The South China Sea has been an extremely hot, though fortunately not hostile, zone of contention between China, its neighbors and the United States for several years on now. A majority of nations have long cried foul over the People’s Republic and its extensive “nine-dash line” claim of an exclusive economic zone, further ramping up tensions by building military bases on reef islands in the area, not at all deterred by a recent International Court ruling debunking that same claim. The US has tried shows of force by having its naval vessels patrol the SCS in the interest of protecting freedom of navigation against a zealous Chinese Coast Guard.
Now as CNN reports, Japan is throwing its own hat into the ring by having its Maritime Defense Force undertake joint training patrols alongside the US fleet as well as engaging in naval exercise with the navies of Southeast Asian nations, according to Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada.
That’s not all. They also plan on providing military assistance to the parties opposing China in the South China Sea argument, in particular Vietnam and the Philippines. In addition, Minister Inada has expressed approval for the US plan of deploying up to 60% of its Air Force and Navy throughout the Asia-Pacific region by the year 2020.
Ongoing disputes between the SEA nations and China have been teetering on the edge with increasing military defense buildup. The Philippines has a bone to pick with China’s maritime territorial claim which comes close to reaching the shores of its westernmost province of Palawan island.
Inada has stated that Chinese activities in the SCS and also the East China Sea, close to Japan, was a matter of grave international concern, and calls attention to his government’s resolve to protect Japan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. "To this end,” he added, “we will continue our own defense efforts and also maintain and enhance the Japan-U.S. alliance."
Japan’s actions have been typical of the new mindset espoused by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the country’s Self-Defense Forces to take a more active role outside its territory, in a more “interventionist” doctrine that is closely linked with the policies of the US, its staunch ally ever since the end of World War II when both countries had been fighting each other.
Kyoto University professor Nancy Snow opines that Japan’s South China Sea patrols amounts to “Japan flexing its muscles and being under the thumb of the US military, which can't operate on its own in the South China Sea. "She warns that Japan could stand to lose much from its proactive stance for the JSDF, which isn’t a military force in the letter of the Japanese post-war Constitution.
Some quarters however understand Japan’s decision, especially in light of North Korea’s new belligerence and new of China conducting joint drills with Russia.
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