For both Southeast Asian countries, Japan has emerged as a particularly important strategic partner, which could compensate for any perceived lack in American commitment to the region. After decades of strategic slumber, characterized by Tokyo’s notorious “checkbook diplomacy,” Japan is not only on the verge of becoming a “normal” power, but also a significant contributor to regional public goods and security. More confident than ever, Japan recently conducted joint coast guard exercises with the Philippines, and the two littoral states are set to conduct their first joint naval drill in the South China Sea.
Overall, it is clear that China is winning the scramble in the South China Sea, but it has also inspired a burgeoning peripheral alliance, which is determined to defend its maritime interests and refuses to acquiesce to Asia’s preeminent indigenous power. As one Japanese official bluntly put it, “We have to show China that it doesn’t own the sea.”
Richard Javad Heydarian is an Assistant Professor in international affairs and political science at De La Salle University, and has served as a foreign policy advisor at the Philippine House of Representatives (2009-2015). As a specialist on Asian geopolitics and economic affairs, he has written for or interviewed by Al Jazeera, Asia Times, BBC, Bloomberg, Foreign Affairs, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Diplomat, The National Interest, and USA TODAY, among other leading international publications. He is the author of How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings, and the forthcoming book Asia’s New Battlefield: US, China, and the Struggle for the Western Pacific. You can follow him on Twitter:@Richeydarian.
Image: Wikimedia/Indian Navy