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In the past 10 months, the Asia – Pacific region has seen the following activity:
- Increased talk of military cooperation between Japan and South Korea.
- South Korea and Indonesia teaming up on a variety of defense projects, including fighters and submarines.
- India proposing military exercises with Japan, the first ever bilateral exercises.
- India teaming up with Vietnam to explore the South China Sea.
- Renewed cooperation between Vietnam and the United States.
- Renewed military cooperation between the United States and Indonesia, including handing out free F-16 C/D fighters.
- The Philippines pushing for a special meeting of ASEAN defense ministers to discuss the South China Sea.
- New military cooperation between the Philippines and Japan.
- Vietnam and Japan signing a memorandum for increased defense cooperation.
- Increased defense cooperation between Australia and the United States.
- Increased defense cooperation between Australia an Japan.
Not all of this is about China. Much of it is about North Korea. A lot of it is routine. But there’s an emerging pattern that’s pretty clear: the Asian-Pacific countries are starting to close ranks.
What do all of these countries have in common? They all border China, or territory that China claims. And they’re working together. With the exception of China’s allies (Burma, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia) a majority of China’s neighbors on the Pacific Rim are banding together against it. After more than a decade of quiet, relatively modest diplomacy, China’s belligerent tone over the last year has utterly backfired.
A lot is made of out China’s “String of Pearls”, a line of Chinese bases stretching from the South China Sea to the Persian Gulf. But the same geographic logic that makes the String of Pearls necessary has a corollary: China’s neighbors increasingly resemble a trapper’s snare. The more the trapped animal struggles, the tighter the snare becomes. China was born in the snare.
What does all of this mean for Japan? While a belligerent China is not good news, that China’s neighbors are banding together is. The stronger Japan’s potential allies are, the more complicated things get for China, and the easier things get for Japan. A modest defense buildup to defend the farther-flung reaches of Japan is still a worthwhile pursuit, but appears increasingly unlikely that an extended defense buildup is necessary.
A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch