Japan should deepen defence ties with Asean: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (center) during the ASEAN-Japan Summit in Vientiane on Sept 7, 2016.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (center) during the ASEAN-Japan Summit in Vientiane on Sept 7, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Nov 20, the paper urges Tokyo to strengthen ties with the region given China's plans for the South and East China seas.

It is hoped that defence cooperation with Asean will be steadily deepened in consideration of China's maritime advancement in the South and East China seas.

A meeting of defence ministers from Japan and Asean countries has been held in Laos - the first of its kind to take place in two years, marking the second time such a gathering has been held.

Defence Minister Tomomi Inada announced a comprehensive package of support measures, the pillar of which included those aiming to secure the thorough observance of the rule of law in the sea and the air, as well as to promote capacity building for the military of each Asean nation.

The measures also seek to provide defence equipment and technical cooperation, while continuing to promote joint training, personnel development and other plans, as in the past.

Newly added steps are aimed at undertaking to build cyber defences and dispose of landmines and unexploded bombs.

It is important to appropriately grasp the diverse needs and problems of the Asean member nations, and then make strategic efforts in this respect.

In response to enhanced cooperation due to the establishment of the Asean Community in December last year, multi-tiered assistance covering more than one country will also be extended in addition to past separate defence cooperation for each nation.

The move seeks to widen the scope of training for specialists by Japan and equipment-related cooperation to cover more than one nation, thereby enabling countries involved to share information and technology.

Doing so will promote efforts to boost the capability of Asean as a whole and strengthen its members' unity. These aims can be viewed as reasonable.

AIM FOR RESTRAINT ON CHINA

In around 1990, Japan started defence exchanges with Asean nations, and our nation has been promoting separate defence cooperation with each member of the association since around 2000.

A case in point is detailed technical guidance provided by Self-Defence Forces personnel on such matters as those related to disaster relief activities and the construction and improvement of facilities.

These efforts have been held in high esteem.

It is desired that efforts will be made to further improve the quality of defence cooperation now and beyond.

In reference to the court of arbitration ruling that rejected China's claim to sovereignty rights in the South China Sea, Ms Inada said, "[THE RULING] constitutes final judgment binding upon parties [TO THE CASE], and it's important to settle [THE ISSUE]based on this."

She reportedly agreed with the Asean defence ministers regarding the necessity of securing the rule of law and resolving disputes in a peaceful manner.

This will serve as an indirect restraint on China.

In recent years, meanwhile, China has also been seeking to increase its provision of weapons and other assistance to Asean nations.

It is said that Thailand intends to buy submarines from China.

There are differences in the degree of interest with respect to the stances adopted by Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines in dealing with China, with the former two countries receiving a massive amount of economic assistance from China and the latter two locked in territorial disputes in the South China Sea with the nation.

There is no doubt that the Asean members have a desire to obtain assistance, with their eyes on both Japan and China to size up their respective moves.

Preserving the principle regarding the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is indispensable for Japan's efforts to secure the safety of sea lanes.

To prevent this situation from affecting the Chinese military's activities in the East China Sea, efforts should be made to proactively promote cooperation with Asean.

In facilitating such cooperation, it is important for Japan to closely coordinate with the United States and decide what kind of role each should assume in this respect, despite uncertainties about the intentions of US President-elect Donald Trump.

The Yomiuri Shimbun is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 media.