TOKYO: Japan’s military may join US forces on patrol in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the nation’s top uniformed officer said in an interview published Thursday, as Tokyo seeks a greater security role.
China’s recent moves to build artificial islands have created “very serious potential concerns” for Japan, Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the Joint Staff of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF), said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
“We don’t have any plans to conduct surveillance in the South China Sea currently but depending on the situation, I think there is a chance we could consider doing so,” the admiral was quoted as saying.
Kawano did not specify what actions by China might trigger the Japanese to consider starting patrols, the journal reported, and any activity by Japan’s military beyond its borders would likely raise concerns at home.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed for what he calls a normalization of the officially pacifist nation’s military posture.
But because he was unable to muster public support to amend the pacifist Constitution imposed by the United States after World War II, Abe opted instead to reinterpret it.
He wants to loosen restrictions that have bound the SDF to a narrowly defensive role for decades and proposed legislation that would allow the military greater scope to act.
This week Japan and the Philippines flew patrol planes near disputed waters.
Beijing is reclaiming land to build islands in the West Philippine Sea, with facilities it says will be used for both civilian and military purposes.
The sea is a busy shipping lane, where the United States says Beijing has built 800 hectares of artificial islands. China claims almost all the South China Sea.
Parts of the sea are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.
Kawano said he hoped to see more military cooperation with South Korea, an area that has suffered because of disagreements between Tokyo and Seoul over wartime history, the Wall Street Journal said.
The two neighbors exchanged warmer words in the past few days as they marked 50 years of ties.
“Once the relations are normalized on political levels, I believe movements will emerge on our [military]levels,” Kawano was quoted as saying.
He said Japan would also like to conduct more joint exercises with Australia and India.
Abe has long criticized what he describes as China’s attempts to change the status quo by force, mindful of Japan’s own territorial dispute with Beijing over islands in the East China Sea that are the destination for Chinese boats and planes.
China to deploy fighter jets
A Hong Kong newspaper has reported that territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea seem unlikely to ease in the near future, given the almost-completion of Chinese runways on reclaimed land and Beijing’s possible deployment of J-11 fighter jets there.
According to a report in the South China Morning Post that quoted unnamed analysts, the jets, built based on the Soviet-designed Su-27, would be limited to a defensive role because it is an older model outclassed by aircraft in the US Air Force.
The report said the J-11s have a range of 1,500 kilometers, which can be extended with additional fuel tanks.
“Setting up operations on the islands would move the reach of China’s air force about 1,000 km further south, and in conjunction with the Liaoning aircraft carrier, take China toward its stated goal of moving away from offshore defense to open-sea protection,” it said.
David Tsui, a military expert at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, said the J-11s are only enough to defend the seven islands claimed by China in the region but are not sophisticated enough to be used in an attack, the report said.
China’s key rival will be the United States, and Beijing knows that if its military uses coercive measures or force to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the US will definitely interfere, Tsui was cited as saying.
“China’s first carrier-based jet, the J-15, might be advanced enough to challenge the US F-18, but the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s main fighter jets, the J-11 and its variants, cannot compete with the F-22 and F-35 currently deployed by the US,” he said.