“Like China and the U.S., Japan is trying to consolidate its role as a leader in the region,” said Jonathan Spangler, director of the Taipei-based South China Sea Think Tank. “Part of this effort involves demonstrating that it has the capacity and courage to operate in areas well beyond its own borders.”

http://www.voanews.com/a/japan-player-south-china-sea-sovereignty-dispute/3773376.html

From interview transcript:

“Like China and the US, Japan is trying to consolidate its role as a leader in the region. Part of this effort involves demonstrating that it has the capacity and courage to operate in areas well beyond its own borders.”

“For many decades, Japan has played an important role in providing development and humanitarian aid to countries throughout East and Southeast Asia, but it was long ‘hindered’ – so to speak – by its pacifist defense policy. With recent changes to that policy, it can now become more directly engaged in regional securitization efforts. For some, this is reassuring; for others, it is cause for concern.”

“Chinese officials view the South China Sea as domestic territory, so it is not surprising that they would cast a wary eye on any foreign military activity in the area. This is especially true when such operations represent an unprecedented departure from previous levels of involvement there.”