Philippines asserts rights in strengthening ties with Japan and U.S.

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18th April 2024 – (Manila) The Philippines’ Foreign Ministry on Thursday declared the nation’s decision to enhance relations with Japan and the United States as a “sovereign choice.” This comes amid escalating tensions over maritime claims in the South China Sea, a key global shipping route.

The statement from the ministry pointed directly to “China’s excessive maritime claims and aggressive behaviour, including militarisation of reclaimed features,” as the primary threats to regional peace and stability. This assertion was made following the recent trilateral summit involving U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., where concerns about China’s actions in the region were a central topic of discussion.

During the summit, the three leaders jointly voiced alarm over what they termed the “dangerous and aggressive behaviour” by China in the disputed waters, signalling a unified stance against actions perceived as destabilising.

In contrast, a spokesperson from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Mao Ning, underscored Beijing’s opposition to what it views as “forming exclusive circles in the region,” during a briefing last week. This remark was in reference to the increasing military and diplomatic collaborations between the Philippines, the United States, and Japan.

The South China Sea remains a strategic flashpoint in Southeast Asia, with China claiming nearly the entire sea area. These claims conflict with the maritime rights of several other countries in the region, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. The contested waters are not only rich in natural resources but also see more than US$3 trillion worth of ship-borne trade each year, highlighting their global economic significance.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, stating they had no legal basis under international law. However, China has persistently rejected this ruling, continuing its activities in the region.