Japan has joined the hotline set up to promote swift cooperation between Asean defence ministers in times of emergency, becoming the first non-member nation of the 10-country bloc to do so.
The move comes as China’s military activity grows in the South China Sea and the Japanese government aims to strengthen its ties with Asean nations, Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported on Tuesday.
Asean states are strategically located between two global economic powers, China and India, and the region’s maritime route is vital for global trade.
Japan joined the hotline earlier in March, allowing Tokyo to contact all 10 Asean countries – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – either individually or all at once.
The hotline was set up in 2015 to make it easier for Asean countries to communicate on defence issues.
Japan’s annual defence White Paper in 2022 described bolstering defence cooperation with Asean as a significant move as it will lead to the “creation of a favourable, (secure) environment for Japan”.
Japan has been working with Asean for more than 30 years, in areas such as security and trade.
In recent months, tensions have risen in the South China Sea.
In February, the Philippines said one of its ships was hit by a laser light shone by a Chinese vessel near a shoal of the Spratly Islands.
In the second half of 2022, Vietnam conducted a major expansion of dredging and landfill work at several of its South China Sea outposts.
This signals an intent to fortify its claims in the disputed waterway.
China continues to deploy warships and build military structures in the area, while the United States and its allies in the region undertake joint patrols.