A Japanese submarine made a port call in the Philippines, the first in 15 years, on Sunday in a show of growing military cooperation amid tension triggered by China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
One of the newest and largest submarines in the Japanese navy, it was escorted into the former U.S. Navy Base at Subic Bay by two Japanese destroyers on a tour of Southeast Asia.
“This is just an exercise and the main objective is to train the officers,” Captain Hiraoki Yoshino of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force told reporters.
“We don’t have any message to any country,” he said, adding the ship visits were aimed at boosting confidence between the Japan and the Philippines.
China claims almost all the South China Sea, where about $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims.
Japan and China also have conflicting claims over islets in the East China Sea. Japan is increasing its presence in the South China Sea, sending more ships and planes to allies in Southeast Asia, like Vietnam and the Philippines.
Just days prior to that launch, Pyongyang carried out a ballistic missile test, firing two rockets into the sea.
Both Russia and China have criticized North Korea, saying they do not recognize its nuclear ambitions, and that leader Kim Jong-Un should listen to the UN Security Council’s demands to return to the negotiation table.
However, both Moscow and Beijing agree that rising tensions on the Korean peninsula should not give the US a pretext to deploy a missile shield in the region.
Earlier this month, the “robust” new US-imposed sanctions, blocking businesses from any dealings with North Korea, in an attempt to punish Pyongyang for its nuclear tests.
In a March 2 vote, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved one of the toughest sets of sanctions yet targeting North Korea.
The restrictions include the mandatory inspections of cargo leaving and entering the communist state by land, sea or air, and banned all sales or transfers of small arms and light weapons to Pyongyang. The UN punishment stipulates the expulsion of those diplomats from the North who engage in “illicit activities.”
The Navy’s Seventh Fleet announced Friday that the Stennis had passed through the Luzon Strait between the Philippines and Taiwan on March 1, and had been operating in the South China Sea since then.
It was accompanied by the guided-missile destroyers USS Chung-Hoon and USS Stockdale, the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay and the supply ship USNS Rainier.
And they’re not alone — Beijing has sent a number of Chinese ships to ‘watch’ the US group. ‘We have Chinese ships around us that we normally didn’t see in my past experience,’ Captain Greg Huffman, the Stennis’s commanding officer, said in a Navy press release.
He was last deployed to the South China Sea in 2007.
Officially, the release says, this is a routine mission. There is no direct statement of intent with regard to maintaining the status of international waters.
However, it also mentions the January deployment of the Curtis Wilbur, which was described at the time as an operation ‘to challenge excessive maritime claims of parties that claim the Paracel Islands,’ and that the US would ‘fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.’
Beijing denounced that deployment as being ‘in violation of relevant Chinese laws,’ saying the US ‘entered China’s territorial waters without authorization.’
The first high-level talks in nearly a year between South Korea and North Korea were adjourned after stretching into the early hours of Sunday, as the rivals looked to defuse mounting tensions that have pushed them to the brink of a possible military confrontation.
The delegates agreed to resume the meeting at 3 p.m. Sunday South Korean time (0600 GMT, 2 a.m. EDT), said Seoul’s presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook. Min did not disclose any other details about the talks which adjourned at 4:15 a.m. Sunday.
Marathon talks are not unusual for the Koreas, who have had long negotiating sessions in recent years over much less momentous issues.