TOKYO — Japan and the Philippines agreed on Saturday to work towards signing a treaty to facilitate joint exercises and reciprocal visits by their forces amid China’s increasingly assertive pursuit of sovereignty claims in the regional waters has upset its neighbours.
The agreement was reached during a meeting in Tokyo of their foreign and defense ministers, during which they expressed their “serious concern” about the situation in the East and South China Seas and “firmly opposed” to any action likely to inflame tensions, according to their joint agreement. statement.
They also agreed that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has threatened the very foundation of the rules-based international order and that the ramifications of the war go far beyond Europe.
“We will strengthen defense cooperation in light of an increasingly difficult security environment,” Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters after the first “two plus two” security talks concluded. between the two countries.
A new treaty sought by Japan and the Philippines, which are struggling to cope with China’s maritime sovereignty claims, is officially called the Reciprocal Access Agreement.
Such a pact, which Japan recently signed with Australia, will help ease restrictions on transporting weapons and supplies for joint training and disaster relief operations.
Hayashi, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and their respective Filipino counterparts Teodoro Locsin and Delfin Lorenzana have also confirmed they are considering signing a supply sharing pact for their forces, known as ACSA, which stands for an agreement of acquisition and cross-services, officials said.
While China’s influence is great, the ministers pledged to achieve a “free and open” Indo-Pacific and opposed “illegal maritime claims, militarization, coercive activities and the threat or the use of force in the South China Sea”.
The statement stopped making direct reference to China, but Hayashi said at the start of the talks that “China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo on the back of its force continue in the East China Seas and southern”.
China has regularly sent ships to the East China Sea to navigate the waters near the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and calls Diaoyu. It is also embroiled in a territorial dispute with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries over the South China Sea.
When Locsin met the press with the other three ministers, he said the launch of the two plus two dialogue is a “manifestation of our willingness to jointly address common defense and foreign affairs concerns.”
The ministers also declared themselves firmly opposed to “economic coercion for political purposes” and underlined “the importance of an international economic order based on law”.
The dialogue came as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fuels fears that China could be encouraged to further step up its military activities in the Indo-Pacific region, while South Korea’s launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles Nord last month renewed attention on its arms threat.
During the Russian invasion, the Japanese and Filipino ministers agreed that it “constitutes a serious violation of international law” and they “deplored the disastrous humanitarian consequences of the hostilities, in particular in Bucha”, a Ukrainian city near kyiv .
Although Russia’s name did not appear on the statement, it said: “This aggression jeopardizes the foundations of the international order which does not accept any unilateral modification of internationally recognized borders through the use of force, thus affecting not only Europe but also Asia.”
They also condemned North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and stressed their commitment to achieving the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of all Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte agreed last November to launch the two plus two dialogue during telephone talks.
The security talks were held before the end of Duterte’s single six-year term, during which he pursued rapprochement with China, in late June.
The Philippines are the second Southeast Asian country to have a two plus two encounter with Japan, after Indonesia.
Besides the Philippines, Japan has held two-plus-two security talks with the United States, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, India, Indonesia and Russia.