Warfare exercises in the disputed South China Sea over the past two months reveal a sustained, long-term escalation of Japanese activity in a region where Tokyo has strategic interests that include keeping Beijing in check, VOA reports.
In September a Japanese submarine, helicopter carrier and two destroyers explored the sea contested by six governments, with China the most militarily powerful. The exercise is part of a two-month initiative called Indo Southeast Asia Deployment 2018, designed to promote “interoperability with our partner navies,” the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force says on its website.
Then, on Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to work with Vietnam on security in the South China Sea. Two days earlier his forces had held a beach-storming drill with their counterparts in the Philippines.
Japan lacks a claim to the South China Sea, a 3.5 million-square-kilometer waterway stretching from Hong Kong to Borneo, as Vietnam and the Philippines do. But it wants to keep shipping lanes and other resource channels open, while muting China’s growing control that includes artificial islands for military infrastructure. Tokyo, a U.S. ally, also vies with Beijing in a separate dispute over the East China Sea.