Andrew Shearer: One way forward in the South China Sea


Officers aboard a Soryu submarine of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force during a fleet review at Sagami Bay, off Yokosuka, south of Tokyo in this Oct. 15, 2015 file photo. © Reuters
With tensions rising daily in the South China Sea, Russia modernizing its Pacific naval fleet, an increasingly unpredictable nuclear-armed North Korea next door, and Chinese planes and ships intruding frequently into airspace and waters it claims, no country has a greater stake than Japan in maintaining stability in the Western Pacific.

For more than 70 years, Japan and the rest of Asia — including China — have benefitted enormously from the region’s remarkable economic integration underpinned by the rules-based international order. In the Asia-Pacific region, that order has rested squarely on a commitment to open economies, inclusive regional institutions, and freedom of navigation — buttressed by U.S. alliances and the forward American military presence, including in Japan.

Today this order is coming under serious strain, with potentially damaging consequences for Japan and the wider region. In the U.S., election-season rhetoric that seems to cast doubt over Washington’s commitment to its allies can only stoke their anxiety.

Yet Japan does not have to resign itself to an uncertain future. Unlike China or Russia, Japan has serious, capable friends and allies who share both its commitment to democracy, the rule of law and the liberal world order and its strategic priorities in Asia. In particular, stronger Japanese maritime cooperation with Australia and the U.S. would help to sustain a balance of power in Asia Pacific that supports these principles and interests, deters potential adversaries, and reinforces Japan’s efforts under the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to make a greater contribution to international security.