The newly minted Japanese defense minister said the ongoing tension in the South China Sea has a direct affect on the national security of Japan, in remarks to reporters on Tuesday.
Gen Nakatani said that there are no immediate plans to undertake similar patrols in the region – like Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) regular rotations in the East China Sea – but implied that position could change.
“We currently do not patrol there or have a plan to do so, but we are deepening our cooperation with the U.S. and the situation in the South China Sea has an impact on our national security, and we are aware that we will need to consider our response,” Nakatani said.
His comments come days after the head of U.S. 7th Fleet said Japanese patrols in the South China Sea could be a stabilizing influence in the region.
“I think that [Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces] operations in the South China Sea makes sense in the future,” Vice Adm. Robert Thomas told news service Reuters
“In the South China Sea, frankly, the Chinese fishing fleet, the Chinese coastguard and the (navy) overmatch their neighbors.”
China has bristled at regional rival Japan expanding its East China Sea patrols into a region it sees as its own sovereign territory.
“Countries outside this region should respect efforts made by countries in the region to maintain peace and stability,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said last week.
Nakatani has drawn Chinese ire earlier this year by accusing People’s Liberation Army forces of “dangerous actions,” in the East China Sea including locking fire control radar on Japanese ships, violating territorial waters and flying too close to Japanese aircraft – charges that China has denied.
“The leader of Japan’s defense department ignores the facts and keeps on rehashing the same tune, playing up the ‘China military threat’,” read a statement from China’s defense ministry.
Japan has reported record interdiction of PLA aircraft over the East China Sea where China has established a controversial Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).