(Nikkei: November 21, 2015 – p. 2)
There are numerous hot spots in the Asia-Pacific region, the growth center of the world, that may threaten its stability. It is important for Japan and the U.S. to broaden their security cooperation from a “line” to a “plane” and to work with other countries to maintain regional order.
The meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama illustrated once again the urgent need for such efforts. Most of the issues discussed could not be resolved by Japan and the U.S. alone.
Cyber spies who steal state and corporate secrets and measures to deal with large-scale terrorist attacks were discussed at the meeting. Japan is hosting the G7 Summit (Ise-Shima Summit) next year and the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. It will need the cooperation not only of the United States but of other nations as well.
Another issue is how to deal with China’s reclamation of the South China Sea to build artificial islands. If China continues to behave like these islands are its territory and proceeds with their militarization, this may greatly restrict other countries’ “freedom of navigation.”
President Obama declared at the meeting that U.S. naval vessels will continue to sail within 12 nautical miles (approximately 22 kilometers) of the artificial islands to emphasize non-recognition of these islands as Chinese territory. Prime Minister Abe told him in return that Japan will consider operations by the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in the South China Sea based on an assessment of the potential “impact on Japan’s security.”
The South China Sea is a vital sea lane. Japan should indeed take on certain responsibilities to maintain security.
As a matter of fact, it is possible to send the SDF for surveillance operations or exercises even now. However, even utmost efforts by the U.S. and Japan alone will have a limited effect in restraining China’s aggressive actions. What is important here is for the two countries to cooperate closely with countries contiguous to the South China Sea to build a mechanism to pressure China to exercise restraint.
The SDF has engaged in joint exercises with the Philippine armed forces and has entered into a similar agreement with the Vietnamese military. Japan and the U.S. should also cooperate in providing equipment to these countries to help them build a maritime security capability.