(Sankei: November 19, 2015 – p. 2)
For the sake of security in the Asia-Pacific region, it is an urgent issue to make China desist from changing the status quo by force in the South China Sea.
The venue of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum shifted to Asia with a meeting in the Philippines. It is an international conference where the leaders of Japan, the U.S. and China meet.
This is the first important opportunity for the leaders of the concerned parties to discuss the issue since the U.S. began “Freedom of Navigation Operations.”
Can Japan and the Southeast Asia countries in the region clearly express in the conference their support for the U.S. operation? Can they convey to China the message that it is unacceptable to build artificial islands for military bases? This will be a test of the degree to which they can clarify their stance.
Counterterrorism will also be a subject for discussion. The threat of terrorism posed by Islamic extremists is growing in Asia as well.
However, the discussion on counterterrorism should not lessen the necessity to change the current situation in which “freedom of navigation” and “rule of law” are at risk in the South China Sea.
As soon as President Obama arrived in Philippines, he visited and inspected the Philippine navy. The president emphasized the U.S.’s further involvement in the security of the surrounding waters. We assume that this demonstrates his firm intention to confront China over the South China Sea issue.
On the other hand, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Vietnam and Singapore prior to the conference. Xi also sent Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the Philippines to persuade Manila not to place the South China Sea on the agenda of the APEC forum.
During the recent G20 summit held in Turkey, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed the issue of the South China Sea with German Chancellor Merkel and British Prime Minister Cameron.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson announced Beijing’s strong displeasure, saying “Japan is not a concerned party but constantly makes a fuss about the issue.”
This shows that Beijing wants to keep the issue from becoming an international one.
It is expected that China will employ every means to do that. Japan and the U.S. should not lag behind China in diplomacy, otherwise Beijing will try to undermine other participating countries to its advantage.
Taking advantage of international conferences such as the one in Philippines this time, Prime Minister Abe should hold more bilateral talks [with the U.S.] to discuss the current situation in the East China Sea where China is actively operating around the Senkaku Islands. This way the two countries can ensure that they will collaborate in keeping an eye on the area.
Most importantly, Abe and Obama need to demonstrate in their meetings the solidarity between Japan and the U.S. for the protection of “freedom of navigation.” They need to demonstrate a strong alliance to the international community. This is an opportunity to see how many more countries share the common values that Japan and the U.S. cherish.