Executive Branch Foreign Relations & International Law

Water Wars: Marcos Vows Philippines ‘Will Not Lose One Inch of Its Territory’ in the South China Sea

Teresa Chen, Alana Nance, Han-ah Sumner
Wednesday, March 15, 2023, 12:22 PM

U.S. aircraft over the South China Sea during an exercise Feb. 17, 2023. (U.S. Navy, https://tinyurl.com/pw672sv8; U.S. Government Works, https://tinyurl.com/33zu4eru)

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Solomon Islands Ousts Provincial Leader Critical of China 

The leader of the Solomon Islands’s most populous province was ousted on Feb. 7 after a vote of no confidence by the provincial legislature. Daniel Suidani, former premier of Malaita Province, has been a vocal critic of the central government’s relationship with China. He opposed the security pact that the Solomon Islands entered into with China in 2022 and banned Chinese companies from Malaita Province. Although the Solomon Islands officially ended diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of Beijing in 2019, Suidani maintained ties with Taiwanese diplomats. He has also repeatedly advocated for Malaita to declare independence from the Solomon Islands.

The vote to oust Suidani was unanimous, but Suidani and his supporters walked off the assembly meeting floor and boycotted the proceeding. Suidani filed a motion of appeal in the Solomon Islands High Court to prevent the vote from going forward, but the court ultimately allowed it to proceed. The vote of no confidence rested on accusations that Suidani misappropriated government funds—a claim that his supporters allege is only a silencing tactic to quiet an outspoken critic of the central government in Honiara.

Following the vote of no confidence, Solomon Islands police deployed tear gas to disperse protesters in the town of Auki, the provincial capital of Malaita. The Solomon Islands government also sent additional police to Malaita to maintain order during the leadership transition.

As previous Lawfare articles have detailed, the Solomon Islands has drawn closer to China in recent years. In response to the China-Solomon Islands security pact signed last April, the United States vowed to reestablish its long-shuttered embassy in Honiara. Last month, the State Department announced the embassy’s official reopening. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the reopening a symbol of the renewal of the relationship between the United States and the Solomon Islands that “underlines the strength of our commitment to our bilateral relations, the people of the Solomon Islands, and our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Military Developments in Taiwan

Amid increased activity by China’s People’s Liberation Army around Taiwan in recent months and increased warnings from U.S. military officials about the potential for military conflict, the island has continued to advance its defense capabilities. Most notably, on Feb. 7, the government-funded National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) reported that it had successfully test-fired a missile believed to be capable of striking mainland China. Though the NCSIST declined to identify the missile type, military observers have stated that it was most likely a newly developed extended-range version of the Hsiung Feng IIE, which is reported to be able to hit targets up to 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) away. According to the NCSIST, there will be further tests to verify the missile’s capabilities.  

In addition to missiles, the NCSIST also announced that it is taking the lead in the development and production of drones for military purposes, with the help of the private sector. The announcement was confirmed by statements from Taiwan Defense Ministry spokesperson Sun Li-fang, who told reporters: “Responding to the present enemy threat and using the general experience of drones in the Ukraine-Russia war, in order to construct an asymmetric combat power for our country’s drones, the defense ministry is speeding up research and development and production of various drones.” The NCSIST reportedly plans to develop prototypes of five kinds of commercial drones for military purposes: carrier-launched unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), land-based surveillance UAVs, drones with target-acquisition capabilities, surveillance UAVs, and miniature UAVs. Chi Li-pin, head of the NCSIST’s Aeronautical Systems Research Division, explained that adapting commercial drones for military purposes would allow them to deploy the technology more quickly and would also shave off a few years from the testing process. The NCSIST estimated that mass production of the drones would likely begin next year.

Additionally, the United States has continued to support Taiwan in its military defense efforts. In late February, it was reported that the United States was expanding its troop presence in Taiwan, more than quadrupling the number of American troops currently deployed there to bolster the island’s training program. U.S. officials stated that they planned to deploy between 100 and 200 troops to Taiwan, which is a dramatic increase from the approximately  30 troops the United States deployed a year ago. U.S. troops will train Taiwan’s military not only on the use of U.S. weapons systems but also on military tactics to protect against potential Chinese attacks. Furthermore, on March 2, the Pentagon announced that the United States approved a potential arms sale of missiles and other military equipment, worth about $619 million, to Taiwan. The contractors for the military equipment will be Raytheon Missiles and Defense and Lockheed Martin, two companies that China has already imposed trade and investment sanctions on for their past involvement in supplying Taiwan with weapons.

Official Visits to Taiwan

In February, Taiwan welcomed state visits from both American and Chinese officials, and Taiwanese officials also visited the White House for private talks, making strides on diplomatic relations.

On Feb. 17, Taiwan welcomed Michael Chase, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for China and the Pentagon’s top China official. Neither the Pentagon nor Taiwan’s Defense Ministry provided additional details about the visit, but a Pentagon spokesperson stated they would “highlight that our support for, and defense relationship with, Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the visit drew strong criticism from China. When asked about the visit, Wang Wenbin, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, stated that China is “firmly opposed to official interaction and military contact between the U.S. and the Taiwan region.” Chase’s trip to the island is the second in four decades by a high-ranking U.S. defense official.

On Feb. 18, a separate bipartisan congressional delegation led by U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) visited Taiwan with the intention “to bolster ties between Silicon Valley and the Taiwanese semiconductor industry.” The delegation also included Reps. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), and Jonathan Jackson (D-Ill.). The delegation met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Morris Chang, the founder of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. In an interview with NPR, Khanna stated that his visit was motivated by a few reasons, including determining how to “bring semiconductor manufacturing back to the United States” and to “understand what the people of Taiwan want,” to bring peace and stability to the region.

On Feb. 18, a delegation of Chinese officials from Shanghai, led by Li Xiaodong, deputy head of the Shanghai branch of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, traveled to Taiwan to attend Taipei’s Lantern Festival at the invitation of the municipal government. This was the first visit by Chinese officials to Taiwan since the coronavirus pandemic. The delegation’s arrival was met with local protesters and supporters alike, with one group representing pro-Taiwan independence protesting their arrival, and the other group with pro-China sentiments to welcome the delegation. Taiwanese scholars observed that the three-day visit has added to increased domestic political tensions in cross-strait relations between the two main parties of Taiwan: the more progressive, pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, which may “worry these actions are at the risk of Taiwan’s safety and sovereignty,” and the more conservative Kuomintang, which tends to view these trips as “not controversial.”

On Feb. 21, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and Taiwanese Secretary General of the National Security Council Wellington Koo visited Washington for “closed-door talks” with senior U.S. officials, marking the first visit by the island’s top diplomat to the U.S. capital since 1979. U.S. participants were reported to include Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer, among others. Though details of the conversation remain private, local Taiwanese media reported that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan may have been a topic of conversation. The meeting was held at the Washington headquarters of the American Institute in Taiwan and lasted approximately seven hours.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Visits Japan

On Feb. 8, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. traveled to Japan for a four-day visit with the goal of strengthening bilateral security ties between the two countries. In a statement, Marcos asserted that his trip to Japan “is part of a larger foreign policy agenda to forge closer political ties, stronger defense, and security cooperation, as well as lasting economic partnerships with major countries in the region amid a challenging global environment.”

According to the Japan-Philippines Joint Statement on the summit meeting between Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the two leaders discussed a wide range of topics, including “economy, security, people-to-people exchanges, and regional and international issues.” On the military defense front specifically, the two countries discussed the installation of satellite communication systems on Philippine patrol vessels as well as the development of a support base for the Philippine Coast Guard at Subic Bay, which would reportedly bolster the Philippines’s maritime law enforcement capabilities. The two sides also reached agreement to simplify visiting procedures for joint military exercises to enhance bilateral cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Japan also committed to increased defense equipment and technology transfer to the Philippines. In addition to these discussions, the two countries signed a number of key agreements that would provide infrastructure development, defense, agriculture, and technology benefits to the Philippines. Marcos also signed a number of investment deals, yielding approximately $13 billion and creating 24,000 jobs.

Marcos’s visit to Japan comes after the Philippines has committed to strengthening its defense alliance with the United States, with the Philippines agreeing to provide the U.S. military with additional access to four military bases, which have not yet been announced. International relations analysts have stated that the visit also builds on mutual interest for regional security and mutual concern around China’s increased military presence. Following his arrival back in Manila, Marcos said his meeting with Kishida was “very fruitful” and that the two countries “committed to further strengthen the strategic partnership between the Philippines and Japan and to map out a transformative future-oriented partnership.”

Japan-China Security Dialogue Convenes Around Spy Balloons Over Japan

On Feb. 22, Chinese and Japanese officials convened in Tokyo for formal security talks, the first in four years. The meeting occurred amid heightened tensions between the two countries after the Japanese Defense Ministry stated that Japan has also had unidentified flying objects and surveillance balloons in its territorial airspace. The announcement came after the United States shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina in early February. In light of the recent suspicious balloon activity and new information, the Japanese Defense Ministry reanalyzed past cases of unidentified flying objects, which they concluded were “strongly suspected” to have been Chinese spy balloons. 

Japan raised concerns over the alleged use of spy balloons at the meeting with Chinese officials, in addition to other concerns related to the increase in Chinese military activity around the country. China in turn expressed concerns about Japan’s increased investment and commitment to military defense. Other topics raised during the meeting included the territorial dispute between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands (Chinese: Diaoyu Islands) in the East China Sea and “unblocking” industrial supply chains. In a statement released after the meeting, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said that the two countries had agreed to establish a direct channel of communication in the next few months and to strengthen the security dialogue between government officials. In its own statement, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs largely echoed their Japanese counterparts and also said that the two sides “agreed that the dialogue has enhanced mutual understanding and is of positive significance.”

Military Developments Continue in Japan

Sightings of Chinese vessels and aircraft in Japan’s territorial space continued in February:

  • On Feb. 12, the Japanese Defense Ministry reported that a Chinese navy survey vessel entered Japan’s territorial waters near islands close to Kagoshima. The Defense Ministry expressed concern about the ship’s presence to their Chinese counterparts through diplomatic channels.
  • On Feb. 18, the Japanese Fisheries Agency stated that a Chinese naval helicopter flew into Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the East China Sea and approached a Japanese research ship. The Japanese government lodged formal protests of the incident to the Chinese government through diplomatic channels, calling the incident “regrettable” and urging Beijing to “prevent any similar occurrences in the future.”
  • On Feb. 27, Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry reported that four Chinese Coast Guard ships had encroached in Japan’s territorial waters by crossing the 12-mile territorial limit around the Senkaku Islands (Chinese: Diaoyu Islands). The Foreign Affairs Ministry lodged formal complaints with the Chinese Embassy in Japan as well as with the Chinese government in Beijing.

Japan is also continuing to take steps to enhance its military capabilities:

  • On Feb. 16, the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Marine Corps kick-started Iron Fist, a monthlong, large-scale joint exercise in southwestern Japan. The training drills include simulation focused on defending and recapturing remote islands by using amphibious vehicles and Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The exercise also focuses on “advanced marksmanship, amphibious reconnaissance, fire and maneuver assaults, logistics and medical support, and fire support operations.” Iron Fist will include participation from 800 Japanese forces and 900 American forces based largely in Okinawa.
  • Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez told reporters that Japan and Australia may join the Philippines and the United States in joint South China Sea patrols. Romualdez said that meetings between officials from the four countries have been set to discuss the possibility of the joint patrols, and that Japan and Australia had expressed interest in enforcing the code of conduct and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
  • Local media reported that Japan plans to start operations on its new missile base on Ishigaki Island in March as part of a plan to bolster defenses in the Nansei Island Chain. The Nansei Islands are located approximately 150 miles west of Taiwan. Though the Japanese Defense Ministry declined to comment on the developments due to “security reasons,” an unnamed government source stated that the Defense Ministry plans to transport missiles to the base in mid-March.

Philippines “Will Not Lose One Inch of Its Territory” After China Lasing Incident 

In February, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest with the Chinese Embassy in Manila after a Chinese Coast Guard vessel aimed a laser at a Philippine Coast Guard vessel, reportedly temporarily blinding some of its crew members. The incident occurred near the disputed Second Thomas Shoal (Chinese: Ren’ai Jiao; Tagalog: Ayungin Shoal; Taiwanese: Ren’ai Ansha; Vietnamese: Bãi Cỏ Mây), a submerged reef in the Spratly Islands (Chinese: Nansha Qundao; Tagalog: Kalayaan Islands; Vietnamese: Quần đảo Trường Sa). In 1999, the Philippines intentionally grounded a ship on the reef to enforce its maritime claim in the area and now regularly delivers food and supplies to military personnel stationed aboard the grounded ship. The Philippine Coast Guard alleges that the Chinese ship first tried to block the Philippine ship from reaching the shoal to deliver food and supplies to its personnel before shining a “military grade” green laser beam at the crew. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin alleged that the incident was an “intrusion without permission” by the Philippine Coast Guard and that the Chinese vessel’s actions were “professional” and taken “with restraint.” Wang challenged the truthfulness of the allegations and claimed that the Chinese ship merely “used [a] hand-held laser speed detector and hand-held greenlight pointer to measure the distance and speed of the Philippine vessel and signal directions to ensure navigation safety.”

The U.S. State Department issued a statement in support of the Philippines shortly after the incident. Department spokesperson Ned Price called the Chinese vessel’s conduct “provocative and unsafe … interfering with the Philippines’ lawful operations in and around Second Thomas Shoal.” He further stated that the People’s Republic of China’s “dangerous operational behavior directly threatens regional peace and stability, infringes on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as guaranteed under international law, and undermines the rules-based international order.” Price also asserted that under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, and pursuant to the international tribunal’s legally binding 2016 arbitral decision, China has “no lawful maritime claims to the Second Thomas Shoal.” He reaffirmed that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S. Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.

President Marcos told a news conference that the Chinese Coast Guard’s use of the laser against the Philippine vessel was insufficient to trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty but vowed that the Philippines “will not lose one inch of its territory.” He pledged to continue to “uphold Philippine territorial integrity and sovereignty” in accordance with the Philippine constitution and international law. Marcos summoned China’s ambassador to the Philippines to “express his serious concern over China’s actions in the South China Sea” and called on Beijing to stop its “aggressive activities.”

Due to concerns over the frequency and intensity of China’s activities, the Philippines has increased coast guard patrols near the Spratly Islands, deploying its flagship vessel to bolster the defense of Philippine fishing vessels. The increased coast guard presence follows a series of incidents where Chinese vessels interfered with Filipino fishermen in the disputed area. Not long after the lasing incident, the Associated Press reported that the Philippines has entered into talks with the United States and Australia to begin joint patrols throughout the South China Sea. Additionally, the Philippines is considering a trilateral security pact with the United States and Japan. Although the proposal is in its early stages, Marcos posited a future visiting forces agreement with Japan, similar to the one the Philippines currently has with the United States. However, he stressed the need for caution in order to avoid appearing “provocative.” Marcos also met with Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim last week to discuss their shared commitment to boosting bilateral political, security, and economic cooperation, with an emphasis on maintaining peace in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Philippine militaries are gearing up for the largest “Balikatan” joint exercises since 2015, which will take place in April.

North Korea Parades New Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, Including Possible Solid-Fuel Missile

On Feb. 8, North Korea paraded its new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to mark the 75th anniversary of its army. The regime also displayed its KN-24 missiles, 600 mm super-large multiple rocket launchers, and the North Korean version of the Iskander missile. Footage of the parade also shows at least 11 Hwasong-17 ICBMs, which is seven more than the regime had last year. Japan’s Defense Ministry estimates that each Hwasong-17 can travel more than 9,320 miles, depending on the weight of the warhead. Experts suspect that at least one of the paraded missiles was a solid-fuel ICBM, which are better suited for surprise attacks, because they do not need to be fueled up and can be deployed quickly.  

On Feb. 13, Korean Foreign Ministry Vice Minister Cho Hyun-Dong met with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Mori Takeo to reaffirm trilateral efforts to respond to escalating nuclear threats from North Korea and confirm their shared goal of complete denuclearization of North Korea. Cho stated that the countries would work to strengthen their “combined defense posture” and “enhance ... trilateral security cooperation.” Mori echoed Cho, noting that “concerted efforts of the international community are critical.” 

On Feb. 18, North Korea fired a Hwasong-15 ICBM into waters just 200 kilometers from Hokkaido’s Oshima Island, in what Pyongyang called a “sudden launching drill.” The missile traveled roughly 900 kilometers, hitting a peak altitude of 5,700 kilometers over a flight time of 66 minutes. According to North Korea’s state-run news agency, the drill was “clear proof of the sure reliability of [North Korea’s] powerful physical nuclear deterrent.” Although it took more than nine hours from the time the order was given to the launch, Ankit Panda, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, expects North Korea to “carry out similar drills to bring that time down.” In response to the drill, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “call[ed] on others to condemn th[e] action, to take appropriate steps, including the effective enforcement of sanctions.” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno called the launch “a threat to ... peace and security” and stated that the launch “clearly shows that North Korea is pursuing the practical deployment of its ICBMs.” Just two days later, on Feb. 20, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, after traveling 350 and 400 kilometers. 

The Hwasong-15 launch was likely in reaction to joint drills between the United States and South Korea on Feb. 22 and the Freedom Shield exercise, an 11-day regular joint military drill scheduled to occur in March. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry published a statement in the country’s state-run media stating that if “the U.S. and South Korea carry into practice their already-announced plan for military drills[,] ... they will face unprecedently persistent and strong counteractions.” At the Feb. 22 drill, a Japanese destroyer joined U.S. and South Korean navy destroyers to promote growing trilateral cooperation between the three countries. The joint drill focused on ballistic missile information-sharing emphasized the unity among the three countries after North Korea fired the Hwasong-15. 

U.S. Military Exercises Provide a Visible Display of Force Amid Rising Tensions in the South China Sea

On Feb. 1, four-star U.S. Air Force Gen. Mike Minihan wrote in a memo to leadership of the Air Mobility Command that his “gut” told him China and the United States would “fight in 2025.” Escalating tensions in the South China Sea this past month do not suggest otherwise. 

Over the past several years, the South China Sea has become a major point of conflict in the region. Islands within the South China Sea have been subject to territorial claims from China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. The South China Sea is strategically important both because it is home to critical fish, oil, and gas resources, and because roughly a third of the world’s shipping passes through the waterway. The Chinese Coast Guard maintained close-to-daily patrols across the South China Sea in 2022. As China strengthens its hold in the South China Sea, it has even opened supermarkets on three of its artificial islands for soldiers stationed on the islands. While the extent of China’s militarization on the islands has not been fully documented, a satellite image of a Chinese air defense facility on the Paracel Islands (Mandarin: Xīshā Qúndǎo; Vietnamese: Quần đảo Hoàng Sa) could indicate that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has surface-to-air missiles on the premises. 

On Feb. 11, the Nimitz CSG, a U.S. Navy carrier strike group, and the Marine Corps’s Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group conducted “integrated Expeditionary Strike Force operations” together in the South China Sea to test the formulations’ ability to operate together. The 7th Fleet did not provide any details on when the exercises began or ended. According to a U.S. Navy news release, integration of the two formulations would “establish[] a powerful presence in the region, which supports peace and stability.” The integration would help support a “broad spectrum of missions including landing Marines ashore, humanitarian disaster relief, and deterring potential adversaries through visible and present combat power.” The exercises took place after dozens of combat planes and helicopters toured in the South China Sea in late January in a show of U.S. commitment to uphold freedom of passage. Rear Adm. Christopher Sweeney stated that “sailing and operating obviously with our allies and partners in the area” was important to “assur[e] them of free and open commerce and trade in the Indo-Pacific.” 

On Feb. 24, the U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon, a reconnaissance jet, flew 21,500 feet over the South China Sea, 30 miles from China’s military bases in the Paracel Islands. The jet was intercepted by a Chinese fighter jet, which flew beside the U.S. plane for 15 minutes. On Feb. 27, the Poseidon flew over the Taiwan Strait to assert the United States’s right to operate in international airspace in the face of Chinese objections. According to the 7th Fleet, the flight demonstrated “the United State[s] commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.” But according to Shi Yi, a spokesman for China’s Eastern Theater Command, the jet’s flight “deliberately disrupted the regional situation and jeopardized the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” On Feb. 28, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported 14 PLA aircraft and three navy vessels around the island, including four aircraft that crossed the strait’s median line. 

The United States claims that its vessels and aircraft operate where international law allows, while China claims that U.S. presence in the South China Sea is responsible for heightened tensions. A Feb. 8 Congressional Research Service report noted that “China’s actions in the [South China Sea]—including ... actions by its maritime forces to assert China’s claims against competing claims by regional neighbors such as the Philippines and Vietnam––have heightened concerns among U.S. observers that China is gaining effective control of the [South China Sea], an area of strategic, political, and economic importance to the United States and its allies and partners.” According to a senior Department of Defense official, the U.S. is focused on “expand[ing] the scope of cooperation across multiple operational domains, including cyberspace and space” with allies such as South Korea and the Philippines. With respect to the Philippines, the official noted that the United States would discuss what the two countries “can do together to address what has been a pretty notable period of harassment and coercion recently in the South China Sea.”  

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met with Qin Gang, her Chinese counterpart, prior to a round of negotiations regarding the South China Sea code of conduct. Retno noted that “Indonesia and [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)] would like to produce an effective, substantive and actionable [code of conduct].” The code of conduct would work toward effectuating a 2002 commitment by China and ASEAN countries to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. Qin maintains that “China is willing to deepen cooperation with ASEAN and create more opportunities to work together.” The Malaysian prime minister has similarly suggested engaging “at a multilateral level between ASEAN” countries as part of “a comprehensive approach.”

190 Countries Agree on New High Seas Treaty

On March 4, more than 190 countries agreed on a common framework for establishing new protected areas in international water to protect the biodiversity of the world’s oceans. The new high seas treaty, which has yet to be ratified by the United Nations, is the product of almost two decades of effort. The treaty will address concerns arising from the degradation of the oceans’ ecosystems but will also address how to divide profits from deep-sea scientific discoveries. According to the U.S. Department of State, the treaty will provide “[t]he foundation for a fair and equitable benefit sharing system of the utilization of marine genetic resources while continuing to encourage exploration and innovation” and “protects the fundamental objectives of the Law of the Sea Convention.” 


For War on the Rocks, Jeffrey W. Hornung and Christopher B. Johnstone analyze Japan’s recently released landmark strategy documents: the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, and the Defense Buildup Plan. They argue the strategies signal a fundamental shift in Japan’s security perspective due to the unparalleled commitment of resources and development of new capabilities toward a stronger defense. Though they commend Japan for this shift, Hornung and Johnstone identify insufficient manpower and political will as significant hurdles to success and ultimately urge the United States to help Japan address and prevent these challenges.

For the Diplomat, Guy C. Charlton and Xiang Gao argue that the weakest dimension of the United States’s Indo-Pacific strategy is the economy. They explain that “[w]ithout granting Asia-Pacific states market access and lower trade and investment barriers[,]” the United States will not be able to properly counter “Chinese economic and investment activities in the region.” To that end, they identify shortcomings in sufficient funding and the lack of market access mechanisms in the Biden administration’s recently launched Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and suggest adding such dimensions to a future or longer-term strategy. 

Center for Strategic and International Studies experts issue a number of recommendations arising from a recently convened trilateral U.S.-Japan-Philippines Track 2 strategic dialogue, with an ultimate conclusion pushing for both the United States and Japan to strengthen alliances with the Philippines toward trilateral cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Recommendations include coming to a common definition of “gray zone activity” in the South and East China seas that the three countries can mutually enforce; providing military and defense support and training by the United States and Japan to the Philippines; and enhancing economic support by the United States and Japan to the Philippines.

The Heritage Foundation’s Brent Sadler argues that in order to counter China’s growing global naval force and its implications for the rules-based order of the South China Sea, the United States should consider a reorganization of its own naval forces to more adequately protect U.S. interests and security in the long term. Whereas the Navy is currently organized by “landward geographic focus,” Sadler asserts that “organizing the Navy’s numbered fleets along a maritime focus … with forces tailored to specific regional strategic missions” would be beneficial for sustained maritime operations.

Teresa Chen is a J.D. student at Harvard Law School. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Global Affairs from Yale University.
Alana Nance is a J.D. student at Harvard Law School. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Chinese from the U.S. Naval Academy and served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Han-ah Sumner is a second-year J.D. student at Harvard Law School. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Ethics, Politics and Economics from Yale University.

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