US-Japan joint patrol plan in South China Sea stemmed by ulterior motives

By Li Kaisheng Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-8 22:13:01

The idea of joint patrols in the South China Sea has captured headlines in the international media recently. After conducting a joint military drill with the Philippines around the disputed sea, Chief of Staff of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Katsutoshi Kawano said in an interview that Japan would consider joining a US-led joint patrol in the South China Sea. Japan has been encouraged by the US. Robert Thomas, commander of the US 7th Fleet, who said earlier this year that Japan should start patrolling the South China Sea, and ASEAN navies should also do the same. Besides, there are also voices proposing a China-ASEAN joint patrol in the South China Sea.

Each of the suggestions about "joint patrols" offered by different countries actually has various motives behind them. Which one can really serve the stability and peace of the region depends on whether it can get all relevant parties involved to shelve their disagreements and seek cooperation.

No claimant will easily compromise on territorial disputes because territorial integrity is at the core of national dignity and interest. Therefore, any discussion about the South China Sea should take into account the fact that disputes cannot be addressed for good at one stroke or in a short period of time. In order to keep the region peaceful and stable, the most realistic way is to put aside disputes and nurture common interests and fields for cooperation.

However, a joint patrol in the South China Sea by Japan and the US will only serve as a complication to the regional situation. Both countries are neither claimants nor neighboring states to the South China Sea, and there is no single international organization that has authorized them to do so.

Since both countries have made public statements that they will stay neutral and won't pick sides in the South China Sea disputes, why on earth do they want to conduct a joint patrol?

As for the US, protecting the freedom of navigation is the major excuse it uses for its interference in the South China Sea. But apparently, Washington's "concern" has no reference in reality.

For years in the South China Sea, no foreign civilian vessels have been impeded by China if their passage is valid; there are also no international economic and civilian activities that, as long as they are legal in the region, have been hampered by China. It is only when the US deployed warplanes to spy on China that China sent out warnings and took the necessary actions. Washington's hypocritical concern about "freedom of navigation" is actually a disguise of its fear for losing "freedom of military abuse."

As for Japan, it doesn't disguise its intention to counter China's rise. Tokyo has openly voiced its "grave concerns" about China's construction works on some islands within its sovereignty in the South China Sea. Japan's advocacy for a joint patrol with the US reflects nothing but its ambition to engage in a geopolitical game against China. China won't just sit by and do nothing in this case. It might launch countermeasures if the US and Japan continue to be aggressive and cross the red-line.

As for ASEAN, if they carry out a joint patrol due to the incitement of the US, they will eventually find themselves being Washington's pawn to contain China. It will only embroil the entire South China Sea into a major-power rivalry, and the region will probably have to endure turbulence from which no ASEAN country will benefit.

After all, not all joint patrols are designed for the greater good. And interference by external powers in the South China Sea could only create more confrontations, further complicating and intensifying the disputes. 

The author is an associate research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

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