TOKYO (Japan Times): As tension mounts in the South China Sea over the U.S. military’s recent patrol challenging China’s territorial claims there, speculation has centered on what action Japan may take in the region.
On Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe struck a robust posture, telling a symposium in Tokyo he plans to rally international cooperation on upholding maritime rule of law during the Group of 20 summit in Ankara and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Manila this month.
Some senior U.S. military and diplomatic officials have pressed Abe to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces on joint patrols with the United States in the South China Sea.
Abe may well calculate that it is in Japan’s interests to do so, given its strategic investments in the region, as vast amounts of cargo is shipped to and from the country through the area every day. It is also inarguably important to maintain the military alliance with the United States.
But senior government officials The Japan Times has spoken to say nothing like that is on the cards.
The three individuals, who are familiar with Japan’s decision-making processes on security policies, say the nation is not entertaining sending a Self-Defense Force unit to join patrols being carried out by the U.S. military.
One of the three, who is a senior Defense Ministry official, said the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) does not have a large enough capacity to deploy patrol airplanes and destroyers in both the South and East China seas at the same time.
“Nobody at the Defense Ministry is now thinking of sending the SDF to the South China Sea,” the ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Now, our priority is on the East China Sea. We need to concentrate on it first,” the official said.