Japan’s defence chief hits out at Beijing on South China Sea, military build-up
- Taro Kono, seen as a potential successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, made the remarks days ahead of a meeting with Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe
- His comments serve as a reminder for Beijing to play by the international rules even as ties with Tokyo warm, according to one analyst
“China is engaging in unilateral and coercive attempts to alter the status quo based on its own assertions that are incompatible with the existing international order,” Kono on Sunday at the Doha Forum, an international conference in Qatar.
“The rule of law, which is of critical importance to global stability and security, is a value shared by the international community, including China,” he said, adding that countries cannot be permitted to expand their spheres of influence by force and “aggressors must be forced to pay the cost”.
Hiromi Murakami, a professor of international relations at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, admitted to being “rather surprised” at the tone of the minister’s comments.
“Japan has to collaborate with other countries in the region if it wants to resist China – I think ‘contain China’ is too strong a term – and Tokyo is working hard to do the same with India.”
Jun Okumura, an analyst at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs, agreed that Kono’s comments were “unusual”, but he pointed out that they were completely in line with Tokyo’s positions on the issues as laid out in its annual defence and security white paper published earlier this year.
Japan has called on Beijing to adhere to the principles of international law on the question of islands and atolls in the South China Sea, a number of which Beijing has unilaterally claimed and built military facilities upon. Other regional players – such as the Philippines and Vietnam – have made rival claims.
Okumura suggested that while Beijing might want to “soothe things” over, Japan could be seeing this as an opportunity to make its point and “be a little bit more aggressive”.
“Just as long as they don’t push too far and it leads to escalation, of course.”
“The point is that they are talking with each other and that these meetings are now becoming more routine,” Okumura said. “That is something that everyone can fall back on.”