WASHINGTON – The United States and Japan plan to hold a meeting of coast guard commanders with Australia and the Philippines as part of their efforts to forge a unified front against China’s maritime activities, according to diplomatic sources.
The four-way meeting of top coast guard officers, the first of its kind, is expected to discuss a future framework for working together to enhance maritime security, including cooperating in equipment procurement and holding joint drills, the sources said Monday.
The move came as the Defense Ministry announced that a Chinese naval intelligence vessel has been seen sailing outside the contiguous zone off the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture, several times since Thursday.
The vessel did not enter Japanese territorial waters, the ministry said. It is the second time a Chinese naval vessel has been spotted in the area since late December.
According to the ministry, the vessel sailed to the southwest off the peninsula before turning toward the northeast. The same vessel was spotted in the Tsushima Strait and Tsugaru Strait several times starting Jan. 26.
The idea of holding high-level meeting on coast guard cooperation emerged as the United States and Japan are stepping up multilateral cooperation on maritime security with countries such as Australia and India in response to unilateral Chinese activities in the East and South China seas.
The Philippines is likely to host the meeting, which will be held by this spring, according to the sources.
Participation by the Philippines, which is involved in territorial rows with China, is expected to strengthen coast guard cooperation related to dealing with Chinese activities in disputed areas of the South China Sea, including creation of islands on reefs and construction of various facilities on them.
China last month conducted test flights of civilian aircraft using an airstrip it constructed on one of the artificial islands in the disputed Spratly Islands.
In the East China Sea, China frequently sends ships into Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands to demonstrate its claim to them.
Australia agreed to enhance cooperation with Japan in “two-plus-two” security dialogue with the United States in October and the Philippines did likewise in a two-plus-two meeting with the United States last month, according to a U.S. official.
The United States will advance maritime security cooperation in a “multifaceted” way, with Washington and Tokyo at the center, the official said.
The United States will host its first summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in California on Feb. 15 to 16, and closer cooperation on China is expected to top the agenda.
ASEAN includes the Philippines and Vietnam, another country involved in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
The United States has proposed a joint statement with ASEAN stipulating the importance of “freedom of navigation” and overflight, according to the sources.
Japan and the United States, its closest security ally, have boosted their involvement in multilateral security frameworks on the back of an increase in Chinese maritime activities, such as Japan’s participation in joint drills with countries including the United States and aid to coast guards of Southeast Asian countries.