Japanese Warships Sail Near Chinese-Controlled Islands in South China Sea

US allies are joining Washington in putting pressure on Beijing in the region

According to reports in Japanese media, Japanese warships sailed near Chinese-controlled islands and reefs in the South China Sea at least two times over the past 10 months.

Citing government sources, Japan’s Yomiuri┬ánewspaper reported that the Japanese warships conducted a “Freedom of Navigation Operation” (FONOP) near the Chinese-controlled Spratly Islands to “deter” China.

FONOP is a term coined by the US, and US warships frequently conduct FONOPs to challenge Beijing in the South China Sea. The Japanese warships reportedly sailed within the contiguous zone of the Spratlys, which extends 24 nautical miles from a coastline.

The US FONOPS typically sail within the territorial waters of the Chinese-controlled islands, which only extends 12 nautical miles from the coastline. While not as provocative as the US maneuvers, the Japanese FONOPs likely angered Beijing.

The report is another example of the US rallying its allies to put pressure on Beijing. In 2021, Washington’s Western allies stepped up their presence in the region, and German, French, and British warships sailed through the South China Sea, although they avoided passages near the Chinese-controlled islands.

The Japanese passages could also be a reaction to increasing tensions with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The Senkakus, or Diayous as they are known in China, are Japanese-controlled but are also claimed by China. Over the past year, Chinese patrols near the Senkakus have increased, drawing protest from Tokyo. US officials have pledged to defend the Senkakus and have reaffirmed that the islands are covered by the Japan-US security treaty.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of Antiwar.com, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.