The South China Sea may be about to get even more crowded

Japanese Navy warshipIssei Kato/REUTERSJapan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF)’s biggest warship Izumo is moored at JMSDF Yokosuka base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo March 31, 2015.

Another military is sending increased assets into the potential powder keg of the South China Sea.

Japan has signalled its potential willingness to join US forces in patrols throughout the region, Yuka Hayashi and Chieko Tsuneoka report for The Wall Street Journal.

Speaking to the Journal, chief of the Joint Staff of the Japan Self-Defence Forces Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano said that Japan could consider conducting surveillance in the South China Sea depending upon the situation in the region. Currently, Japan is concerned over China’s rapid construction of artificial islands in the sea and its possible adverse affect on overall maritime trade.

“Of course, the area is of the utmost importance for Japanese security,” Kawano told the Journal. “We don’t have any plans to conduct surveillance in the South China Sea currently but depending on the situation, I think there is a chance we could consider doing so.”

Kawano’s statements signal a growing willingness within Japan to mobilize its military beyond its borders. The US and Japan are currently holding separate military drills with the Philippines in the South China Sea, to China’s chagrin. The exercises come only a month after Japan and the Philippines held their first joint military drill in May as part of a landmark security agreement the countries signed in January.

Japan’s involvement in South China Sea patrols are the fruits of a US effort at forming a broader alliance in the region as part of its Pacific Pivot.

“I think what the US is doing if you look carefully with the defence guidelines with Japan, Vietnam and elsewhere, is we’re putting together a loose coalition of allies and security partners that includes India, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia and so on,” Atlantic Council senior fellow Robert Manning told the Washington Times.

Australia also intends to continue carrying out regular military patrols throughout the South China Sea and Indian Ocean despite China’s objections.

“We’ve been doing it for decades, we’re doing it currently … and we’ll continue to do it into the future,” Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews told the Journal.

So far, China has constructed over 1.5 square miles of artificial islands on top of reefs in the South China Sea. According to Reuters, Beijing has completed advanced stages of construction for six different island reefs throughout the sea and has started work on a seventh island.

China’s actions in the South China Sea risk escalating a series of territorial disputes with Beijing’s neighbours, many of whom have competing maritime claims to the reefs, islands, and oil and gas deposits in the region:

Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines all have military bases within the South China Sea on islands that those countries control.

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