Despite competing claims and rising tensions, China insists it maintains territorial sovereignty over the South China Sea.
JAPAN has announced its intention to step up its activity in the disputed South China Sea region.
Japanese Defense Minister Tomoomi Inada said the country will conduct joint training patrols with the United States and bilateral and multilateral exercises with regional navies, Reuters reports.
Inada justified the decision by saying Japan shared similar concerns with the US about China’s rise to power and aggressive pursuit of territorial claims.
“In this context, I strongly support the US Navy’s freedom-of-navigation operations, which go a long way to upholding the rules-based international maritime order,” she said.
“Japan, for its part, will increase its engagement in the South China Sea through, for example, Maritime Self-Defense Force joint training cruises with the US Navy and bilateral and multilateral exercises with regional navies,” she said.
This is despite the fact that Japan has no territorial claims or interests of its own in the South China Sea.
It only serves to heighten tensions in the already-heated dispute, as China grapples with Vietnam, the Philippines and other allies including the United States over territorial claims.
Whether Japan should risk asserting itself now is debatable.
Earlier this year, China warned Japan to keep its Self Defence Forces (SDF) out of the dispute.
Chinese ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, told a Japanese official Tokyo would “Cross a red line” if it was to take part in a freedom of navigation operation, the Japan Times reported.
It’s also potentially a serious issue given the country is already locked in more serious tensions with China over the East China Sea dispute.
The East China Sea has caused controversy for several years. China’s vessels have repeatedly sailed into disputed waters, angering the opposing nation.
Australian National University’s Australia-Japan Research Centre co-director Shiro Armstrong told news.com.au the region has the potential to be a “big problem” if any of the nations made a major faux-pas.
“Both the South China Sea and East China Sea are worrying and potential points of miscalculation,” Dr Armstrong said.
“Mistakes can escalate, and both seas involve enough interest by really big players, so they’re the ones to worry about and pay close attention to.”
Inada has said she is open to engaging in constructive dialogue with China to prevent collisions between their forces, both at sea and in the air.