Japan`s Policy towards the South China Sea – Applying “Proactive Peace Diplomacy”?

Commentaries and Op-eds 2016, PRIF Report No. 140, 2016

Japan’s policy towards the South China Sea (SCS) is likely to have a considerable bearing on the future shape of the regional order in this region although ultimately US-China competition and the reaction of the other countries around the SCS will have a more decisive bearing.

As China is reinforcing its claims to most of the SCS through political, economic, military and legal means, Japan has become more involved as one of the top world trading nations with considerable political, economic and strategic interests in Southeast Asia, as a security alliance partner of the US, and as a country which has territorial as well as Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) border disputes with China in the East China Sea (ECS).

This involvement has to be seen against the background of the general deterioration in the Japanese-Chinese relationship and lack of mutual trust which is due to not only the disputes in the ECS, but also to mutual suspicion generated by sharply diverging perceptions of military developments in the other country, the way Japan confronts its past aggression, and competitive if not antagonistic regional roles. China’s SCS policies therefore fit into Japan’s narrative of the “China Threat”, whereas Japan’s SCS policies fit into China’s narrative of Japan as a troublemaker at the side of the US.

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