In the upcoming months, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague is set to issue its judgment on the case brought by the Philippines that challenges China’s claims in the South China Sea. Beijing appears to be anticipating an unfavorable ruling and is reaffirming its stance on the illegitimacy of the UN tribunal. Beijing has long argued that such disputes should be solved bilaterally and rejects international intervention. This non-multilateral strategy to negotiations works in China’s favor, leaving the claimants and other interested nations weak and divided on maritime security issues.
But a united regional front is exactly what is needed to uphold the rules-based order and respond to China’s attempts to gradually change the status quo by coercive means. Mindful of its own tensions with Beijing in the East China Sea, and the importance of avoiding a split between Asia and the Pacific, Tokyo is now stepping forward to take the lead in strengthening policy coordination on maritime security. Japan is pioneering a civilian power approach that may offer an alternative to military solutions.