Japan and Australia are likely to join the US in attempts to counter China's expanded presence and illegal construction work in the East Sea, an international security expert said.
“I think that the US will begin to conduct freedom-of-navigation sea patrols inside the 12 nautical miles around Mischief Reef. It is possible that Japan and Australia will do so as well,” Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), said in an email this week.
Her remark came after US Defense Minister Ashton Carter said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last weekend that Washington will “fly, sail and operate” in the region to protect the freedom of navigation and overflight, according to Reuters.
The Pentagon chief also said the US was "deeply concerned" about the scale of China's land reclamation and the prospect of further militarization of the islands, saying it would boost "the risk of miscalculation or conflict."
At the Shangri-La Dialogue on May 30, Japan's Minister of Defense Gen Nakatani urged nations, including China, to behave responsibly. He proposed three measures to bolster maritime and air safety in the region, including round-the-clock monitoring of airspace by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, often known as ASEAN.
Defense Minister Kevin Andrews on June 1 said Australia will continue to fly military aircraft over disputed waters in the East Sea even if Beijing imposes a unilateral restricted air zone, The Age reported.
Satellite image of cargo being unloaded onto the shore of the Mischief Reef. Photo credit: Reuters
Earlier, Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army of China, told the Shangri-La Dialogue on May 31 that China has the right to establish an air defense zone.
“If the US doesn't undertake some risk, then China will not reconsider its actions. China is benefiting from a risk-averse policy and posture,” Glaser told Thanh Nien.
However, she said a US-China military conflict is highly unlikely because “it wouldn't serve Chinese interests.”
At the Singapore meeting, China’s Admiral Sun was reportedly questioned by many experts about the real intent of Beijing’s land reclamation in the East Sea, but he did not give them a direct answer.
“Admiral Sun lacked the confidence to answer questions. He had a briefing book and simply read from it. It was a missed opportunity for China to address concerns of the region,” Glaser said.
She was among the experts questioning the Chinese navy admiral in the Shangri-La Dialogue.