Tokyo should help Asean boost maritime security capabilities in South China Sea: Yomiuri Shimbun

Japan Coast Guard security team display tracking and capture drills by rigid-hulled inflatable boats against an unidentified ship at sea in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan on Oct 27, 2016.
Japan Coast Guard security team display tracking and capture drills by rigid-hulled inflatable boats against an unidentified ship at sea in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan on Oct 27, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

To help establish the rule of law in the South China Sea to stabilise the area, it is vital for Asean members to boost their maritime security capabilities.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held separate talks with the leaders of the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam this autumn, during which he expressed Japan’s willingness to provide patrol vessels and other assistance in response to requests from the three countries.

The Philippines has dispatched one of the 10 newly built patrol boats that Japan has started to provide to waters around Scarborough Shoal.

Japan will offer Malaysia two second hand patrol vessels because it will take several years to build new ones. 

It is important for the government to respond to meet the needs of each country.

Beijing has been stepping up efforts to expand its maritime interests through non-military activities by dispatching China Coast Guard and other vessels.

Tension over the South China Sea would sharply heighten should countries concerned deploy their navies. 

In recent years, therefore, some of these countries have established maritime security agencies separate from navies to be in charge of cracking down on crimes offshore and keeping watch over territorial waters. 

The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) serves as one of the models for these entities.

Vietnam established this kind of agency in 2013, while an Indonesian one was set up the following year. 

These units are not authorised to exercise massive force like the military. 

It is an urgent task for the newly established organisations to have law-enforcement capabilities, such as cracking down on illegal fishing boats and preserving the evidence of crimes.

In late October, the Institute for International Policy Studies, chaired by former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, released a proposal that called for maritime security authorities in the countries around the South China Sea to boost their capabilities in the hope that they can play a “cushioning” role to avoid military clashes. 

We consider this proposal reasonable.

Japan has provided these coastal nations with a variety of assistance, such as dispatching JCG officers for extended periods, receiving officials from these countries for training and conducting joint drills using patrol vessels. 

The government should boost intangible assistance for the coastal nations in such areas as helping them improve their legislation and developing human resources, on top of physical assistance by providing necessary equipment.

In the South China Sea, gaps in capabilities between Chinese government vessels and those from other countries have been a destabilising factor. 

We believe that a higher level of maritime security capabilities among the Asean members would put a certain brake on Beijing’s maritime advance.

The U.S. Coast Guard has a team specialised in supporting its foreign counterparts, while the JCG has been studying setting up a similar unit. 

It will be strategically significant if Japan and the United States build a framework for working together in providing assistance to other countries.

In October last year, the JCG and the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies kicked off a master’s program on maritime safety and security policy for fast-track officials from Japan and abroad. 

They work in English on security policy, comparative criminal law and case studies on international law, among other courses.

In its first academic year, the program was taken by 10 students from Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, who spent the year in Tokyo and Hiroshima Prefecture. 

We hope that the programme will serve as a base for sharing views to realize a free, open South China Sea.

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