Amid rising tensions in the disputed South China Sea, the latest in a series of provocative joint military exercises took place between the Philippines and Japan. This despite the fact that Japan doesn’t even have an official claim in the region.
The exercises coincide with Japan’s plan to coordinate coastguard search and rescue operations with Vietnam this week.
The South China Sea is a hotly contested region. While China stakes a claim on roughly 90% of the area, there are disputed, overlapping claims by Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia. Japan has no official territorial claim in the sea, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated his nation’s interest in ensuring free travel through the region. Nearly $5 trillion in trade passes through the South China Sea each year.
The exercises could be meant as a clear signal to Beijing.
“But in a low-key, but understandable, manner it’s sending a message to the Chinese leadership that ‘Even if you use force to expand your sphere of influence, there is a limit to what you can do and the other countries in the region are willing to stop it,'” Narushige Michishita, of Tokyo’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, told Reuters.
That “growing influence” refers in part to China’s construction of artificial islands in the Spratly Archipelago. The United States and its allies have called those island reclamation projects illegal, though Beijing has maintained it has every right to build within its own territory.
In the face of these latest exercises, China has urged for calm.
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