Japan’s military is getting much more involved in the South China Sea, Reuters reports:
Japan will step up its activity in the contested South China Sea through joint training patrols with the United States and bilateral and multilateral exercises with regional navies, Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said on Thursday.
Inada said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, that Japan’s increased engagement in the area, where Japan shares U.S. concerns about China’s pursuit of extensive territorial claims, would include capacity building for coastal nations.
Tokyo has no claims in the South China Sea, but it has been using Beijing’s dispute with its neighbors as an opportunity to firm up opposition to Chinese aggression. Japan, of course, sees its own territorial dispute in the East China Sea as analogous to what’s happening further south.
Inada says Japan is not just planning to get involved in U.S. exercises. Tokyo will also bolster the defenses of Southeast Asian countries by, for example, supplying patrol ships. That adds to the large infrastructural investments Japan has made in Southeast Asia over the past year.
Even as the Obama Administration’s efforts in Asia seem to be hitting headwinds, Japan is picking up the slack. In the short term, and if accompanied by a lot of active behind-the-scenes diplomacy, that could be welcome news.
Still, for the first time since the end of World War II, Japan’s military is looking like a major player in the Pacific, and if its rise is perceived as too aggressive, it might unsettle U.S. allies. Japan also has a long and dark legacy in its neighborhood, and how its new posturing will be received in the region remains an open question.