By Kojiro Tanikawa, political news department
Japan and China are expanding friendly relations on the political level. But the Japanese government is trying to maintain and strengthen the deterrence capability on the security front. One senior official of the Ministry of Defense says, “It’s important to show Japan’s determination not to tolerate any forceful change of the status quo in the East and South China seas.”
Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya met with his Australian counterpart, Linda Reynolds, in Singapore on June 1. He said, “Cooperation between Japan and Australia will become more important to maintain and strengthen the free and open Indo-Pacific.” Iwaya also held a trilateral meeting with Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Reynolds.
Tokyo adopted the new National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) in December last year. In the NDPG, it stipulated that it will “strategically promote multi-faceted and multi-layered security cooperation” with China’s maritime expansion in mind. This means Japan wants to increase the number of cooperating countries in agreement with the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” initiative with the Japan-U.S. alliance at the core.
The Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Izumo helicopter carrier participated in the joint exercises involving Japan, France, the U.S., and Australia for the first time in the Indian Ocean from May 19 to 22. After the middle of this month, the Izumo will make a series of calls at ports in Vietnam, Brunei, and the Philippines, which have territorial issues with China in the South China Sea, and conduct joint drills with each nation’s navy. The series of drills are intended to show the progress of multinational cooperation. The MSDF separately held joint exercises with the U.S. Navy and the Indian Navy in waters near the U.S. territory of Guam in June last year.
China’s maritime expansion is of especial concern because of the Nansei Islands, which include the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. Chinese public vessels are repeatedly entering the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands. They have entered the contiguous zone for the 51st straight day as of June 1, a record number since Japan nationalized the islands in September 2012.
The government plans to reinforce the air defenses of the East China Sea and other places with an eye toward China’s increased activities. So it will remodel the destroyers Izumo and Kaga to enable them to carry U.S.-made F-35B cutting-edge stealth fighters. It is also considering allowing U.S. military aircraft to land on the destroyers.