China’s military exercises in the South China Sea are provoking Japan

As China readies for its military exercises in the Western Pacific next month, former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso criticized Beijing Thursday for approaching the remote island nation of the South China Sea with a naval escort and launching fighter jets from Japanese airspace.

Japan, however, is scheduled to conduct its own four-day air exercise in the Pacific against China — but not Taiwanese aircraft, who are considered “internal” targets.

“A Taiwanese emergency is a Japanese emergency,” Aso told a meeting of the National Radio Service. “I have no idea how to justify it.”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, led by the Philippines, has agreed to limit the scope of exercises by their own nations to their own maritime territory, meaning there will be no joint flotillas of aircraft and ships patrolling the South China Sea.

The military drills are part of China’s strategy of insisting that the oil-rich region be turned into a “free zone” for military and maritime vessels, where the country can set fishing quotas and even board and search other vessels.

Taiwan, by contrast, has submitted a new “white paper” to its cabinet outlining its interest in the region, focusing its resource development on the economic benefits of maritime trade.

The return of Japanese sovereignty to the island in a 1979 agreement finally ended Chinese naval patrols in the region. The islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, are also claimed by Taiwan.

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