(Nikkei: November 23, 2015 – p. 2)
No matter how much economic integration advances, it will be hard for Asia to continue to enjoy high growth if the foundations of security are rocked. Countries must cooperate together more and put in place a framework for the protection of the maritime order in the region.
The leaders of Japan, the United States, South Korea, China, Australia, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered in Malaysia to engage in discussions on security issues. After holding individual meetings, all the country leaders gathered together for the ASEAN Summit on Nov. 22.
One focus of the discussions was China’s activities to create artificial islands in the South China Sea and develop them into military installations. Under international law, land reclaimed on reefs that are submerged at high tide cannot be recognized as islands that have territorial waters. However, China is treating the artificial islands as if they were its territory.
At [recent] conferences, Japan and the United States have strongly criticized China’s creation of artificial islands and urged China not to use them as military installations. Almost all other leaders also urged at the East Asia Summit that “freedom of navigation” be secured and a peaceful resolution found to the South China Sea issue.
In response, China is taking the position that Japan, the United States, and other nations outside the region should not get involved in the matter. The South China Sea, however, has sea lanes that are important for the [entire] world. China’s stance is absolutely unacceptable.
The only way to restrain China’s actions is for nations to join together and urge it to exercise self-restraint. What is of concern is that ASEAN members are not cooperating together on this. The Philippines and other nations that have territorial disputes with China take the same stance as Japan and the United States; however, Cambodia and other countries sharing a border with China and receiving a large amount of economic assistance from Beijing are cautious about criticizing China.
It is thought that China is leveraging aid as a tool of diplomacy to put strong pressure on ASEAN members to refrain from criticizing it. If the gap in viewpoint grows wider, it will mean that continued aggressive action by China will be tolerated.
To prevent that kind of situation, it is critical that two measures be taken. First, we must work to unify the various viewpoints by further enhancing dialogue with the relevant nations. For example, one possibility is to create a defense ministers conference among Japan, the United States, Australia, and ASEAN.
On that basis, it is important is to enhance ASEAN nations’ maritime patrol capabilities so that together they can confront China’s unilateral actions. We would like to see Japan and the United States together set about providing patrol boats and assisting with the development of human resources.