Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Tuesday with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and agreed to gift the Philippines two large patrol ships and five surveillance aircraft, according to Reuters.
The promised vessels and aircraft will be in addition to the 10 coast guard ships Japan promised to the Philippines as part of a $158 million soft loan agreement in 2015. The first of the 10 ships arrived in August.
Abe will reportedly also give Malaysia two used coast guard vessels, reports the Nikkei Asian Review. Along with the ships, Japan will provide technical support and repair services.
Japan agreed to furnish Vietnam with $1.7 million in used patrol vessels and equipment in September last year. The two sides decided to accelerate and enhance the patrol boat program during a high-level meeting in May.
China claims the vast majority of the South China Sea, through which roughly $5 trillion in global trade passes each year. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China’s claims in mid-July; however, China has completely rejected the ruling and the authority of the arbitration tribunal.
Between 2010 and 2016, there were 45 incidents in the South China Sea, and China’s coast guard vessels were involved in 68 percent of these incidents, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) revealed in a recent report.
Over the past five years, China has spent roughly $1.74 billion annually on its coast guard. The annual coast guard budgets for the Philippines and Vietnam have only been around $100 to $200 million.
China’s total coast guard tonnage increased from 110,000 to 190,000 between 2010 and 2016. The total coast guard tonnage for the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam are only 20,000, 6,500, and 15,000 respectively.
China is able to engage in provocative behavior in the South China Sea because other claimant states lack the coast guard capabilities to stand up to China.
“We’re seeing bullying, harassment and ramming of vessels from countries whose coast guard and fishing vessels are much smaller, often to assert sovereignty throughout the South China Sea,” Bonnie Glaser, a CSIS regional security expert, explained in an interview with Reuters. “The evidence is clear that there is a pattern of behavior from China that is contrary to what law enforcement usually involves.”
Japan’s coast guard budget by comparison is around $1.5 billion, which suggests that Japan has the ability to boost the capabilities of some of China’s neighbors.
Chinese ships, including several coast guard vessels, have reportedly returned to the Scarborough Shoal, stirring concerns in the Asia Pacific and beyond.
China’s stance on Japan’s involvement in the South China Sea has been fairly consistent. “Japan is not a concerned party in the South China Sea issue, and it has no right to intervene in relevant disputes,” explained Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Colonel Wu Qian at a press conference last month.
China has told Japan that if it expands its operations and attempts to participate in a freedom-of-navigation drill in the South China Sea, it will cross a “red line.”
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