Aquino, Abe to discuss new China strategy
TOKYO—President Aquino and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are expected to examine China’s island-chain defense strategy as they open talks here on Tuesday to explore security cooperation in the face of Beijing’s increasing aggressiveness in asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
China is reclaiming land on various reefs in the South China Sea in what security experts believe is a first step to building lines of offshore defense to protect the mainland, part of Beijing’s ultimate aim of dominating the Asia-Pacific region as an economic and military superpower.
The Philippines and Japan, both rivals of China for territory in the South China Sea and in the East China Sea, as well as Vietnam in the East Sea are very much a consideration in Beijing’s aim of establishing geopolitical dominance in the region.
But more than its territorial rivalry with its East Asian and Southeast Asian neighbors, China is concerned about the United States’ planned “pivot” to Asia under which it will move 60 percent of its warships to the region by the end of this decade.
The Chinese leadership sees the US plan as a strategy aimed at containing China’s ambition to dominate the Asia-Pacific region.
Filipino security experts expect President Aquino and Premier Abe to tackle China’s island-chain defense strategy and how the Philippines and Japan can cooperate to respond, as well as discuss other areas of cooperation.
China’s island-chain defense strategy is a concept little known to the public, but has been a concern of security specialists in Asia for decades because of its objective to form an expansive maritime defensive perimeter straddling Asian waters and stretching out to the Pacific Ocean.
Given their geographical locations, the Philippines and Japan are two countries in the way of the Chinese defense strategy.
Japan sits above the first and second island-chains, while the Philippines lies between the two chains.
“This concerns regional security in the Asia-Pacific region, most importantly the state of the two disputed maritime territories in the East China Sea and the South China Sea,” Chester Cabalza, a professor at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP), told the Inquirer by e-mail. “Both leaders need to reaffirm their strong stand for adherence to international rule of law and freedom of navigation.”
Although the “precise and official boundaries [of the two island-chains] are undefined and often exaggerated and so are subject to speculation,” they are often discussed because of their strategic implications for the Western Pacific region, according to Cabalza.
The first island-chain includes the major archipelagos of Japan and the Philippines, including the Aleutians, the Kurils, and the Ryukus, Taiwan, and the Greater Sunda Islands.
The second island-chain includes the Bonins, Marianas, Guam and Palau.
Cabalza described the second chain as quite vague in boundaries, as it extends to the oceanic region and some US territories in the Pacific. A third island-chain, which reaches as far as Hawaii, is a topic for debate, he said.
For military historian Jose Antonio Custodio, China’s island-chain strategy should be tackled by Aquino and Abe “to interpret” China’s strategy and determine its implications for the Asia-Pacific region.
In an e-mail, Custodio said the island-chain defense strategy would ultimately push out “in phases” the United States and its allies from East Asia and Southeast Asia.
He said he believed that China’s aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea, encroaching on the West Philippine Sea by building artificial islands on disputed reefs and shoals, indicate its intent to “consolidate the nine-dash line and make the southern half of the first island chain a reality.”
The nine-dash line is a demarcation on official Chinese maps that encompasses 90 percent of the South China Sea and indicates the extent of China’s territory.
The Philippines has included in its challenge to the nine-dash line in the United Nations International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea China’s land reclamation on Mabini (South Thomas) Reef, the two Gavin (Gaven) reefs, Calderon (Cuarteron) Reef, Malvar (Eldad) Reef and Kennan (McKennan) Reef, all in the West Philippine Sea, part of the South China Sea within Manila’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.
President Aquino will arrive in Tokyo before noon on Tuesday and proceed to the Old Prime Minister’s Residence where he and Abe will hold a 20-minute meeting.
They will be joined by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Assistant Foreign Secretary Henry Bensurto, and Reynaldo Delantar Jr., a special assistant to Aquino.
Joining the meeting from the Japanese side are Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama; Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Katsunobu; Kazuhide Ishikawa, director general, Southeast and Southwest Asian Affairs Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Hiroshi Suzuki, Abe’s executive secretary.
Abe will host lunch for the President and his delegation after which the two leaders will give statements to the press. They will not take questions from reporters.
Aquino and Abe will also discuss bilateral cooperation, including humanitarian assistance and disaster response, maritime issues, and peace and development in Mindanao, where Japan has taken strong interest in trade and investment.
Cabalza said China had “reenvisioned itself as a maritime power.”
He said the People’s Liberation Army Navy had made a shift from “coastal defense,” or land-focused, to “offshore defense,” or ocean-focused, strategy.
“This shift is preparing them from safeguarding Chinese shores to possible maritime operations in the seas off the Chinese littoral,” Cabalza said.
In separate e-mails to the Inquirer, Cabalza and Custodio said China’s island-chain defense strategy was aimed at denying rivals access to the disputed territories and resist invasion from the sea.
It is believed to be part of China’s Anti-Access Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy, a military doctrine viewed as the Chinese denial of other foreign militaries’ capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region as well as impinge on freedom of navigation.
“The goal of the Chinese Navy is to perform a mix of sea and area denials and to flex power projection. In simple security parlance, strategic security depends upon supply lines and natural resources. China’s objective is to develop a Navy capable of defending and protecting its lifeline of energy and mineral supplies as it flexes its muscles, strengthen its economy and modernize its armed forces,” Cabalza said.
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