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As U.S. eyes South China Sea patrols, will Japan play a role?

by

Staff Writer

As Washington steps up its activities near man-made islands built by Beijing in disputed South China Sea waters, some experts are saying that Japan, with its newly empowered military, could play a larger role in the increasingly fraught quarrel.

The United States, which is reportedly weighing “freedom of navigation” patrols within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands, has pointed to nearby shipping lanes that it says are vital to the free flow of trade.

Media reports earlier this month said the U.S. had decided to conduct the patrols, which Washington uses to challenge territorial claims in oceans and airspace it considers excessive.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea recognizes 12-nautical-mile territorial limits on naturally formed islands but does not recognize such limits on submerged reefs that have been reclaimed.

The officials did not specify a date for the patrols.

Since September 2013, Beijing has undertaken extensive land-reclamation projects — including the building of at least one airstrip — in the Spratly Islands. An estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes through shipping lanes in the South China Sea each year.

The trade routes are the arteries through which the lifeblood of much of the Japanese economy pumps. Tokyo fears the repercussions of what may happen if Beijing comes to dominate them.

According to Zack Cooper, a fellow with the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Japan’s concerns are twofold: the threat to regional stability, and the example that assertive actions taken by China there could set.

“Given that U.S. forces and those of regional states have helped to protect international sea lanes . . . to ensure the free flow of energy and other economic trade through these vital routes, any contestation of international waters is a threat not only to the neighboring states, but to all countries with an interest in regional security and prosperity,” Cooper said in an email message.

In addition, Cooper said, “if China is allowed to push around smaller Asian states in the South China Sea, it sets a dangerous precedent for larger states such as Japan, which is facing Chinese claims in the East China Sea.”

While the dispute over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands has long overshadowed the South China Sea issue in Japan, a number of government officials and experts believe the two are inextricably linked.

In 2013, Japan’s defense chief at the time, Itsunori Onodera, highlighted the connection by noting that Tokyo was “very concerned that this kind of situation in the South China Sea could affect the situation in the East China Sea.”

In a 2012 opinion piece written before becoming prime minister, Shinzo Abe was even more direct in linking the two disputes.

“Japan must not yield to the Chinese government’s daily exercises in coercion around the Senkaku Islands. . . . By making these boats’ presence appear ordinary, China seeks to establish its jurisdiction in the waters surrounding the islands as a fait accompli. . . . If Japan were to yield, the South China Sea would become even more fortified,” Abe wrote in a column on the Project Syndicate website.

Some experts have even ventured that the South China Sea issue may be more relevant to Japan than the East China Sea row.

“The SCS issue is much more important for Japan, not only from an economic perspective, but also military/strategic perspective, while the ECS issue is a tactical one and more manageable,” Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow with the Japan Institute of International Affairs who focuses on maritime security, said in an email.

Tokyo is taking a multipronged approach to the South China Sea. It is internationalizing the dispute at multilateral forums, encouraging unity within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, while providing capacity-building support to claimant countries and coordinating its positions with Washington.

Still, the potential for a dramatic policy shift by Tokyo exists, especially if the U.S. does launch a freedom of navigation operation, which will likely make routine patrols by Washington a necessity.

“If and when the U.S. decides to launch FONOPS (freedom of navigation operations) in the Spratlys, it’s unlikely to be a one-off event — in order to reinforce its message that freedom of navigation in the SCS must be respected by China, the U.S. Navy will have to conduct such operations on a regular basis,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow focusing on Asia-Pacific maritime issues at the ISEAS — Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

“This opens the possibility that in the future the United States will invite other countries to participate — Japan and Australia would be obvious candidates,” he said by email.

However, Storey noted, Tokyo accepting any such invitation would represent a significant ratcheting up of Japan’s role in the dispute, and would almost certainly aggravate tensions in Sino-Japanese relations.

Abe has spent considerable political capital over the past several years not to further aggravate the already fraught ties.

Cooper of CSIS also agreed that patrols by Japan were possible, but noted that any decision by Tokyo would have to take into account consultations with the U.S. while also evaluating the risks, benefits and proper timing of such a move.

“Japan certainly has the right to conduct similar operations in international waters, either on its own or in conjunction with the United States,” said Cooper. “It is appropriate that China be given a more prominent say in international affairs, but Beijing will have to respect international rules and norms or it will risk undermining the regional order that enabled China’s rise in the first place.”

But more likely, others say, Tokyo will instead continue its multipronged regional approach to the South China Sea — especially so soon after the Abe government’s grueling battle to pass security laws that allow Japan to conduct combined military operations outside its territorial waters.

“Japan needs to take the lead on the East China Sea and Senkaku issues,” said Corey Wallace, a security policy analyst at the Graduate School of East Asian Studies at Freie Universitat, Berlin. “On the South China Sea, Japan has been careful to not get out ahead of other regional players. So without that regional buy-in the government will be hesitant. I’d say that they will continue to focus on maritime and military-capability building.”

[China’s Activities in the South China Sea: Japanese Ministry of Defense report (PDF)]

  • Liars N. Fools

    Japan should not free ride on American FONOPs in the SCS. More Japanese shipping goes through there than American. Put up, Abe Shinzo.

    • abcpqr

      Japan has its own artificial island claim in Okinotorishima. If this is an exercise in establishing laws, Japan should announce a consistent position on this type of issue and practice similar law for others as it claims for itself. And so should the US do FONOPs around Okinotorishima. But, if it is merely China-bashing, then Japan is the last country that should ever be involved, connsidering the history.

      • ParraLennox

        Is this dumb or what? This artificial Island is in the middle of nowhere. Away from maritime traffic, on the other side of SCS and is an island under Japanese jurisdiction. Look at where the island is in google and we can all laugh at your histrionics. If it is within Japanese jursidiction, they can do whatever they want with it. They can create a man made island in the middle of Tokyo bay and be entitled to it. Since Japan and the US are close allies, America does not need to do FONOPs on Japanese Islands you dummy.

        China can create as many man made islands within its territory and no one will care. Not when it is close to a thousand kilometers from its shoreline and about 180 miles from the shorelines of Vietnam and the Philippines. Talk about lack of respect to other states. China deserves the bashing if only to change its expansionist behaviour.

    • Ah Ee Tan

      You can’t advise Japan what to do, except their right wing elites! When they are planing for war, they mean it!……THEY WILL nOT SUFFER for two ATOMIC BOMBS quietly. Today, they can come up 1300 nuclear bombs in six months’ time. I believe 800 nuclear bombs will be delivered to US land, and 500 nuclear bombs will be delivered to China in a DAMN sudden way…imagine the Pearl HARBOUR attack!

      • ParraLennox

        You should stop what it is your smoking. It is dangerous. Does your mother know you are in the internet again? Your infantile opinions show you need to grow up more and hold yourself accountable for what you write.

      • Ah Ee Tan

        Hello! ParraLenox, Be polite, I am offering my scenario arguement with facts! If it is too FEARSOME!,sorry! By the way it can, and will be, as predicted if you search around the numbers of nuclear warheads are around, and the amount of nuclear material are available in my scenario countries mentioned. Can you see my icon picture, Albert Einstein knew the days will come!!!! Professor Stephen Hawking also predicted man made CALAMITY in 60 years time!!!!. Note: ” in 60 years time” Yes, I am accountable for what I write.

  • PictureThis

    Glad Japan sailing with the U.S.A. Japan has a Burning Fire within them when fighting ! These guys know how to fight a war and manage it.

  • Sam_boy

    China is a criminal. All they know is steal but not win a war. Japan is a warrior and honorable not like chinese. World need to kick China ass again. China will found itself humiliated again like the history.

  • p j

    Adding a bit of history will definitely help readers to get a clear picture of the South China Sea issue:

    In the 3rd century, the local government of the Jin Dynasties (China) exercised jurisdiction over the South China Sea islands by sending patrolling naval boats to the surrounding sea areas. (Nordquist & Moore 1998, page 155)

    5th–13th centuries: Naval forces of the Song State of the Southern Dynasties (420-479 AD) patrolled the Paracel and Spratly islands.[43] In the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), the islands were placed under the administration and authority of the Qiongzhou Perfecture (now Hainan Province).[43] Chinese administration of the South China Sea continued into the North and South Song dynasties (970-1279).[43]

    1883 – When the Spratlys and Paracels were surveyed by Germany in 1883, China issued protests.[40]

    1887 – The Convention Respecting the Delimitation of the Frontier Between China and Tonkin between France and the Qing Empire set the maritime boundary in the Gulf of Tonkin.[49][50][51] The 1887 Chinese-Vietnamese Boundary convention signed between France and China after the Sino-French War said that China was the owner of the Spratly and Paracel islands.[40][52]

    1898 – The Philippine Islands were ceded by Spain to the United States in the Treaty of Paris following the Spanish–American War. The U.S. reminded the Philippines at its independence (1946) that the Spanish-American treaty of 1898 made it clear that the western limit of the Philippines islands did not include the Spratlys (South China Sea).

    1956 – North Vietnam declares Paracel and Spratly Islands are historically Chinese territory.[63]

    1958 – The People’s Republic of China issued a declaration defining its territorial waters which encompassed the Spratly, Paracel Islands and other islands in the South China Sea. North Vietnam’s prime minister, Pham Van Dong, sent a diplomatic note to Zhou Enlai, stating that “The Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam respects this decision.” The diplomatic note was written on September 14 and was publicized on Nhan Dan newspaper(Vietnam) on September 22, 1958.

    • ParraLennox

      You seem to be a chinese supporter on this south china sea dispute, right?My question to you is – given the preponderance of positive historical elucidations you have given on behalf of china, why doesn’t china participate and answer the Philippine claim at UNCLOS which is being deliberated upon right now? Surely, if what you have written is all factually correct and ACCEPTED BY ALL OTHER CLAIMANTS, then there is no dispute to talk about, right? Yet, If China has volumes of historical and factual evidences to prove they own 90 of the South China sea, why cannot it engage in a civilised discussion with the other claimants to see what contra evidence they have to support their claims at UNCLOS? The current stand that you and China currently parrot is that ..”we have indisputable sovereignty on this sea” . Why? because you say so. How? because you have the economic and military might to sweep aside and bully smaller countries who also have claims to this sea. You even have the gall to say to the international committee that you will not participate in the dispute resolution and will not accept any adjudication that can result from the deliberations which might be unfavourable to China. China’s stand is an affront to conventions regulating international laws governing the sea and shows it is incapable of working in the brotherhood of nations that adhere to accepted international laws and conventions defining maritime state rights and obligations. China is a bully and it is right for countries in the region enter into military and economic pacts to protect themselves against her.

      • Ah Ee Tan

        UNCLOS can not be the place to challenge and counter claim someone else territory defined after WWII Japan Surrender Treaty stamped and signed in the present of WWII Alliance.
        UNCLOS is only apprpopriate for claim and counter claim when a territory was not defined ie no historical ownership to be traced.

      • ParraLennox

        Wasn’t China an ally of the Americans in WWII. Britain and the US supported you? Hello.

        If there is no historical ownership (this is getting funny fo you) why would China’s claim then be unchallengeable in court? Why couldn’t the claims of others not be equal to China’s? Because you say it cannot be because you say so? This shows your arrogance.

        You disparage UNCLOS and yet you signed agreeing to its laws of the sea convention.

        Which is why there is question on China’s claim. You just answered yourself. If China has the irrefutable evidence on its indisputable sovereignty over the SCS, face the other party in court so that the arbitration can decide the merits of each other’s claims based on factual evidence(s) submitted. China doesn’t want to do that. It even arrogantly states that it will not recognize any arbitration recognised by the world that goes againsts its claim. After all, China has “indisputable sovereignty” on the 80% of the whole China Sea. Who says so? China says so. Anybody else? Nobody else in the world apparently think so.

      • Ah Ee Tan

        Hello! ParraLennox, Let us argue with sense. You see China had many years ago positioned UNCLOS artcle 298 when China ratified UNCLOS. You cannot force China to REFEND against Phillippin’s suit in the Court! Infact, Phillippine is INSUBORDINATING China’s position now. But, to be honest, I had the same curiosity like yours before I start searching in this topic…most likely ( caveat) the Treaty of San Francisco Convention ( during the cold war) when communist China’s Zhou En Lai was not invited. Plus, the main locus standi ( ROC China–Taiwan) not icluded in your Philippine’s Plantiff. This can become an issue when presenting DOCUMENTED proofs…
        In this world, there are news of accused innocents being convicted..and only being released when they were old…

      • ParraLennox

        Yes, lets argue with sense.
        What is “REFEND”?
        What do you mean by Philippines is insubordinating China’s position Now? Do you mean how dare you Philippines question China now? Like a Superior looking disdainly at a slave and a subordinate? Make yourself clear so that we can argue better, alright?

      • ParraLennox

        Yes, lets argue with sense.
        What is “REFEND”?
        What do you mean by Philippines is insubordinating China’s position Now? Do you mean how dare you Philippines question China now? Like a Superior looking disdainly at a slave and a subordinate? Make yourself clear so that we can argue better, alright?

      • Ah Ee Tan

        Hello! ParraLennox, Let us argue with sense. You see China had many years ago positioned UNCLOS artcle 298 when China ratified UNCLOS. You cannot force China to REFEND against Phillippin’s suit in the Court! Infact, Phillippine is INSUBORDINATING China’s position now. But, to be honest, I had the same curiosity like yours before I start searching in this topic…most likely ( caveat) the Treaty of San Francisco Convention ( during the cold war) when communist China’s Zhou En Lai was not invited. Plus, the main locus standi ( ROC China–Taiwan) not icluded in your Philippine’s Plantiff. This can become an issue when presenting DOCUMENTED proofs…
        In this world, there are news of accused innocents being convicted..and only being released when they were old…

      • ricardo sergio navarro

        You seem American supporter which means you supported mass murdering of native red indians, you supported when American lied about saddam’s Hussain. Biological and chemical weapons, you supported invasion in Libya having nuclear arms, you supported Americans dropping atom bomb on two Japanese cities and killing millions, you supported Americans waging war on Syria.

        You calling Syrian national army as Assad Army
        You called Libyan national army as Qaddafi Army
        You called Iraqi army as saddam’s army.
        You damaged Palestine supporting Israel
        You supporting India against China
        You forced Pakistan to make talibans to kill Russians and now whole blame is thems
        You run from every battle field from Iraq to Afghanistan and also Vietnam which was never a victory but lies.
        You made Osama bin laden then killed him first in bush governor end then again Obama killed him mysteriously like a Hollywood movie and again blamed Pakistan.
        You killed and finished the race of native red Indiana from their soil and calling others as immigrant which infact you yourself were immigrants.
        Tell me which country you invaded has prosperous since your attacks, they were much better before.
        You support rebels openly and it’s not terrorism? Answer this
        You hire all criminal from prison into navy and its light.
        Your ex army officers run CIA and even become president but it’s democracy whereas other countries do they you say their army is dominating.

        Truth is your days are gone and you will be remembered in history as bullies and destroyers.
        Have some shame.

      • Ah Ee Tan

        Hello! ParraLennox, did you read these arguements here by Ricardo Sergio Navarro…These are called arguements with sense and facts!..very civilised manner, no slanderings, no rubbishes.

      • ParraLennox

        You really need to improve on your English to be able to differentiate between an emotional argument and a rabid rant.
        Just because I argue against you and your position on China doesn’t mean my arguments are uncivilised (!!!?), slanderous and rubbish.
        You and Ricardo should watch out that you do not stress yourself out in our friendly arguments. Stress is a major cause of heart failure, LOL.

  • Ah Ee Tan

    US has been messing problems and chaos in middle east and now shiftes Her dirty hands in SCS…..It seems China peaceful rising is not possible…

  • YONG

    It will be great that Japan participate! China government is naive to show restrain and believe only in peaceful development of the country.
    Looking at my mother decades of tears and pain for the death of her mother, brother and sister! Her father reduced to no more than zombie, losing his wealth and love ones to Japanese invasion!
    The crimes of raping, humiliation, torturing and killing of millions of Chinese during Japanese invasion! Time pay back Japan! I really look forward to Japanese War Ships in South China Sea! Our leaders will have no more excuse! Love to see the whole Japan cover by nuclear explosion mushroom! Time to collect the debt!

  • YONG

    It will be great that Japan participate! China government is naive to show restrain and believe only in peaceful development of the country.
    Looking at my mother decades of tears and pain for the death of her mother, brother and sister! Her father reduced to no more than zombie, losing his wealth and love ones to Japanese invasion!
    The crimes of raping, humiliation, torturing and killing of millions of Chinese during Japanese invasion! Time pay back Japan! I really look forward to Japanese War Ships in South China Sea! Our leaders will have no more excuse! Love to see the whole Japan cover by nuclear explosion mushroom! Time to collect the debt!

    • ricardo sergio navarro

      Well said world is tired of being bullied

      • ricardo sergio navarro

        You have true friends like Pakistan and Russia . Let dogs come

    • ricardo sergio navarro

      Well said world is tired of being bullied

  • Ah Ee Tan

    Reporter should add:
    1) WWII had caused an estimated US $ 5 trillion direct loss, and US$10 trillion indirect loss to CHINA national assets. A death toll of 35 million lifes from Japan’atrocity. When JAPAN is going to pay back?

    • ParraLennox

      Did you rather want to be in their place in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Then.
      You’ll never end this apology scam. America has moved forward from Pearl Harbour and a majority of the Pacific States have too. The truth is you are milking Japan’s WWII fiasco for all its political worth. When will your demand for apology end?

      • Ah Ee Tan

        Hello! ParraLenox, America after getting all the top scientists from Germany, and other WWII alliance got Germany’s surrended lands and moneys compensation, and former German chancellor kneel down offered sorry to the atrocity commited…of cause America and current ally will move forward and forget the PAST! Look! China only ask bact their sovereighty as remarcated by NINEDASHLINES.

      • ParraLennox

        Honestly, I almost fell off my chair reading your comment. You still do not get it. You cannot just claim the south china sea and claim indisputable sovereignty over it against the wishes of ASEAN. The US has just sailed a warship on your fake Island to tell you in no uncertain terms that it does not agree with your claim (if you havent heard the new yet). And yet here you are “pleading” that we accept your nine-dash-line claim. The world will not.

      • Ah Ee Tan

        Wo~o`h , wa~a~h! That US warship sailed past the China’s SCS nine dash lines islands, flexing muscle! Wo~o~h! Wa~a~h, from XYZ News,somebody’s submerine is cuting US”s military under sea fibre optic communication cables….very indicative of World War III !! is brewing.
        Hello! ParraLenox, may be we shall take a breat from this SCS arguement until WWIII is over..ha! Ha! if we still alive….

  • ricardo sergio navarro

    Americans or Uncle Sam is a old dog now, damaged many nations with Jewish from redinduansvto Vietnamese and from two Japanese cuties to Middle East. Now real lions are there to counter and old dog is still trying but now is today and yesterday was past.

  • ricardo sergio navarro

    Americans or Uncle Sam is a old dog now, damaged many nations with Jewish from redinduansvto Vietnamese and from two Japanese cuties to Middle East. Now real lions are there to counter and old dog is still trying but now is today and yesterday was past.