(Tokyo Shimbun: November 21, 2015 – p. 5)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to the South China Sea will be considered. Although China’s building of artificial islands, which impede freedom of navigation, is unacceptable, a solution should be found through diplomatic negotiations. SDF deployment must not be the only option.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Manila on Nov. 19.
During the 90-minute meeting, Obama indicated that the U.S. will continue to send naval vessels within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial islands under “Operation Freedom of Navigation” to restrain its island-building efforts. Abe voiced support for this operation.
Although Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated yesterday that “the SDF has no plans to participate in ‘Operation Freedom of Navigation'” and that “there are no concrete plans at this point,” the U.S. undoubtedly hopes for SDF deployment in the South China Sea.
The background to this is that under Abe’s policy of “proactive pacifism,” Japan-U.S. defense cooperation can extend “beyond the Asia-Pacific region” in accordance with the Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Guidelines agreed upon last April. The security laws enacted in September also enable the SDF to provide logistic support to the U.S. forces beyond Japan’s periphery.
Japan is a maritime nation and a trading state. Violation of freedom of navigation in a sea lane vital to the people’s livelihood is indeed impermissible.
It goes without saying that Japan should cooperate with the U.S., another maritime nation, in safeguarding the international legal principle of freedom of navigation.
However, responding with military force is undesirable because this may result in an arms race or accidental conflict.
Even if the P-3Cs based in Naha are dispatched to the South China Sea, they will only be able to engage in surveillance and reconnaissance for a limited time. Therefore, routine deployment of the SDF is unrealistic.
The only way to persuade China to exercise restraint and respect freedom of navigation is to work patiently with the international community. We hope that the ASEAN and East Asia Summits opening in Malaysia today will be an opportunity for doing so. (Slightly abridged)