Friday, June 26, 2015

• Japan's Top Military Officer: Joint US-Japanese Patrols in South China Sea a Possibility By Franz-Stefan Gady

Will the Japanese Navy expand into the South China Sea with regular patrols?

Japan’s highest ranking military officer reiterated that Tokyo would consider joining U.S. Forces in conducting patrols in the South China Sea, the Wall Street Journal reports today.


According to Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the Joint Staff of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, Japan remains deeply concerned over China’s recent constructions of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

While noting that China’s activities have created “very serious potential concerns” for Tokyo, he also emphasized that as of now there are no concrete plans for the Japan’s Maritime-Self Defense Force (JMSDF) to patrol the 3,500,000 square kilometers (1,400,000 square miles) of the South China Sea:

Of course, the area is of the utmost importance for Japanese security. 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. (…)

In the case of China, as we can see with the South China Sea problem, they are rapidly expanding their naval presence and their defense spending is still growing. Also because there is a lack of transparency, we are very concerned about China’s actions.

Admiral Kawano was appointed Chief of Staff of the Joint Staff Council in October 2014. In April this year, the United States and Japan revised a set of guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation that included bilateral pledges towards safeguarding sea lines of communications. “The alliance with the U.S. is our foundation. That’s how we build deterrence,” Kawano emphasized.

The United States military apparently would support Japan’s move into the South China Sea. “I view the South China Sea as international water, not territorial water of any country, and so Japan is welcome to conduct operations on the high seas as Japan sees fit,” noted Admiral Harry Harris, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, earlier this month in Tokyo.

As one of colleagues pointed out last month (see: “US-Japan Joint Patrols in the South China Sea?”) a number of obstacles still would have to be overcome in order for joint U.S.-Japanese patrols in the South China Sea to become reality. These include, among other things, revised domestic legislation and successfully negotiating an agreement with Manila over access to Philippine military bases for Japanese aircraft and vessels in order to be capable of patrolling larger stretches of ocean in the South China Sea.

There is also the question of capacity within the JMSDF and whether it could keep up a regular patrol schedule given the current size of the Japanese Navy. As I have noted before (see: “This is Japan’s Best Strategy to Defeat China at Sea”), the JMSDF is a highly capable navy and it is technologically more advanced, more experienced, and more highly trained than its main competitor – the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

Yet, in the long-run, the JMSDF and the Japanese Coast Guard (JCG) – Tokyo’s principle enforcer of maritime law – are at a relative disadvantage if one looks at the burgeoning naval rearmament program of China, which is gradually shifting the regional maritime balance in Beijing’s favor.

 


The Self-Defense Forces may join U.S. forces on patrol in the South China Sea, Japan’s top uniformed officer said in an interview published Thursday, as Tokyo seeks a greater security role in the region.

China’s recent moves to build artificial islands have created “very serious potential concerns” for Japan, Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the SDF Joint Staff, 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 country’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 re-interpret 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 South China Sea waters.

Beijing is reclaiming land to build islands in the South China 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 2,000 acres (800 hectares) of artificial islands.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Parts of the sea are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

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 journal said.

The two neighbors have 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.

A Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force Lockheed P-3C Orion patrol aircraft is pictured on the tarmac before taking off as part of a joint training exercise with the Philippines. Source: AFP 
South China Sea Patrols: Japan may join US
YUKA HAYASHI
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Japan’s military may join US forces in conducting regular patrols in the South China Sea, according to the nation’s top uniformed officer, underscoring how China’s territorial claims are encouraging Tokyo to play a greater role in regional security.

Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the Joint Staff of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, said in an interview that China’s recent moves to build artificial islands have created “very serious potential concerns” for Japan, a trading nation that relies on the sea lane that runs through the area.

“Of course, the area is of the utmost importance for Japanese security,” Adm. Kawano said. “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.”

Admiral Kawano didn’t specify what actions by China might trigger Japanese consideration of patrols, and any activity by Japan’s military beyond its borders would likely raise concerns at home.

However, Japan’s participation would be a welcome move for the US, which has sought to rely more on allies to provide peacekeeping in the region. “I view the South China Sea as international water, not territorial water of any country, and so Japan is welcome to conduct operations on the high seas as Japan sees fit,” said Adm. Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, at a briefing in Tokyo earlier this month.

Troops from Japan’s navy have been conducting joint drills this week with the Philippine navy around Palawan Island, just a few hundred kilometres from the Spratly Islands, which are at the heart of a territorial dispute between Beijing and Manila. The session features Japan’s P-3C surveillance aircraft, which Adm. Kawano described as having “a superb ability for detecting submarines and other objects in the water.”

The US has pledged to send aircraft and naval ships to contest China’s claims, and Australia already runs military patrols.

Adm. Kawano took the helm of the military late last year as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was seeking to ease decades-old self-imposed restrictions on the nation’s Self-Defense Forces. Mr. Abe has cited China’s military build-up and North Korea’s nuclear-weapons development for the shift.

“In the case of China, as we can see with the South China Sea problem, they are rapidly expanding their naval presence and their defence spending is still growing,” Adm. Kawano said. “Also because there is a lack of transparency, we are very concerned about China’s actions.”

Asked about Adm. Kawano’s comments, a Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman said China’s construction activities in the Spratly Islands “are entirely a matter within our sovereignty, which is beyond reproach.” The spokesman said countries outside the region shouldn’t try to raise tensions with military intervention “which will only cause an adverse impact.”

In April, Japan and the U.S. revised the guidelines for their defence cooperation for the first time in 18 years, allowing Japan to contribute more to peacekeeping in Asia. Mr. Abe now must pass a set of bills to change domestic laws governing his pacifist nation’s military, a challenge given the caution expressed by politicians even within his own coalition.

Adm. 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. A sign of a thaw came this week when leaders of both nations attended events marking the 50th anniversary of normalising diplomatic relations.

“Once the relations are normalised on political levels, I believe movements will emerge on our levels,” Adm. Kawano said.

He said Japan would also like to conduct more joint exercises with Australia and India. “I believe the Japan Self-Defense Forces boast an extremely high level of proficiency,” Adm. Kawano said. “We can have a positive impact on other militaries.”

He praised closer ties with the U.S. Japan’s navy now has an officer stationed at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon. “The alliance with the U.S. is our foundation. That’s how we build deterrence,” he said.



A brief look at the idea in the wake of recent discussions.
Over the past few weeks, media reports have suggested that Japan and the United States are considering having the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and US military conduct joint patrols and surveillance in the South China Sea.

On April 19, Jiji Press reported that the Japanese government would discuss the issue cautiously with the United States as the two countries were revising their defense guidelines. And on April 29, Reuters cited defense sources as saying that while no concrete plans were formulated, discussions have been occurring within the Japanese military, with Tokyo looking to join U.S. patrols in the South China Sea or operating patrols in rotation from Okinawa on the edge of the East China Sea.

The general idea has been discussed before by both U.S. and Japanese officials. Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, said earlier this year that Washington would welcome Japanese air patrols in the South China Sea, and Japanese defense minister Gen Nakatani offered a case that would support Tokyo’s involvement. However, recent discussions seem to have gotten more specific.

The idea would be consistent with Japanese interests. Tokyo needs a stable South China Sea to protect its imports, and China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo have disrupted this stability and affected several Southeast Asian countries with which Japan has been cultivating closer ties. Furthermore, how Beijing handles territorial disputes in the South China Sea could have general implications for the East China Sea as well, even if the two cases differ in significant ways.

Even so, Japan will still have to take several steps before the idea becomes a reality. While there has been much speculation about what Tokyo and Washington can do under their new defense guidelines, Japanese officials have been stressing that proper domestic legislation must first be passed to allow Japan to undertake such moves. Yasuhisa Kawamura, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, told The Diplomat that Japan views the domestic legislation and the defense guidelines as “two tracks” that need to move in tandem. And while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a speech to Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA’s Second Annual Security Forum yesterday that the South China Sea situation “should go without saying,” the U.S.-Japan joint operation scenario he focused on in his address related to helping U.S. ships without adding much specificity about their geographical location.

Capacity is another challenge. As one senior official at Japan’s defense ministry pointed out, the SDF already has its hands full patrolling Japanese territory. Extending its activities in the South China Sea would also raise questions about adequate equipment and staffing.

The specifics of how these patrols would work could bring up additional issues as well. For example, a U.S. military source told Reuters that Japan could perhaps ask the Philippines for access to air bases under disaster relief training and other joint training exercises, thereby giving Japanese aircraft more range to stay out on patrol longer. However, as of now, Manila does not have an agreement with Tokyo that would allow this kind of access.

Of course, like many other things in the South China Sea, these realities too could change in the near future. But for now, there do seem to be a few steps left between considering US-Japan joint patrols in the South China Sea as an idea and putting it into practice.





Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3C surveillance plane touches down at an airport in Puerto Princesa on the western provincial island of Palawan, Philippines, following a training flight in a joint military exercise with the Philippines Navy.

By KEN MORITSUGU and JIM GOMEZ, Associated Press

Tiny Japanese navy drill with Philippines may lead to bigger role in South China Sea.

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines (AP) — A tiny military exercise in the Philippines this week may presage something much bigger: the entry of Japan into the tussle for control of the South China Sea.

A Japanese surveillance plane and about 20 troops conducted the first of two days of joint training with the Philippine navy on Tuesday off the coast of Palawan, a strategically important island not far from contested islands claimed by several countries including China and the Philippines.

While the P-3C plane was being used for maritime search-and-rescue drills and disaster relief drills, the aircraft is also a mainstay of Japan's anti-submarine and other aerial surveillance efforts. In theory, it could help the U.S. keep an eye on the Chinese navy in the South China Sea. Some experts think that's a possibility in coming years.

"It's likely we will see Japan doing joint surveillance and reconnaissance in the South China Sea in the coming years," said Narushige Michishita, a defense expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. "It is going to be with the U.S., Australia, the Philippines and others."

Others are less certain. Such a move would raise tensions with China, with which Japan already has a major territorial dispute over islands farther north in the East China Sea. It would face public opposition at home from those who want Japan's military to avoid getting entangled in overseas disputes. The military is already stretched, keeping an eye for example on North Korea and China in the East China Sea.

Takashi Manzen, speaking for the Japanese delegation, said the P-3C, which was manned by 13 Japanese flight crewmembers and accompanied by three Filipino military personnel, flew 100 kilometers (62 miles) westward from Palawan island with a Philippine navy islander toward the South China Sea in a mock search for a missing ship.

While the Philippines and Japan can possibly hold similar drills in the future, Manzen told The Associated Press that these would remain focused on improving disaster response, "not patrolling, not surveillance."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang expressed concern about the exercise.

"We hope that the sides in question do not play up and create tensions on purpose, and that any interactions between those countries would actually contribute to regional peace and stability, rather than the opposite," Lu told reporters at a regular briefing.

Philippine naval personnel flew on board the Japanese P-3C to observe operations and learn techniques and procedures, Col. Jonas Lumawag of the Philippine navy told reporters. The P-3C communicated with a smaller Philippine plane on a hypothetical search mission for a missing ship or plane.

Both Japanese and Philippine commanders stressed that the drill was to practice search-and-rescue, and said they weren't aware of any plans for joint patrols.

The exercise follows the first-ever joint drill between the two navies six weeks ago, and is part of a confluence of developments that suggest Japan may at least test the waters in the South China Sea. Consider this:

— Japan's parliament is debating legislation this summer that would loosen post-World War II restrictions on its military to allow it operate outside of the immediate area. Under questioning by opposition lawmakers, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said that could include patrols in the South China Sea in certain situations — though he added Japan has no current plans for that.

— The new head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, told the Japanese media on a recent visit to Tokyo that the P-3 aircraft, which the U.S. also uses, is well suited to patrol the South China Sea. He added that he welcomes Japan's willingness to play a larger role in regional security. The U.S. is looking for help from Japan, Australia and other allies as it confronts Chinese challenges to its naval dominance in the Pacific.

— The drill coincides with rising American criticism of China for reclaiming land and building structures on disputed islands and outcroppings in the South China Sea. Japanese officials are also openly critical of China's attempts to establish its territorial claims through construction.

"Certainly the current Japanese government seems to be seriously signaling that this is a possibility," said Corey Wallace, a security analyst joining the Freie Universitat in Berlin in July. "My sense is that the Japanese government is putting into place the necessary legal and military mechanisms as preparation ahead of making a final decision about whether to get more directly involved later down the track."


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