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US-Japan alliance a deterrence to China land grab

The biggest joint Philippine-US military exercises in the last 15 years near disputed waters in the South China Sea ended on Thursday in the wake of the revised rules for defense cooperation between the United States and Japan amid growing concerns in the Asia-Pacific over China’s massive land reclamation in the Spratlys, including parts claimed by the Philippines.

Although Philippine military authorities claimed that the war games were not aimed at countering de facto territorial land-grabbing by China in the area, there was no doubt that the exercises were a show of force to back warnings by both the United States and the Philippines that the reclamation was a “threat to peace and stability” in the region.

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A Philippine military spokesperson said the exercises had “no direct relationship with the ongoing construction structures… [but] are designed to increase our capability to defend our country from external aggression” and were “a test of how ready and how effective we can operate with our American allies in both humanitarian and security operations.”

China has rejected diplomatic protests by the Philippines and Vietnam and criticism from the United States over its work on reefs and islets, saying the reclamation “falls within the scope of China’s sovereignty.”

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More than 10,000 Filipino and American soldiers took part in the 10-day exercises in the provinces of Palawan, Zambales and Pampanga, more than double the number of participants last year.

The exercises took place amid the issuance of the new guidelines of the US-Japan security framework, which were hammered out by American and Japanese officials in a meeting in New York last week, that put more teeth into their security alliance.

Although officials said the new doctrine was not aimed at China, there has been increasing concern over moves by Beijing to reclaim disputed areas of the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the new rules were a historic move that would give Japanese forces a wider global role amid concerns over the rise of China’s military and economic power in the Asia-Pacific.

Kerry emphasized that Washington’s “commitment to Japan’s security remains ironclad and covers all territories under Japan’s jurisdiction, including the Senkaku Islands.”

A US diplomat said the new guidelines would make Japan safer, and bring greater stability to the Asia-Pacific.

“Today, we mark the establishment of Japan’s capacity to defend not just its own territory but also the United States and other partners as needed,” Kerry told a press conference. “This is a historic meeting. It’s a historic transition in the defense relationship between our two countries.

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Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said that since 1997, when defense ties with the United States were last revised, “the security environment in the United States and Japan has changed dramatically.”

The new guidelines would “draw a picture of the Japan-US alliance for the next decade and beyond,” he said.

Without mentioning China, Kerry said, “We reject any suggestion that freedom of navigation, overflight and unlawful uses of the sea and airspace are privileges granted by big states to small ones, subject to the whim and fancy of the big state.”

Under the previous rules, Japanese forces could assist American troops only if they were in the direct defense of Japan.

Carter pointed out that the new rules removed the constraints of geography. He added that the US-Japan cooperation had now moved “from being locally focused to globally focused.”

The new guidelines, he said, would “allow us to modernize the US-Japan alliance… helping us open new areas of military operations.”

Elaborating on this concept, another US official indicated that Japan would now be able to defend US ships engaged in missile defense activities near its territory.

How this would work was explained by the official, who said: “It means that Japan can respond to attacks on third countries if they are in close association with Japan and if those attacks directly affect Japanese security.”

For instance, the official explained, one possible scenario could have Japan shooting down a missile headed toward the United States, even if Japan itself is not under attack.

Security analysts in Washington were reported by the UK newspaper Financial Times as commenting that the new guidelines, part of the broader push by Japan to shed some of the restrictions of its postwar pacificism, would “allow the US and Japanese to work more closely together in the event of a conflict in the East China Sea or in North Korea.”

“For the Obama administration,” according to this analysis, “the improved defense ties with Japan are an important part of its ‘pivot’ to Asia, which has also seen cooperation with allies such as Australia and the Philippines and former enemies” such as Vietnam. These countries form the arc of security alliances in the Asia-Pacific, all of which are anchored on US and Japanese military power.

“While the Obama administration insists that its approach to the region does not represent an effort to contain China, the thread that ties together all these different initiatives is the growing anxiety across Asia about how to deal with a more powerful China,” the Financial Times said.

Jim Schoff, a Japan specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, told the Financial Times that through the revision of the US-Japan security alliance, the United States “is hoping to get Japan more deeply involved in international missions, and Japan wants to bolster alliance integration as a way of increasing deterrence against China.”

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TAGS: alliance, China, Japan, South China Sea, spratlys, US, West Philippine Sea
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