SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Japan will help Southeast Asian nations build their security capabilities to deal with unilateral, dangerous and coercive actions in the South China Sea, Japan’s defense minister said on Saturday, in pointed remarks directed at Beijing.
“In the South China Sea we have been witnessing large-scale and rapid land reclamation, building of outposts and utilization of them for military purposes,” Japanese Minister of Defence Gen Nakatani said during a speech at a regional security conference in Singapore on Saturday, without mentioning China directly. “No countries can be an outsider of this issue,” he added.
Tokyo is worried that Chinese control of a waterway through which some $5 trillion of global trade passes a year would threaten Japan’s national security and take Beijing one step closer to extending its influence into the East China Sea and Western Pacific.
China claims most of the South China Sea, a resource-rich region scattered with hundreds of reefs and small islands, and says it is entitled to build “defensive facilities” on its territory.
To help the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations deal with China’s expansion, Japan is helping them improve surveillance capabilities, conducting joint training exercises and cooperating in developing new equipment, Nakatani said.
“I think it is important to improve regional countries’ capabilities by…combining joint training, capacity building assistance and defense equipment and technology cooperation,” Nakatani said at the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) gathering.
In May, Japan announced its first ever direct overseas military aid with a provisional agreement to lease five TC-90 King Air planes to the Philippines to be used as patrol planes. Manila also wants used Japanese Lockheed Martin P3-C patrol planes to track Chinese submarines near its waters.
Japan, emerging from a decades-long period of pacifism, is seeking closer military ties with Vietnam, Indonesia and other nations surrounding the South China Sea.
Nakatani also described China’s recent air interception of a U.S. military reconnaissance plane as “extremely dangerous,” and reiterated Japan’s support for Washington’s challenges to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea by sending naval vessels close to reclaimed islands being built by Beijing.
The U.S. last month said two Chinese J-11 fighter jets flew within 50 feet (15 meters) of the U.S. EP-3 aircraft east of Hainan island.
Nakatani called on all South China Sea claimants to submit to what is expected to be landmark legal ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague where the Philippines is challenging Beijing’s claim to territory stretching deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.
“Every judgment or decision made by related courts must be fully observed by all claimants in accordance with relevant international law,” the Japanese minister said.
China has argued the court does not have jurisdiction in the dispute and says it will not abide by any ruling.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly and Masayuki Kitano; Editing by Lincoln Feast)