In the second half of December, Japan and the United States separately made renewed commitments to maintaining maritime security in Southeast Asia. Prime Minister Abe hosted the ASEAN-Japan summit on December 14, and held separate summit meetings with the leaders of nine ASEAN states plus the Thai Deputy Prime Minister from December 12-15.
U.S Secretary of State John Kerry visited Vietnam from December 14-16 and the Philippines from December 17-18.
The year 2013 will be remembered for Prime Minister Abe’s renewal of Japan’s security ties with Southeast Asia. During the year he visited each of the ten member states comprising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
On October 9, Prime Minister Abe also attended the 16th ASEAN-Japan Summit in Brunei. Maritime security was listed at point twenty-three of the twenty-nine-point Chairman’s Statement.
This stood in contrast to the Joint Statement issued after the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit held in Tokyo to mark the fortieth anniversary of Japan-ASEAN relations.
The Commemorative Summit was held under the shadow of China’s unilateral declaration on November 23 of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea and the right to establish an ADIZ over the South China Sea.
Although the Joint Statement made no reference to China’s ADIZ, maritime issues featured prominently at the Commemorative Summit. This was reflected in the Joint Statement that listed “maritime security and cooperation” and “free and safe maritime navigation and aviation” second and third among the substantive issues discussed.
At the Commemorative Summit, ASEAN leaders expressed their appreciation for Japan’s initiatives and active participation in the efforts to foster the dialogue with ASEAN Member States on maritime issues.
ASEAN and Japan also agreed “to strengthen cooperation on air and maritime linkages” and “to enhance cooperation in ensuring the freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law.”
According to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “Prime Minister Abe explained Japan’s position on China’s establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone” in each of his nine separate bilateral summit meetings with ASEAN heads of government. The South China Sea was also raised at each of these meetings.
Defence and security issues also featured in eight of Prime Minister Abe’s nine bilateral summit meetings.
Japan and Brunei agreed to further strengthen their defense dialogue.
Japan and Cambodia raised their bilateral relations to the level of a strategic partnership following the request of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Japan and Indonesia agreed to further strengthen communication between their ministers of foreign affairs and ministers of defense.
Japan and Laos agreed to hold a political-military dialogue as early as possible in 2014.
Japan and Malaysia agreed to enhance cooperation between their maritime security organizations following their first-ever joint exercise held in September 2013.
Japan and Myanmar welcomed the exchange of defense officials during the goodwill visit to Yangoon port by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force training squadron in October 2013. The two leaders agreed to enhance cooperation and exchanges between defense authorities in the future.
Japan and the Philippines reaffirmed their commitment to Prime Minister Abe’s “four initiatives” (including maritime cooperation), which were originally announced during his visit in July. The government leaders welcomed the signing of the exchange notes on Japan’s provision of patrol vessels to the Philippine Coast Guard. The leaders also noted that the Japan Self-Defense Force units sent to assist in disaster relief following Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)marked the largest scale deployment in Japan’s postwar history.
During the Japan-Vietnam summit, Prime Minister Abe expressed his desire to begin concrete talks on Japan’s provision of patrol vessels to the Vietnam Coast Guard.
Ever since John Kerry’s appointment as Secretary of State, Vietnam has lobbied for an early visit. At least two trips were postponed. In December, Kerry made his first visit to Vietnam in his new position to advance the bilateral comprehensive partnership agreed upon in July between Presidents Barack Obama and Truong Tan Sang.
State Department officials pointedly underscored that the visit was a reaffirmation of President Obama’s policy of rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific.
At a joint press conference with his Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Binh Minh, Kerry announced that the United States would provide $32.5 million in new assistance for maritime law enforcement in Southeast Asia. These funds would be allocated for the provision of new fast patrol boats for coast guards and related training.
Vietnam was allocated $18 million of the new funding for the acquisition of five patrol boats.
Kerry’s announcement raised the total U.S. commitment to regional maritime security assistance to $156 million over the next two years.
Secretary Kerry had to postpone a visit to the Philippines earlier in the year due to a typhoon. During his December visit he met with his counterpart Secretary for Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario. Kerry’s aim was to advance negotiations over a legal framework agreement on an increased rotational presence of U.S. forces in the Philippines. Kerry took this opportunity to announce a new grant of $40 million in maritime security assistance.
Kerry sought to portray the new U.S. commitment to the Philippines as part of the evolution of bilateral ties and not a direct response to recent Chinese assertiveness, such as the declaration of the ADIZ or the USS Cowpens incident.
At a joint press conference, Kerry and del Rosario both condemned China’s ADIZ. Kerry stated that, “the United States does not recognize that zone and does not accept it. The zone should not be implemented, and China should refrain from taking similar unilateral actions elsewhere in the region, and particularly over the South China Sea.”
Prime Minister Abe’s new initiatives towards Southeast Asia, coupled with Secretary Kerry’s announcement of increased U.S. financial support for regional maritime security, are comparatively modest efforts. They offer some assurance that these two major powers will balance Chinese power and thus positively contribute to Southeast Asian regional autonomy.
Up to the present, the main challenge from China in the South China Sea has been the assertive activities of its civilian maritime enforcement agencies (now reorganized into a national Coast Guard) in enforcing China’s claim to “indisputable sovereignty.” New Japanese and U.S. assistance to regional maritime enforcement agencies will assist in gradually building up regional capacity for maritime law enforcement. This development will complicate China’s present efforts to take advantage of the weakness of regional maritime enforcement agencies.