Japan is considering joining the sea patrols being conducted by the U.S. in the disputed South China Sea in a move that is likely to infuriate China.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has reportedly told U.S. President Barack Obama that Tokyo is open to the idea of jointly patrolling the disputed area that China claims is its own sovereignty, according to The Guardian. Japanese media quoted officials as saying that Abe told Obama he was “opposed to all unilateral attempts to change the status quo and escalate tensions,” which is a reference to China’s construction of military facilities and runways in the disputed Spratly islands.
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Obama said he and Japan’s prime minister shared “an interest in continuing to foster rule of law and supporting international norms in areas like freedom of navigation and maritime law,” as reported by The Guardian.
China threatens to respond militarily
The reports about Japan-U.S. joint patrols in the South China Sea have been confirmed by Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, who added, however, that there were no immediate plans for the Asian nation’s self-defense forces (SDF) to join the U.S. freedom of navigation operations in the disputed area. Those patrols have been angering China since October.
“At present, the SDF does not continuously conduct surveillance activities in the South China Sea, and we have no such specific plans,” Suga told reporters, according to the British news outlet.
Additionally, Japan is considering a request from Manila for coastguard vessels after Tokyo agreed to send defense equipment and technology to the Philippines, which is one of China’s rivals for the disputed South China Sea. Even though Tokyo has no territorial claims on the disputed Spratly islands, it has repeatedly gravitated to supporting the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries involved in tense territorial disputes with Beijing.
Japan also voiced support for the U.S.’s decision to send the USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, to sail within 12 nautical miles of the islands China claims its own earlier this month. The move outraged Beijing, which warned that further “provocations” from the U.S. and its allies might lead to a Chinese military response and accelerated construction in the area.
Top Chinese army commander demands U.S. stop provocations
China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy Commander Wu Shengli urged the U.S. on Thursday to stop its “provocations” in the South China Sea. The Chinese navy had exercised “maximum restraint” during America’s recent provocations, Admiral Wu told Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, in a meeting in Beijing, as reported by The Herald.
Wu added that the Chinese have been closely monitoring those “provocative acts” and had given warnings to Washington on several occasions. America’s aircraft’s and naval vessels’ recent moves near China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea have been “sheer provocation” to Beijing’s sovereign rights and presented great threats to the security of islands and reefs in the disputed area, Wu added.
“The U.S. conduct does not contribute to peace and stability in the South China Sea whatsoever,” Wu said, as reported by The Herald. “The U.S. cannot impose its own claims on other nations. It cannot sabotage other nations’ sovereignty and security.”
We can seize more islands in the South China Sea
China said it can use military force to kick out nations illegally to seize more islands in the South China Sea, but Beijing is now showing restraint, as reported by ValueWalk on Tuesday.
“The Chinese government has the right and the ability to recover the islands and reefs illegally occupied by neighboring countries,” Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said Tuesday in Beijing, speaking about the South China Sea but not naming any particular country.
The South China Sea is a disputed area where China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei all have sovereignty claims. All but Brunei have military fortifications in the disputed area, which raises concerns about a high risk of military confrontation in the region if the tensions get particularly hot.
“But we haven’t done this [seized the islands]. We have maintained great restraint with the aim to preserve peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Liu added.
If Beijing manages to gain complete control of the Spratly Islands, it automatically gets the key to controlling waters through which $5 trillion in trade passes every year, mostly to and from China. The South China Sea is also extremely rich in natural resources, which each nation in the dispute wants to claim as its own. The disputed area is also believed to have large reserves of hydrocarbons under its seabed.
World War 3 over some tiny islands?
China’s defense minister has been urging Washington to stop threatening Beijing’s sovereignty and the country’s national and security interests after the incident with the U.S. warship. Since the incident, Beijing’s top officials and diplomats have expressed their outrage, accusing the U.S. of “provocations” and of escalating tensions in the region.
The U.S. then replied to China’s criticism, saying that it will sail and fly wherever it wants in international waters and airspace. The U.S. Navy said that additional patrols could take place in the coming weeks, which begs the question whether Beijing will be as “restrained” as it was during the previous incident or whether it will be prepared to respond militarily. Another thing that is also discussed by analysts is whether the U.S. and Japan’s joint moves in the South China Sea could unleash World War 3 over some tiny islands,