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United States: Japanese Patrols Over South China Sea Welcomed By Carlyle A. Thayer

C3S Paper No. 0026/ 2015

Q1. What is your assessment of the U.S. Department of Defense’s endorsement of Vice Admiral Robert Thomas’ statement that the U.S. would welcome Japanese patrols in the South China Sea.

ANSWER: It appears The Pentagon is backing the Commander of the 7th Fleet who  first made these remarks. The key here is Admiral Thomas’ assessment that Japanese patrols would make sense in the future. In other words, a change in mission for the Japanese Self-Defense Force is likely to be included in the Japan-US Defense Guidelines that are being upgraded and revised. Japan has already committed itself to assisting the Philippines and Vietnam to raise their capacity for maritime security. Japanese participation would be a form of burden sharing with the United States as both hold similar concerns about Chinese naval, air and coast guard deployments. If Japanese patrols included combined patrols with Vietnam and the Philippines that would assist in their development. Japan’s new long-rang P-1 reconnaissance aircraft could temporarily stage out of the Philippines and share its information with the Philippines and other friendly states. While Japanese patrols would be primarily focused on China, they could offer assistance in dealing with piracy, illegal fishing, and other international criminal activity.

Q2. It is not surprising that the Defense Department’s comment has triggered fierce backlash from China which viewed it as further complicating the situation in South China Sea. It also accused the move of agitating the tensions between China and Japan. What is your assessment of China’s backlash?

ANSWER: China’s reaction is standard fare. It is designed to dissuade Japan from taking up Admiral Thomas’ suggestion. It is also designed to influence Southeast Asian states to oppose the proposal for its potential destabilizing impact on the region. And China is once again trying to draw artificial lines about who is a member of the region and who are outsiders. This is a confected view because Japan and the United States are maritime powers with vital national interests in freedom of navigation and overflight over the South China Sea.

(Article reprinted with the permission of the author Carlyle A. Thayer, Emeritus Professor,The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra email:

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