DAVAO, PHILIPPINES – In a veiled reference to China’s rising maritime assertion, Japan and the Philippines agreed Thursday to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea through peaceful means and that the use of coercion or force is intolerable.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to work with Japan for the peaceful resolution of disputes based on the rule of law at sea during his talks with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Davao City in the southern Philippines, according to a Japanese official who attended the meeting.
Duterte said that the July 12 decision by the Hague-based and U.N.-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration, which rejected China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea as having no legal basis, should be respected.
The case was brought by the Philippines, which is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China in the resource-rich South China Sea along with other Southeast Asian nations.
Duterte, a longtime mayor of Davao, was meeting a Japanese Cabinet member for the first time since taking office in June.
China has rejected the ruling and is proceeding with the apparent militarization of outposts in the South China Sea in a move deemed as an assertion of maritime rights and territorial claims.
Japan is seeking to strengthen relations with the new Philippine government as a way to put international pressure on China to accept the ruling.
Japan has said that the tribunal decision is “final and legally binding” and that the parties to the case, namely China and the Philippines, “are required to comply.”
But it remains unclear how far Manila will press China as Duterte, in contrast with his predecessor President Benigno Aquino, seems to have adopted a softer stance on Beijing, seeking closer economic ties with the world’s second-largest economy.
Japan is not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes, but sees the waters as a vital sea lane for oil imports. It also faces its own challenges from China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Japan has been alarmed as Chinese government vessels have repeatedly entered Japanese waters around the Senkakus — which China claims and calls them the Diaoyus — over the past week despite protests by Tokyo.
During the talks, Kishida and Duterte shared the view that the rule of law and a peaceful resolution of disputes are also important in the East China Sea.
Ahead of the meeting with Duterte, Kishida met his Philippine counterpart, Perfecto Yasay.
“For the prevalence of the rule of law, Japan seeks to closely cooperate with the international community and related countries,” Kishida said in a joint news conference following his meeting with Yasay.
“I have conveyed during our meeting that Japan will continue to provide support for the improvement of the maritime security of the Philippines,” Kishida said, referring to the agreed offering of Japanese patrol vessels.
Yasay said, “We invoke and urge China to make sure that maritime order, security and the rule of law must completely and uncompromisingly be respected,” articulating what could be his strongest statement so far against China since the July court ruling.
“We had the same experience in the East China Sea and the South China Sea for that matter, with respect to certain actions that use force, intimidation, provocation in order to assert one’s claim over a particular territory. This is not the kind of action that is mandated by international law,” Yasay said.
The meeting was the two ministers’ second following their talks in Laos late last month.
“If anyone, including China, has any particular claim that it asserts over any particular territory, it must bring this within the concept of a peaceful resolution, under international law, and respect that rule of law,” Yasay said.
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