MANILA: Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida said today that his country, the Philippines, and the US were cooperating to protect the freedom of the South China Sea as he committed to help enhance Manila’s security capabilities.
“In the South China Sea, the trilateral cooperation to protect the freedom of the sea is underway,” Kishida, on an official visit, said in an address before the Philippine Congress in the capital Manila.
Kishida met Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr yesterday where the two leaders agreed to start negotiations on a reciprocal troop access deal to strengthen military cooperation amid an increasingly assertive China.
Both the Philippines and Japan, two of the US’ closest Asian allies, have taken a strong line against what they see as aggressive behaviour by Chinese vessels amid decades-old disputes over maritime sovereignty.
Last month, China and the Philippines traded accusations over a collision in the disputed waters of the South China Sea as Chinese vessels blocked Philippine boats supplying forces there.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including parts of the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 said China’s claims had no legal basis.
Japan does not have any claim to the South China Sea but has a separate maritime dispute with China in the East China Sea.