The Rearming of Japan and the South China Sea

Yesterday’s enemies are today’s alleys.

Philippines Backs Rearming of Japan

After all the horrors the Japanese inflicted on the Philippines, and in many Asian countries during World War Two (see Battle of Manila), it seems, for an instance, that we’re witnessing the diplomacy of a bizarre parallel world.

The South China Sea, one of the busiest waterways in the world, covers an area of 3,500,000 Km². Around $5 trillion worth of shipping goods move across these waters, and 10% of the world’s fish production is caught there. According to Chinese authorities, the sea basin might be holding oil reserves of 23 billion tons and 20 trillions m³ of natural gas.

With so much commercial and natural resources at stake, it’s no surprise that seven countries: China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei claim sovereignty over these waters, and if things weren’t complicated enough, the Chinese think the South China Sea, in its entirety, belongs to them.

See map:



China and the Philippines are disputing the control of the Scarborough Shoal, which contain rich fishing grounds, and oil and gas deposits. Last year Exxon Mobil found oil and gas offshore Vietnam, and in August 2012 the U.S. multinational bought three gas blocks in the area. The same month, the Philippines opened their offshore oil fields for bidding.

However, not a single one of the major energy companies showed a remote interest in exploiting those fields. “No one can afford to upset the Chinese and be marginalized in the Chinese market” said Gordon Kwan, a Chinese energy analyst. Four months before, China had announced deep water oil drills in the area. The Philippines blame China for the collapsed negotiations.

This last September, six Chinese ships entered Japanese territorial waters. The center of the controversy are the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan has been administered for years and now intends to buy from private investors. The Chinese Foreign Ministry defended its actions saying “the patrol activity is intended to demonstrate the jurisdiction of the Chinese government over the Diaoyu Islands and the adjacent islands, and also to protect the country’s naval interests.” The Japanese referred the Diaoyu islands by their Japanese name, Senkaku.

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The points of conflict in the Pacific
(Source: Der Spiegel)

China is not only clashing with Japan and the Philippines. See First Japan, Then India, Now Vietnam; China Unfriending Everyone. Since this past summer, the situation in that part of Asia has been escalating.

Three days after the Philippines announced their support for Japan’s rearming, the U.S. decided to increase its military presence in its former colony. Immediately, Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, told his military to “push forward preparations for a military struggle.”

On December 13 Japan scrambled up to eight F-15 fighter jets to intercept a Chinese surveillance plane, which had entered Japanese airspace. Three days later, Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, won elections. Abe, who is seen as a hawk in political circles, declared he wants “to stop the challenge” from China.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is slowly moving its military forces from the Middle East to the Pacific. On April a group of 200 U.S. Marines arrived in Darwin, Australia to set up a training base. The plan is to have a permanent force of 2,500 marines stationed there. Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillar, declared that “there are no U.S. military bases in Australia, and this will not change.”

According to Der Spiegel, the US Navy 7th Fleet, “will be expanded even further so that, by 2020, some 60 percent of all American warships will be stationed in the Pacific — more than in the Atlantic and also more than in the Persian Gulf, which has been considered the US Navy’s main focus in recent decades.”

History always repeats itself. China looks like the Soviet Union of the 21st Century, Japan resembles Germany, and the rest of Asia looks like Western Europe. If the U.S. wants to contain China, it has to allow the rearming of Japan and all of its Asian alleys, and also it has to strength commercial ties with all of them. That’s how the USSR was contained in the Cold War. The idea in itself doesn’t sound pretty, but what else can be done when a country alters the balance of power of a specific region?

It’s not like the Japanese never though of this idea before. Since 2009, Japan has launched two new helicopter carriers, the Hyuga and Ise, and it’s currently building an aircraft carrier, code name 22DDHH, which will be operational by 2014. Japan also increased the size of its submarine fleet and will replace the old F-15s with the new state of the art F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. How will these rearming be compatible with Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution? That’s something it will generate a lot of talk in the next years.


The new Japanese aircraft carrier 22DDHH (Source:

Please see Election tsunami may reshape Japanese defense policy

However, China shouldn’t be seen as the villain of this story. As a sovereign nation, China has all the right in the world to protect its economic interests. The problem is if China thinks that by claiming property of the entire South China Sea (and threatening all of its neighbors) is going to improve its international image, the Asian country might be in for a rude awakening.

Der Spiegel writes:

One country that could give China good advice, a country whose historians are well versed in naval policies and in arms races on the high seas, is Germany. A century ago, Berlin stood where Beijing is now, as an emerging economic power that was admired, envied and feared. At the time, Germany wanted a navy that would broadcast its self-confidence to the world, one that could rival the world’s greatest naval force of the era, the British Navy.

That plan almost succeeded. But it didn’t end well.

And I hope, that in this case, history doesn’t repeat itself.

The Intell Blog

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