Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said Japan supports the United States in its effort to maintain the “peace and freedom of movement at sea” during a meeting with Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.
“The international community will not all the unilateral changing of the status quo by force, and our country believes the same. The U.S. believes the same too, and we agreed on this point,” said Nakatani.
According to him, the United States and Japan agree on holding joint military exercises in the South China Sea, the center of territorial disputes between countries including Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
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Nakatani said, “We have proactively participated in activities promoting the regional stability including helping build the capacity of countries around the South China Sea and holding joint exercises between the U.S. military and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.”
In addition to the US-Japan joint military exercises and trilateral drills with Australia, Harris and Nakatani also agreed to promote joint military exercises with South Asian countries.
Japan, U.S. to keep in-check China’s assertiveness in South China Sea
Nakatani and Harris both agree that Japan and the United States must demonstrate its strong relationship and “keep in check an increasingly assertive China” in the region.
China is claiming almost all of the disputed islands in the South China Sea. In August, the Pentagon reported that the Chinese government stepped up its reclamation activities this year. China reclaimed 2,900 acres of landmass across the row of islands in the South China Sea compared with the 200 acres combined landmass reclaimed by the other claimants.
China’s reclamation activities, which included airfields on some of the disputed islands, ignited tensions in the region and concerns around the world. The United States and Japan are concerned that China is trying to extend its military power through maritime expansion.
Michael Green, Vice President for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies recently described China’s strategy in the South China Sea as building a “gray zone of coercion” as it tries to intimidate small countries in the region. He said the situation is something “you have to deal with.”
He added that Beijing is trying to “shake the credibility of the U.S. commitment” to security and order in the Pacific.
The Japanese and United States navies established a new level of cooperation during the joint naval exercises in the seas south of Japan last week, according to the commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet.
Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin said the U.S. and Japanese navies agreed to resupply the vessels of each other. According to him, a U.S. helicopter delivering boxes of foods and other provisions to a Japanese warship is a sign of greater operational integration. It was the first time for the allies to share supplies other than oil at sea.
“It’s a big step forward, and we want to do more of that in the future,” said Aucoin during a press conference aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.
The USS Ronald Reagan along with six other U.S. vessels were part of the annual joint exercises with approximately 25 vessels of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF).
According to Vice Admiral Yasuhiro Shigeoka, commander of the JMSDF fleet, the security situation in the region surrounding Japan is severe. In September, the Parliament of Japan approved a new security legislation allowing the country’s military to defend its allies even if it is not under attack.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized that the change in the country’s defense policy was important to address the emerging security challenges particularly from China and North Korea.