Japan’s S.China Sea policy lacks foundation

By Liu Di Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-7 0:08:02

Meddling in the South China Sea is a big shift in Japan's strategy toward China. What does this shift mean to the US, ASEAN, Sino-Japanese relations and Japan itself?

China takes a firm stand that it has the sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and that territorial or maritime disputes should be solved in a peaceful way; joint development in the area is feasible before the problem is settled. Any condemnation from the US or Japan of China's exercise of sovereignty over the South China Sea is unacceptable in Beijing's eyes.

Today, the fact that the South China Sea issue has become so tense has a lot to do with the involvement of the US. The US claims not to hold a position toward the sovereignty issue, yet it holds joint military drills with Japan and Australia and even offers support or assistance to the Philippines and Vietnam, under the guise of safeguarding the freedom of navigation.

Using the South China Sea issue to contain China is an "innovation" of Japan's policy toward China. This policy has highly aroused the vigilance of the Chinese government, and it was reported by the Kyodo News Agency in late February that Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida's proposal to visit China this spring was rejected.

Obviously, in the South China Sea issue, Tokyo infuriates Beijing, bringing some uncertainties to the Sino-Japanese relationship.

On the part of Beijing, Japan is not a claimant of the South China Sea, hence its frequent meddling in the region undoubtedly exposes its malevolence.

The Japanese government has raised many policies to contain China, such as "the arc of freedom and prosperity" and "value diplomacy." The South China Sea policy is Japan's latest attempt to build a net to contain China.

Meanwhile, by getting involved in the South China Sea disputes, Japan hopes to gain more market shares and raw materials from ASEAN. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may also seek a maritime alliance to consolidate its status in Asia.

However, Japan's meddling in the South China Sea issue lacks the good foundation and flexible techniques which the US uses in its policy toward China. Although the US still acts as the world police, facing China, it apparently has two strings to its bow.

The US has to manifest its hegemony in the South China Sea. But as the US claims to protect "the freedom of navigation" and sends cruisers to the waters within 12 nautical miles of islands controlled by China, senior officials and the militaries of both sides have remained in frequent contact. But such contact is very thin between China and Japan politically and militarily.

Besides, given its decreasing national strength, Japan cannot offer more resources to assist ASEAN, which will lead to a gradual decline of Japan's impact on ASEAN. Many ASEAN countries do not favor or even oppose the construction of a united front against China concerning the South China Sea issue. Even in Vietnam and the Philippines, their domestic politics are not completely in favor of taking hard-line policies toward China.

Nowadays, the biggest share of the foreign trade of almost all ASEAN countries is from trade with China. China has frequent exchanges of personnel, goods and capital with ASEAN, exerting a huge influence on those countries and forming a very firm communication tradition with them. Therefore, it is neither feasible nor reliable for Japan to deal with China through articulating a value alliance or a nationalistic alliance.

The shift of Japan's diplomatic focus to the South China Sea as well as its emphasis on encircling China may result in two prospects. China's development may be slowed, meanwhile the economic relationship between Japan and ASEAN will be promoted. Besides, Japan can regain the feeling of being an Asian giant. Yet it may also have adverse effects on Japan.

The political relationship between China and Japan will deteriorate, which will indirectly influence the share of Japanese products in the Chinese market. And the US may make concessions to China on the South China Sea issue, putting Japan out of business, as China is familiar with the US mentality and is willing to change diplomatic and economic resources for the common good.

Like the settlement of border disputes with other countries, a proper solution to the South China Sea issue can be found by China and related countries in the future. At that time, ASEAN countries may adopt favorable policies toward China, reeling in Japan's attempts to meddle in the South China Sea.

The author is a professor with Kyorin University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: Viewpoint, South China Sea Focus

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