Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Fumio Ota

【#293】Desired Japanese Engagement in South China Sea

Fumio Ota / 2015.04.09 (Thu)

April 6, 2015

     I was invited to make a presentation at a South China Sea international conference in Manila in late March. At the end of the gathering, conference sponsors adopted a declaration that demanded China to stop or delay the reclamation of shoals in the South China Sea, indicating Vietnam and the Philippines are sharing threats from and being united against China's expansion into the South China Sea.
     Meanwhile, at the Boao Forum meeting in Hainan that almost coincided with the Manila conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for turning the seas of Asia into seas of peace, friendship and cooperation for Asian countries. State Councilor Yang Jiechi there declared the year of ocean cooperation between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), advocating mutual confidence over maritime problems.
     "What China say are different from what it does," I said in my presentation. As I proposed to proactively disclose China's behaviors to the international community to cause China's loss of face that the Chinese are reluctant to see, I got applause from audience.

ASEAN aspires to see SDF presence
     The first question to me at the conference came from a young Vietnamese scholar, who asked if Japan's contributions to solving South China Sea problem are limited under the current Constitution, suggesting a hope to see amendments to the Constitution.
     Most of Vietnamese participants in the conference were aware that the United States was reluctant to engage in Vietnam again. ASEAN countries include many supported by Chinese economy and cannot be expected to get united against China. Thus I felt Vietnamese great hopes placed on Japan that they see as the only country to counterbalance China.
     A Philippines senator who had served as national security adviser to the president also expressed hopes on Japan's Self-Defense Forces in his presentation.
     In a separate seminar on Japan-U.S. security cooperation in Tokyo in March, multiple American panelists also voiced their hope to see Japan's positive engagement in ASEAN.
     In 1992, I was invited to a seminar on Asian security sponsored by the East-West Center in Hawaii. At the seminar just after Japan's decision to send SDF troops for the UN peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, a Vietnamese representative said the SDF should get out of Cambodia immediately after accomplishing the mission. Over the past quarter century, the Asian security environment has changed dramatically.

Japan should meet ASEAN hopes with legislation
     While diplomacy must be supported by economic and military power, postwar Japan has imposed unusual constraints on the military. Japan has national interests in the South China Sea to protect sea-lanes for importing energy resources from the Middle East. With ongoing efforts to develop new security legislation, Japan should meet hopes of ASEAN countries that are concerned about China's expansion and base construction in the South China Sea.

Fumio Ota, Ph.D., is a JINF Planning Committee Member and retired Vice Admiral of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.