Shared concern over ‘Great Wall’ in sea

Shared concern over ‘Great Wall’ in sea
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama shake hands after the summit meeting in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.

The Japanese and US governments confirmed at a summit meeting Tuesday that the two countries have entered a new era in which they will not only expand co-operation in the fields of security and economy, but also work together to establish a new international order.

This is the first instalment in a series that focuses on their respective intentions and backgrounds.

"I don't want to minimise, though, the fact that there are some real tensions that have arisen with China around its approach to maritime issues and its claims … That's the wrong way to go about it."

At a joint press conference after a summit meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, US President Barack Obama strongly criticised China's attempts to change the regional status quo by force in the East China and South China seas.

The Japanese and US governments agreed on Monday on new guidelines for bilateral defence co-operation. How to deal with emergencies in the South China Sea was one of the topics during discussions to compile the guidelines, according to informed sources.

In particular, the US side has been increasingly concerned about China's large-scale land reclamation on reefs in the South China Sea. "The phrase 'Great Wall of sand' has become a buzzword," a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

China has been conducting reclamation work on at least seven reefs around the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, where the Philippines and other countries claim sovereignty.

Rapid progress has been made on Gaven Reef, including the construction of a heliport.

On Fiery Cross Reef, the reclaimed area has expanded to a length of three kilometers, with China reportedly having started building a runway there.

During the Cold War, the former Soviet Union deployed a nuclear submarine equipped with submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) in the Sea of Okhotsk, northern Hokkaido. The move was intended as a trump card to allow the nation to launch a nuclear attack on the mainland of the United States - its enemy at the time - without interference by US forces.

Many security experts believe that China regards the South China Sea as a "sanctuary" likewise free of US military interference and intends to deploy SLBMs that can attack the continental United States under a similar strategy.

China's materialization of such a strategy would undermine the US nuclear deterrent, raising strong fears that it will become impossible to restrain the nation's aggressive maritime expansion.

Japan uses sea-lanes in the South China Sea, so it is crucial for the Japanese economy to ensure safety in the region. In addition, Japan can no longer ignore the possibility of a scenario whereby China advances onto the Senkaku Islands.

The new guidelines include various countermeasures, such as joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities that raise the possibility of maintaining a constant watch on Chinese submarines.

As the United States continues to cut its defence budget, US forces hope to see the Self-Defence Forces expand their role in the South China Sea.

Under such circumstances, a senior Defence Ministry official commented, "We're already all tied up in warning and surveillance activities in the East China Sea, but now we face the reality of also having to seriously consider co-operation in the South China Sea."

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