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Editorial: China should exercise self-restraint to ease tensions in South China Sea

  • 2015-06-03 15:00:00
  • , Nikkei
  • Translation

(Nikkei: June 2, 2015 – p. 2)

 

 Tensions are growing in the South China Sea over China’s reclamation of reefs. A senior Chinese military officer made public during the Asian Security Summit held in Singapore that these activities are for military purposes.

 

 The remark is assertive and takes no account of a chairman statement issued by the leaders of ASEAN countries that voiced “grave concern” over the situation. It is no exaggeration to say that [the region] is at greater risk.

 

 U.S. Defense Secretary Carter demanded China immediately stop reclamation projects during the international conference, but the Chinese side rejected the call, saying their activities are being done “within the scope of their sovereignty.” The U.S. fears China is building military bases on artificial islands and has hinted at the possibility of sending military aircraft and warships to the skies and waters inside 12 nautical miles of the reefs where reclamation is underway.

 

 By international law, a country can make territorial claims to the skies and waters within 12 nautical miles of its coastline. The U.S. aims to articulate its disapproval of China’s territorial claim [in the South China Sea] by sending military aircraft. It also wants to prevent China from setting an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, as it did so in the East China Sea.

 

 ASEAN is voicing concerns that if China continues to reclaim reefs and the U.S. and other concerned parties take countermeasures, this could lead to “a lethal conflict.” The situation is of grave concern.

 

 Ministers of the U.S. and China will meet for mutual strategy and economic dialogue in Washington at the end of the month. The venue is designed for the two countries to exchange opinions at a higher level if big security challenges arise. They should make better use of this channel to find ways to ease regional tensions.

 

 China stressed in its recent white paper on national defense: “We prioritize dealing with maritime military disputes and making preparations for such events to protect our territorial sovereignty by all means.” It is not usual to make a reference to military preparations for envisaged maritime conflicts.

 

 The white paper also emphasized a policy shift from “defense in adjacent waters” to “integration of defense of adjacent and offshore waters,” by which China mainly means the western Pacific Ocean. The possibility is high that China plans to increase the number of its warships including submarines in the western Pacific.

 

 For China, the Senkaku Islands sit at the point of egress from the East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean. If China implements the strategies stated in the white paper from the medium-to-long term perspective, maritime conflicts could spread beyond the South China Sea and spill over to the East China Sea and the western Pacific Ocean.

 

 Securing maritime shipping routes is an issue of grave significance to Japan. This will also affect future discussions on security legislation. Japan should work closely with the U.S. and concerned countries in Asia and urge China to refrain from moves that could lead to accidental clashes.

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