The Philippines’ newly found affection for China has sparked concern in Japan that it would embolden the Asian giant to expand more aggressively in the South China Sea.
Japan has worked with the U.S. and others to pressure China to accept an international arbitration ruling in July that rejected Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. The ruling involved a case brought by the Philippines, but Manila has downplayed the decision in its favor.
“The South China Sea is an extremely important issue that directly affects the peace and prosperity of the region,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Thursday in response to the China-Philippines summit held that day. “We want to work with other countries, including the Philippines, in order to formulate a strong response.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has insisted that the South China Sea is a vital route for Japan, and he has stressed at international meetings the importance of the rule of law for handling tensions in that area. Tokyo also worries that allowing China to militarize the South China Sea would impact Japan’s own dispute with the country in the East China Sea over the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing calls the Diaoyu.
Japan’s partnership with the Philippines is a key part of Tokyo’s strategy in the region. During a September summit in Laos, Abe agreed to provide two large patrol ships to the Philippines to bolster the country’s coast guard. Closer ties between Manila and Beijing could derail Japan’s strategy.
Source: Nikkei Image: Wikimedia Commons