(Sankei: November 6, 2015 – p. 2)
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated at a news conference on Nov. 5 that “the activities of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in the South China Sea are an issue to be considered in the future while paying close attention to impact on Japan’s security.” He thus indicated that the deployment of the SDF is a possibility depending on the situation in that area. However, he reiterated that “there are no plans for the SDF to participate in Operation Freedom of Navigation currently being undertaken by the U.S. Navy.”
The government is discussing the SDF’s involvement in the South China Sea in the National Security Counil (NSC) and other offices. Masahiko Shibayama, special advisor to the Prime Minister, revealed during a BS Nippon TV program in late October that “this is also being discussed at the Kantei (Prime Minister’s Official Residence).” He also stressed at that time that “we need to think carefully about the level of risk to Japan’s vital interests in that area.”
It is reckoned that participation of SDF aircraft in surveillance and reconnaissance operations will be a likely option. However, there are limitations in aircraft flight range, so it will be difficult to undertake continuous operations in the South China Sea. There are also negative views on this, since the SDF’s playing a prominent role “may trigger a overreaction from China,” according to an aide to the Prime Minister. For this reason, SDF involvement for the time being will likely be in a more subdued manner.
The SDF has been actively engaged in human resources development and technical support (capacity building assistance) for the Southeast Asian armed forces. It has been reinforcing an indirect network of deterrence against China that includes the Philippines and Vietnam, which both have territorial disputes with China over the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands in Chinese). Joint exercises by Maritime SDF vessels with the U.S. forces in the South China Sea are also an option.
So far, Maritime SDF ships have been going back and forth to the Gulf of Aden off Somalia in East Africa for antipiracy operations and making goodwill visits in the South China Sea. The government is in final coordination with Vietnam to use Cam Ranh Bay in the south of the country as a supply base. Cam Ranh Bay is close to the Nansha Islands, so this move is also meant to hold China in check.