Asia's Game of Thrones
Japan Gives Malaysia Spy Planes

Japan is helping Malaysia keep a watchful eye on the South China Sea, according to the Nikkei Asian Review:

Japan is looking to donate retired military patrol aircraft to Malaysia, letting that Southeast Asian country keep closer watch over the South China Sea to rein in China’s maritime expansion.

Parliament is currently weighing revisions to the foundational law of the Ministry of Defense that would allow equipment to be given to other nations at no cost. […] Malaysia will likely be the first beneficiary once that change is made, receiving P-3C patrol aircraft previously used by the Maritime Self-Defense Force. […]

Japan is deepening defense cooperation with various members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations grappling with China’s expansion in the South China Sea. Tokyo has concluded an equipment transfer agreement with the Philippines, and is negotiating a similar pact with Indonesia.

Malaysia has been making friendly noises toward China these days, earning a cushy bailout and navy vessel contract in exchange. But that doesn’t mean that Kuala Lumpur is entirely under Beijing’s thumb. Deals like this one remind China that Malaysia is an independent actor, one that still disputes Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea and is capable of courting China’s rivals to solicit favorable treatment.

Meanwhile, Japan’s eagerness to freely donate the P-3s suggests this is not a mercenary transaction but a symbolic one, telegraphing Japan’s willingness to help China’s rivals push back in the South China Sea. For years, Beijing has been telling Tokyo to butt out of the dispute, to which it is not a party—but if anything, Japan is only increasing its involvement.

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