JAPAN is willing to take on more roles in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea amid fractious territorial disputes between China and Asean members, government officials and scholars have said in Tokyo.
Although Japan is not a claimant in the South China Sea, it is concerned about the safety of sea lanes and freedom of navigation in the area, said Yuki Tamura, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry’s Regional Policy Division.
“About 80 per cent of our imported crude oil as well as other shipments are transported through the South China Sea,” said Tamura, who oversees the issue.
The South China Sea issue is directly connected to the peace and stability in the region and thus a matter of justifiable concern to the international community, including Japan, he said.
Japan has serious concerns over unilateral actions over territory including large-scale reclamation, the building of outposts and their use for military purposes, Tamura said.
With the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruling in favour of the Philippines against China over its expansive territorial claims in July, Japan expected that the parties’ compliance with the award would lead to peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea, he said.
While Japan wanted to see a peaceful solution based on international laws, it encouraged and supported countries in the region to bolster their defence capacity for maritime security, said another official who declined to be named. In recent years, he said, Japan had provided help under the Official Development Assistance scheme in the field of maritime security to the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Last week, Japan granted two patrol vessels belonging to the Japan Coast Guard to Malaysia. “This cooperation is also expected to help promote the ‘rule of law’ at sea and to further strengthen the relations between Japan and Malaysia,” a Japanese Foreign Ministry statement said.
Japanese scholars expected their government to do more to help countries in the South China Sea boost their maritime defence capacity.
“Another thing I think Japan and the US should do is to provide anti-ship and anti-air missiles [to these countries] because if the Philippines and Vietnam deployed such defence capabilities along their coastlines, that would actually deter China from setting up military bases in the South China Sea,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs.