The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force carried out anti-submarine drills in the South China Sea on Friday in which it deployed three vessels including a helicopter aircraft carrier and a submarine, reported the Japanese Foreign Ministry. The Japanese Foreign Ministry didn’t give much information but merely described the purpose of the drilling activities which was to boost their tactical capabilities.
The Global Times, observing the Japanese drills, stated that, “the continuous usher of military activities in the South China Sea is not good for to the harmony and stability of the region, and is strongly opposed by China. Japanese warships had carried out practical drills in the South China Sea, with an aircraft carrier spotted on satellite”
Asia-Pacific leaders voiced concern over the situation in the resource-rich South China Sea at a regional summit on Saturday. The security tensions between the United States and China have shown no sign of easing in South China Sea where tension between China and Japan are already high and at stake.
Claiming sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, Beijing has rapidly built artificial islands with military infrastructure in the region. Japanese Prime Minister; Yoshihide Suga called out moves in the East and South China seas that “run counter to the rule of law and openness” and shared deep concerns with other countries in the region, without explicitly naming China.
China has been increasing its maritime activities in both South and East China Sea mostly because of increasing tensions in the Sino-US relations which has made it come under skirmishes with its Indo-Pacific neighbors including Japan. Tensions escalated between China and Japan after Japanese fishing boats entered the disputed waters in September 2020 after which Beijing increased its maritime activities.
The South China Morning Post reported in late September 2020 that, “Beijing offered an olive section to Tokyo by reducing its naval presence in the area but was affront when Japan hired boats to go into the troubled waters, resulting in increasing tensions between the China and Japan”
China has conflicting territorial claims with four ASEAN members — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, and also Taiwan — in the South China Sea. This makes up a strategic waterway through which more than one-third of global trade passes. The main reason of tension between China and Japan is the claim that China made about the Senkakus; a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea administered by Japan. They are called the Diaoyu in China. At the summit, Japanese Prime Minister; Suga argued that activities infringing on Japan’s sovereignty have persisted in the East China Sea,
The Chinese president; Xi Jinping was due to visit Japan in April which got delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. China had completely reduced its military activities in the Diaoyu Islands or what the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. But the two sides went back to rifts when Japan started its fishing activities in the disputed region.
Alessio Patalano from King’s College London; department of War studies wrote in the Royal United Services Institute Commentary that, “China’s recent longer forays into the disputed waters were aimed at normalizing its law-enforcement presence and actively challenge the Japanese government’s position of effective administrative control.”
He pointed out that China no longer wants to portray its presence in the waterways but merely wants to challenge the Japanese control in the East China Sea. In September 2020, the lawmakers from the ruling party in Japan asked them to hold joint activities with US in the East China Sea in order to boost Japan’s effective control over the region.
Specialized in foreign and security policy, Professor Sato Yoichiro from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University said that, “Japan can maintain deterrence in the region simply by increasing coastguard patrols and getting the US to meet its defense obligations in the region”
Japan and US started the Free and Open Indo-Pacific FOIP initiative which will be focusing on the common concerns of the Indo-Pacific countries against China’s hegemonic claims over the South and East China Sea.
The newly elected Japanese Prime Minister; Yoshihide Suga said on earlier Tuesday that, “the Free and Open Indo-Pacific security and economic initiative is more important than ever amid challenges from the coronavirus pandemic. The international community faces multiple challenges as it tries to resolve the pandemic, and this is exactly why right now it is time that we should further deepen coordination with as many countries as possible that share our vision”
This increasing US-Japan cooperation has come in a time when US elections are merely days away and China’s relations with US are in the worst condition now than ever before. China is in no position to aggravate relations with Japan because USA’s growing coordination with the Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea, specifically Japan, can give a very tough time to China in defending its claims on the waterways and she might lose the region consequently.