British naval officials showed off the HMS Queen Elizabeth to top military personnel, including Japanese minister of defence Nobuo Kishi, earlier this week. The Queen Elizabeth sailed from Britain, through the contested South China Sea, and onwards to Yokosuka, which contains a large American military presence. Reuters has reported that Japan plans to use the carrier as a launching point for aircraft, and that the vessel will be the site of further business discussions between Japanese and British officials.
China now lays claims to around 90% of the South China Sea, causing tensions with nations in the region, notably Vietnam. Now, according to Reuters, Japan has “identified neighbouring China as its main national security threat,” and as Chinese military activity ramps up in Taiwan, Japan is feeling a “sense of crisis.” Although China has claimed that its intentions in Taiwan are peaceful, Japan and other Western-allied countries have been alarmed enough to make a military show of force. Japanese fears of growing Chinese influence are echoed in sentiments from the British side. “One of the purposes of … deploy[ing] [the Queen Elizabeth] is to signal the start of a commitment… The prominence of this region is rising significantly,” Commodore Steve Moorhouse of the British Royal Navy said.
Senior Japanese military personnel have linked Taiwan’s fate to that of Japan, fearing that Chinese antagonization towards Taiwan may spill over. Following remarks by Japanese deputy defense minister Yasuhide Nakayama expressing fears about the mutual Chinese threat, Newsweek reported that the Chinese Foreign Ministry has expressed its “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” towards the remarks.
It seems as though Japan’s worries are not unwarranted. Recently, per Al Jazeera, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi warned Vietnam not to act in a way that “could complicate the situation and magnify disputes,” urging the country to “cherish the hard-won peace and stability achieved in the South China Sea.” Despite solid economic and political ties between the two countries, tension over territory in the South China Sea continues to churn. In March, Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang complained about the presence of Chinese vessels in Whitsun Reef, which is claimed by Vietnam.
China has recently required all vessels sailing through the Sea to report their presence to Chinese authorities, essentially claiming sovereignty over the entire body of water. This law has been poorly received by other nations in the region, notably the Philippines. “We do not honour those laws by the Chinese within the West Philippine Sea because we consider that we have the sovereign right within these waters,” Filipino defense secretary Delfin Lorenzama said. “So we will not recognize this law of the Chinese.” In response to this perceived antagonization, and after Vice President Kamala Harris accused China of “intimidation” in the South China Sea, Manila has requested advanced military equipment from the United States.
As of now, China claims 90% of the Sea, despite being physically distanced from the majority of the region. The sea contains large fishing areas, oil and gas reserves, and witnesses around $3 trillion worth of trade annually, making possession of it crucial for economic and political strength. It seems that China’s largest political adversaries, the United States and other aligned nations, see Chinese claims and advancements into the region as worrying enough to warrant moving military resources into allied nations in the South China Sea.
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