Japan, Philippines, US rebuke China over ‘dangerous’ South China Sea moves

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The leaders of Japan, the Philippines and the United States have voiced “serious concern” over China’s actions in the disputed South China Sea.

Beijing has stepped up its activities in the strategic waterway in recent years, and tensions have risen, particularly with the Philippines, one of several Southeast Asian countries that claim the parts of the sea around their coastlines.

Last month, Philippines’s President Ferdinand Marcos said Manila would take countermeasures against China after a confrontation

As well as the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea.

The statement noted the “importance of respecting the sovereign rights of states within their exclusive economic zones [EEZ] consistent with international law, as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS]”.

It also reiterated the three states’ opposition to China’s “dangerous and coercive use of Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea”.

off Second Thomas Shoal injured Filipino soldiers and damaged vessels.

“We express our serious concerns about the People’s Republic of China’s [PRC] dangerous and aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea,” the three leaders said in a joint statement at the end of a first-ever summit between the three countries, which took place in Washington, DC.

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea under its so-called nine-dash line, which was rejected by an international court in 2016.

Second Thomas Shoal, known as Ayungin in the Philippines, has been the site of multiple standoffs between Beijing and Manila in recent months, with China’s coastguard using water cannon against ships trying to resupply a contingent of Filipino sailors living on board the deliberately grounded Sierra Madre.

The shoal lies about 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan, placing it within the Philippines’s EEZ, according to UNCLOS. It lies more than 1,000km (621 miles) from China’s southern Hainan island.

‘Working in lockstep’

The US has a mutual defence treaty with the Philippines and has repeatedly made clear that it would protect its ally if its forces came under attack anywhere in the South China Sea.

Following a meeting with top diplomats on Friday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington’s commitment to that treaty was “ironclad”.

“We’re working in lockstep … to strengthen interoperability between our forces, to expand our operational coordination and to stand up to coercion in the South China Sea,” he said.

Meanwhile, Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo accused China of an “escalation of its harassment”.

He said he hoped the US meeting would help Washington and Manila better coordinate their diplomatic and defence responses.

“We are determined to assert our sovereign rights, especially within our economic — exclusive economic zone,” Manalo said.

Earlier on Friday, China summoned Japanese and Philippine diplomats in the country to express what it described as strong dissatisfaction over negative comments made during Thursday’s trilateral summit in the US.

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