Japan is not at ease with its EEZ?

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Senkaku/Diaoyu island

This aerial view shows Uotsuri Island, one of the islands of Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, in East China Sea, June 2011. ctvnews.ca

Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) are often a subject of strong disputes between countries. In the case of Japan, being able to keep its rich and resourceful marine territories has become a priority. Especially since its neighbor has become consistently offensive in that area, Japan needs to make major military investments in order to keep its hands on its sovereignty.

An EEZ is an exclusive economic zone, which is a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations over which state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of that zone. And in some areas, what is at stake can also represent great economic development for some countries. Marine resources, including energy production from water and wind, fishing rights and oil exploration, are the main reasons why EEZs are so often disputed.

Japan has disputes over its EEZ boundaries with all of its Asian neighbors, including Russia, the Republic of Korea, the People Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China Taiwan (ROC).

The East China Sea is one of the regions where these disputes are the most critical, especially between Japan and the PRC that concerns the different application of the 1982 UNCLOS, which both nations ratified. The dispute is based on “the natural prolongation of the continental shelf of China in the East China Sea,” which China claims that it extends to the Okinawa Trough (200 nautical miles further than where the territorial sea of China is measured).

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In 1995, the PRC discovered a natural gas field in the Sea that lies in an area where the two nation EEZ claims overlap, increasing tensions between the two countries. These tensions grew even worse after rounds of disputes over island ownership in the same Sea triggered both official and civilian protests between China and Japan. It has therefore become an issue that both militaries have to be ready to deal with and Japan has been preparing for such scenarios.

In 2011, Japan selected the Lockeed Martin F-35A lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (known as JSF) for its next generation of fighter jets. In June of this year, the U.S. State Department notified Congress of a potential $1.7 billion foreign military sales case for Japan to buy four Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye for the Japanese Air Self Defense Force. The aircraft is specialized in information surveillance and reconnaissance, which is one of Japan’s main needs in its disputes with China.

Japan also invested in a major Helicopter destroyer, a carrier with impressive size and abilities. The JS Izumo is capable of the simultaneous landing or takeoff of five helicopters at the same time, due to its large size, which is almost unprecedented. Experts say that it could even potentially be used in the future to launch fighter jets or other fixed wing aircraft, since it’s the largest warship in Japan’s fleet since World War II.

Recent changes within the Japanese defense would facilitate military partnership between the U.S. and Japan. Japan is also looking for help and partnership from the old continent, as officials know they can’t only rely on the U.S. for both military materials and partnerships.

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In the margins of the G7, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with French President François Hollande to express his concerns about escalating tensions in the South China Sea. Japan could be actively looking to extend its military partnerships, as the French are well known in offering promising military equipment especially in the navy/marine sector.

The historical French Constructions Industrielles de La Mediterrannée (CNIM) has recently proven its abilities to be ahead of its time for Naval designs with the L-Cat, a high-speed sea connector for amphibious operations, still missing in Japan’s fleet but that could prove to be useful when fast pace assault or evacuation is required in an island with shallow waters, which Japan has plenty of.

There is no doubt that Japan is accomplishing something huge by increasing its forces at sea. Not only is it essential for Japan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but it is also a promise to the Japanese that their government is protecting their borders strongly and won’t fail under pressures from their large neighbor. Historically, Japan has often proven that it could stand strong and that’s exactly what it is doing today. We shall soon witness new major investments to enhance Japan’s already powerful self-defense forces.

By increasing its self-defense force, Japan pushes back on China and inspires the nation to change its offensive behavior in the Sea of Japan and in the East China Sea. Japan is becoming increasingly a major military force at sea and is on its way to offering more military partnerships with the world’s leading nations. Not only tying into the U.S. Navy’s networked battle force, but also opening the path to more partnerships that could go far beyond its territorial limits.

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Sources:
Planned Japanese Self Defense Force Aircraft Buys, Destroyer Upgrades Could Tie into U.S Navy’s Networked Battle Force, USNI News, Sam LaGrone, June 10th 2015
Japan, France wary of Beijing’s reclamation binge in South China Sea, Japan Times, June 7th 2015

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