06 April 2015

Cooperating in the South China Sea

Capt. Takuya Shimodaira, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, “Cooperating in the South China Sea,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 141.4 (April 2015).

Humanitarian aid/ disaster relief offers the ideal means for China to work in harmony with fellow Asian nations—and Japan is uniquely suited by hard experience to be a guiding force.

In the last 20 years, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has invested heavily in sea power. More recently, it has begun using these new capabilities to underwrite greater assertiveness in its external relations, causing growing consternation among other countries within the Asia-Pacific region. Nations of Southeast Asia, most notably Vietnam and the Philippines, have seen heightened tension with China regarding sovereignty over the waters and land features of the South China Sea. Japan, too, has faced ever-expanding threats in the East China Sea, chiefly involving Chinese claims to the Senkaku Islands. These developments raise vexing questions for Japan, the most obvious being: What can Japan do to create a more favorable security environment in Asia? The answer to this question has implications not only for Japan’s own national security, but also for all the other nations with a stake in the region’s peace and stability.

Increasing political friction in Asia has prompted Japan to alter its maritime strategy. In an important article published in 2011, former president of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Staff College, Vice Admiral Masanori Yoshida, emphasized the need for Japan to focus on “area stability.” This aim has taken root in Japan’s foreign policy. At the meeting to commemorate the “40th Year of ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]-Japan Friendship and Cooperation,” held in Tokyo in December 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe highlighted Japan’s “enhanced commitment for the maintenance of peace, security, and stability, which is in the regional and global interests.” The logic is clear: Antagonistic relations between other countries in the region have an impact on Japan’s own security, and therefore it is wise for Japan to take an active interest in peaceable resolution of disagreements. The question becomes, what might this mean in practice? …