Japanese sub participation in South China Sea drills sends a signal to Beijing: Don’t

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force sent a submarine to participate in naval exercises in the South China Sea last week, accompanying a pair of destroyers and a helicopter carrier.

What’s more, the Japanese Defense Ministry even took the unusual step of publicly announcing the exercise, which it said was not directed at any particular country.

The New York Times reported:

The drills were the first involving a submarine that Japan is known to have conducted in the South China Sea. Neither the Defense Ministry nor the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, which broke the news before the announcement, said where in the sea they had been carried out.

The submarine, the Kuroshio, began its five-day port call in Vietnam on Monday, bolstering Japan’s efforts to solidify ties with Southeast Asian countries that have disputed China’s claims in the region.

The Kuroshio is an Oyashio-class diesel-electric attack submarine commissioned in 2004. There are 11 boats in this class, all in service with the MSDF. The first was commissioned in 1998; the last one commissioned in 2008, so they are fairly new submarines.

Analysis: Tokyo did not say so publicly, but of course this exercise — and the public announcement that it had taken place — was intended for China.

This is odd in a way because Japanese-Chinese relations have actually warmed somewhat in recent months. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is planning to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing next month.

But like Australia, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and other Asian powers, Japan has watched warily as China built, and then militarized, a series of islands in the middle of the South China Sea, then lay claim to the entire body of water.

So clearly the underlying message here is that Tokyo, like its U.S. ally, isn’t about to cede control of one of the world’s most profitable shipping lanes to a belligerent revisionist power.

Is the Japanese MSDF a match for China’s rising naval power? Probably not, if for no other reason than Japan doesn’t field nearly as many vessels as China can deploy. But that doesn’t mean Japan has no capability to inflict serious damage on Chinese fleets.

Then again, Japan wouldn’t have to take on the People’s Liberation Army Navy by itself anyway. It has a vastly more powerful ally that would assist — the U.S. Navy.

Indeed, Japan’s fleet would likely be joined by warships from those other Asian nations who have been equally concerned about revisionist China’s continued rise, aggression, and at times outright belligerence.

No one is seeking war but Tokyo is letting Beijing know it has the capability to make the PLAN pay and pay dearly should one break out.

So the message is: “If China is considering war on the high seas, don’t.”



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