Japan will be joining the Talisman Sabre military exercises in Australia in July in yet another sign of the country’s commitment to a more forward-leaning regional posture. The exercises, which take place every two years between Australia and the United States, will feature drills in maritime operations, amphibious landings, special forces tactics, and urban warfare, and will involve 30,000 troops. The Japanese are only sending 40 officers to participate, but the move is symbolically significant amid rising tensions in the region, especially in the South China Sea.
That’s not the only Japanese move China will be fuming over today. Tokyo announced that it will be bolstering its defense relationship with Malaysia, Reuters reports:
“I’ve agreed with Prime Minister Najib (Razak) to raise our bilateral ties to strategic partnership,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a joint news conference.
“As a concrete step, we’ve agreed to cooperate in defense equipment. Also, by reinforcing support to (Malaysia’s) maritime law enforcement body, we will cooperate for maritime safety.”
Malaysia is one of the least discussed South China Sea claimants, but a quick glance at the map will serve to explain why it could be an important factor in the regional game of thrones, especially if it had some Japanese boats to work with.
Looking at these two stories together, it’s clear that we are beginning to see the concrete outlines of an emerging U.S.-backed coalition set to contain China in the region: Tokyo’s symbolic act of solidarity with the U.S. and Australia comes as Washington is beefing up its policy against Chinese territorial aggression in a big way. And Japan’s new defense ties with Malaysia come on the heels of similar Japanese deals with both Vietnam and the Philippines.