Japan will join a major military exercise with Australia and the US in the Pacific in early July as tension festers over China’s reclamation in the South China Sea continental shelf.
Around 40 Japanese military officers will take part in the military exercise to which 30,000 security personnel from both the US and Australia are expected to attend in locations around Australia.
The military exercise is regarded as a part of an enhanced cooperation among Washington and its Asia-Pacific allies as the parties have increasingly being worried about China’s gradual naval-military presence towards East and South China Seas.
Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, said the US was trying to get its allies to do more in the Pacific region.
"There is an obvious symmetry between Japan as the upper anchor of the Western Pacific alliance and ... Australia as the southern anchor," he said.
The joint-military exercise, called the “Talisman Sabre biennial exercises” will consist of maritime operations, amphibious landings, special forces tactics and urban warfare.
Japan and Australia have recently flourished their commercial and security ties as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott agreed on a security deal to supply next generation submarines to the Australian navy.
The US publicly welcomed such a tie up between Tokyo and Canberra when the US Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear highlighted Washington's goal of boosting cooperation between its allies in testimony to the US Senate this month.
"To expand the reach of these alliances, we are embarking on unprecedented trilateral cooperation," he said.
"In some cases this cooperation directly benefits our work on maritime security. For example, we're cooperating trilaterally with Japan and Australia to strengthen maritime security in Southeast Asia and explore defense technology cooperation," Shear added.
The US is recently very concerned with security problems arisen in the wider Asia-Pacific region where Chinese military presence worried both the US and Japan as Beijing offensively reviewed its territorial claims in the past several years.
The high-stake rivalry between China and the United States seems to have been increasing as Washington decided to send a littoral combat ship last week to patrol Chinese territorial reclamation in the South China Sea.
The US administration announced last week that it will continue to patrol waters and skies of the long-disputed South China Sea on which Chinese navy has repeatedly warned a US surveillance plane to leave the airspace over artificial islands that China has been building.
China’s efforts to redefine its territorial waters were increased last year when Beijing commenced to build seven artificial islands near by the Spratly islands where coastal states in the South China Sea severely objected Chinese maritime expansion.
China has long been confronting with its maritime neighbours Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei in the South China Sea territorial waters.
The parties’ overlapping claims on maritime transportation, navigation, exclusive economic zones, fishing grounds, undersea bed gas and oil reserves have already deteriorated the problem as China started to build the artificial islands last year.
The US perceives both Japan and Australia as the balancing actors against China since the maritime crises have been worrying Washington and its South Asian allies.
Washington and Tokyo started to accelerate their security ties and the US administration pledged to increase Japan’s security measures against a possible Chinese offensive in the region when Abe visited Washington last month.
Japan and China have been confronting on some uninhabited islets nationalised by Tokyo in 2012 to which Japan calls Senkaku, and China calls Diaoyu in the East China Sea.
The US President Barack Obama has publicly reiterated American-military support given to Japan if needed against China, but stated that Beijing should not consider US-Japan alliance as a provocation in the region.
Abe, who was re-elected with an overwhelming majority in a snap election at the end of last year, has been trying to review Japan’s pacifist constitution in order to build up re-assertive Japanese security vision to which some of Japanese public essentially objected.
Abe’s incumbent ruling party last week signed off a bill in the parliament that would expand Tokyo’s role in US-Japanese alliance regarding the security issues in and around greater Asia-Pacific region.
Japan’s move towards redefining its new military role which enables Tokyo to fight abroad signals a huge policy change from its conventional isolation for the first time since the Second World War.