By Maeda Takeo, political news department
The government has launched a Japanese version of “freedom of navigation operations” by Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) destroyers in a bid to put the brakes on China’s unilateral activities in the South China Sea through concrete action.
For Japan, a maritime state that relies on sea transportation for more than 99% of the total trade volume, the South China Sea is a particularly important sea lane for transporting petroleum resources and other items. Ensuring freedom of navigation based on international law as well as maintaining maritime order are directly linked to Japan’s national interest.
China is rapidly boosting its military muscle and defines the sovereignty of the South China Sea as a “core interest” that it can never relinquish. But such a claim by China was rejected by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, in a ruling issued in 2016. Ignoring the rule of law and unilaterally trying to extend maritime hegemony will only foster distrust of China among the international community.
While the U.S. carries out “freedom of navigation” operations within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial islands, Japan has its vessels sail through waters outside the 12-nautical-mile radius. Japan needs to keep sending a message to China by taking a realistic approach that avoids a volatile situation while advocating what must be advocated.