MANILA – Japan and the Philippines joined forces on Thursday to call on China to observe the rule of law in resolving maritime disputes after an international tribunal rejected Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met his counterpart Perfecto Yasay in the southern Philippine city of Davao where both pledged to work closely to boost maritime security while facing separate sea disputes with China.
“We have agreed that in the pursuit of the solution to the conflict in the maritime area, it is important to base ourselves on the rule of law and resort to peaceful means and not the use of force or coercion,” Kishida said, referring to the UN-backed tribunalâ€™s finding published in July.
“We invoke and urge China to make sure that maritime security and the rule of law must completely and uncompromisingly be respected,” Yasay said in his statement.
Japan and China are locked in a long-running dispute over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, while Manila and Beijing have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
Kishida on Tuesday called in Cheng Yonghua, Beijingâ€™s envoy to Tokyo, following what Japan calls “intrusions” by Chinese ships near the disputed islands for five consecutive days.
Tensions over the disputes have mounted since the tribunalâ€™s decision, with China angrily rejecting it and announcing penalties for “illegal” fishing in its waters including the disputed areas.
“We have the same experience in the East China Sea and the South China Sea with respect to certain actions that use force, intimidation, provocation in order to assert oneâ€™s claim over a particular territory,” said Yasay.
Kishida said Japan, while not a claimant in the South China Sea, would continue to cooperate closely with “relevant countries” for the peaceful resolution of maritime rows.
He pledged continued Japanese aid for the Philippines to boost its maritime security capabilities.
Several patrol vessels earlier pledged by Tokyo to President Rodrigo Duterteâ€™s predecessor Benigno Aquino are to begin arriving in Manila by monthâ€™s end, Kishida added.
With a severely under-equipped military, the Philippines has been seeking to strengthen ties with allies like Japan, the United States and Australia, which have called on China to comply with the ruling.
China has conducted massive reclamation in the South China Sea, with a US-based think tank releasing images this week showing what appears to be Beijing building military aircraft hangars on disputed reefs.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to the sea, through which over $5 trillion in annual trade passes.