Japan Sends Warships to South China Sea

IMAGE Todd Cichonowicz / U.S. Navy

The Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) sent three warships to the West Philippine Sea to conduct anti-submarine exercises. 

According to a statement released by the Japanese defense ministry, the JDSF sent three vessels including an aircraft carrier and a helicopter “to boost their tactical capability.” The warships will make a stop at Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay to resupply. 

This development is intriguing in several ways. First, it is one of the very rare instances, if not the only one in several decades, that Japan has embarked on a solo mission outside its territorial waters. Second, the move is a very clear announcement that Japan has no intention of sitting out the tensions in the South China Sea. For many decades since its defeat in World War II, Japan has taken a generally defensive stance on military affairs. That has a lot to do with its pacifist Constitution, which prohibits the government from building up its military beyond what is needed for the country’s defense. 

That means Japan cannot build nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers, and other equipment military hardware traditionally viewed as equipment for offense. Also, it may not defend other nations except its own. 

That pacifist stance has significantly changed ever since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a known hawk, took office. He has vigorously campaigned to reinterpret Japan’s pacifist constitution so it can play a more proactive role in policing its side of the world, particularly against China. 

The United States is counting on Japan’s help to keep China’s expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea in check.


Fifth Most Powerful Military in the World

Currently, the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) is the 5th most powerful military in the world. 

Recently, Japan has started converting its famed JS Izumo, a warship designed for helicopter operations, into an aircraft carrier capable of supporting jet fighters.

Japanese Aircarft Carrier JS Izumo, left, with US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan

Photo by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Although Japan possesses no nuclear weapons, it is believed the country has the capability to assemble one within months if it needs to do so. Nearly 40 years ago, Japan built a plutonium breeder reactor and a uranium enrichment, which allowed it to stockpile tons of weapons-grade plutonium in its arsenals. 

With a budget of over $50 billion for 2020 to 2021, the JSDF is a serious deterrent to any country seeking to expand its military presence in the region.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor-at-Large
Mario Alvaro Limos is features editor-at-large at Esquire Philippines, and heads the Lifestyle and Esports content of SPIN.ph as its section editor. Email him at [email protected] and [email protected]
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