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Editorial: Japan, U.S. must maintain alliance with eye on China’s maritime push

The political systems of Japan and the United States are both approaching turning points this autumn. It is important to build up security cooperation so as not to open a “power vacuum” in Asia.


Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper met face-to-face in Guam for the first time in about seven months.


The defense chiefs agreed to strengthen a defense network against North Korea’s ballistic missiles and oppose China’s attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. They also reaffirmed their intention to apply Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which obliges the United States to defend Japan, to the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.


With the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region becoming increasingly severe, it is significant for Japan and the United States to steadily promote their defense cooperation.


Despite repeated protests by the Japanese government, Chinese government ships have again and again intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the islands. When two Chinese government ships tried to approach a Japanese fishing boat, a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat interposed itself between them.


The JCG and the Self-Defense Forces must cooperate in intensively conducting warning and surveillance activities in the surrounding waters. It is also urgent to deploy SDF units in the Nansei Islands.


The SDF and the U.S. military resumed a joint exercise in the East China Sea, which had been suspended due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Their primary objectives are to practice fighter-plane tactics and refueling them over the sea. In order to prevent infections, direct human interaction is restricted in the drill. It is hoped that they will devise ways to maintain deterrence.


When Japan, the United States, Australia and others conducted a biannual joint exercise in waters around Hawaii, the Chinese military carried out a large-scale exercise in the South China Sea, the Yellow Sea and elsewhere as if to counter the U.S.-led joint drill.


China is building artificial islands in the South China Sea to make them military bases. The United States does not intend to tolerate this move by China, and will increase its involvement in the South China Sea. The Chinese military fired four medium-range ballistic missiles into the sea area in late August in an apparent attempt to hold the United States in check.


China should not heighten military tensions. It must admit that its hegemonic actions have created anxiety in the region.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced his resignation, and the U.S. presidential election will be held in November. Political instability could heighten the risk of conflict.


Japan and the United States need to be more vigilant to ensure that no gaps appear in the bilateral alliance. It is important for Cabinet members, vice-minister-level officials, uniformed personnel and others to hold multilayered discussions to prepare for contingencies. It is also essential to continue efforts to urge China to exercise self-restraint.


Japan, the United States, Australia and India plan to hold high-level security talks. In order to maintain maritime order, it is reasonable to aim to promote the “free and open Indo-Pacific initiative.” It is worth considering a joint exercise by the four countries.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 1, 2020.

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