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For Japan, the territorial disputes in the South China Sea may not be directly in its own backyard, but the interests at stake are inextricably linked with its own and are forcing it to come off the fence.

Nevertheless, while some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations welcome Japan’s involvement, its impact may be minimal given that the maritime issue is evolving into a spat between China — which is elbowing its smaller neighbors over what are believed to be seabed deposits of oil and gas — and the United States, which is coming to their aid.

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