now all but certain to sail through to a third term as China’s president, due to be formally announced during the government’s annual legislative sessions next March.

His anointment came after a week-long Congress of 2,300 hand-picked party delegates during which they endorsed Xi’s “core position” in the leadership and approved a sweeping reshuffle that saw former rivals step down.

The 20th Congress elected the new Central Committee of around 200 senior party officials, who then gathered on Sunday to elect Xi and the other members of the Standing Committee — the apex of Chinese political power.

Some of Xi’s closest allies were announced in the seven-man committee.

Former Shanghai party chief Li Qiang, a confidante of Xi’s, was promoted to number two, making him likely to be named premier at the government’s annual legislative sessions next March.

The day before, in Perth, known as the “City of Light” in Western Australia, Canberra and Tokyo signed an accord to share more security intelligence and deepen military cooperation in what diplomatic observers see as a security pact aimed at countering China’s growing military presence in the Asia Pacific region.

The signing, by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida, was done at the annual Australia-Japan Leaders Meeting in the fourth most populous city in Australia.

“This landmark declaration sends a strong signal to the region of our strategic alignment”, said Albanese, hailing the “Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation.”

Under the accord, the two countries agreed military forces would train together in Northern Australia, and would “expand and strengthen cooperation across defense, intelligence sharing,” Australian officials said.

Without mentioning China or North Korea by name, Kishida said the agreement was a response to an “increasingly harsh strategic environment.”

Neither Australia nor Japan has the armies of overseas intelligence operatives and foreign informants needed to play in the major leagues of global espionage.

Japan does not have a foreign spy agency equivalent to America’s CIA, Britain’s MI6, Russia’s FSB or Australia’s much smaller agency ASIO.

But according to expert Bryce Wakefield, Australia and Japan do have formidable signals and geospatial capabilities – electronic eavesdropping and hi-tech satellites that provide invaluable intelligence on adversaries.

Some even see the accord as another step toward Japan joining the powerful Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance among Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.

It is “an epoch-making event that Japan can share SIGINT with a foreign nation except for the United States,” Ken Kotani, an expert in Japan’s intelligence history at Nihon University said.

SIGINT refers to intelligence-gathering by interception of signals, whether communications between people (communications intelligence – abbreviated to COMINT – or from electronic signals not directly used in communication (electronic intelligence – abbreviated to ELINT.

This signals intelligence is information gained by the collection and analysis of the electronic signals and communications of a given target.

“This will strengthen the framework of Quad (Australia, India, Japan, and the US) and the first step for Japan’s joining the Five Eyes,” according to Kotani.

Such a suggestion would have been unthinkable a few decades ago.

But events in Japan’s neighborhood have forced a reassessment of the country’s pacifist policies established following World War II.

Observers have noted that in recent years North Korea has repeatedly fired missiles over and around Japan, while China has built the world’s largest navy, revamped the globe’s biggest standing army, and amassed a nuclear and ballistic arsenal right on Tokyo’s doorstep.

But hurdles remain for Japan’s closer security cooperation with allies, according to observers.

Japan’s intelligence sharing with the US and other partners has been hampered by long-standing concerns about Tokyo’s ability to handle sensitive confidential material and send it securely.

“To put it bluntly Japan has traditionally leaked like a sieve,” said Brad Williams, author of a book on Japanese intelligence policy and a professor at the City University of Hong Kong.

Laws have been introduced to more severely punish intelligence leaks, but for now, Australia is likely to be forced to scrub any intelligence it passes to Japan for information gleaned from the Five Eyes network.

In the meanwhile, the anxiety flirts with our sense of humor. (ai/mtvn)

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