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US, Japan and Philippines Call Out China for Its Aggressive Behaviour in South China Sea

NEW YORK – The foreign ministers of the United States, Japan and the Philippines have criticised China at the United Nations, as its ships continue to shadow Manila’s resupply missions to a remote military outpost in the disputed South China Sea.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, and Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo on Friday held a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.

US Department of State spokesman Matthew Miller said the foreign ministers reaffirmed their commitment to promote peace and stability in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, where Beijing has competing territorial claims with the Philippines and Japan, respectively.

They zeroed in on China’s recent aggressive behaviour against the Philippines’ resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef in the Spratly Islands where a handful of Filipino soldiers have been living on the decrepit World War II-era warship BRP Sierra Madre. The ship was intentionally grounded there in 1999 to help assert the Philippines’ sovereignty claim over the area.

“The three countries will continue to call out behaviour that is inconsistent with international law, including the People’s Republic of China’s recent actions near Second Thomas Shoal that interfered with the Philippines’ lawful exercise of high seas freedom of navigation,” said Mr Miller.

The US, Japan and Philippines also agreed to continue working together “as equal and sovereign partners, for a free and open Indo-Pacific region that upholds international law”.

In August, eight Chinese vessels shadowed and fired water cannon at smaller Philippine boats on a routine resupply mission for Filipino troops at the disputed shoal.

In at least two subsequent resupply missions between August and early September, Chinese ships continued to shadow the Philippine supply vessels on the way to Second Thomas Shoal. Beijing then accused Manila of seeking to permanently occupy the disputed shoal and insisted that the Philippines earlier promised to remove the grounded warship from the submerged reef it calls Ren’ai Jiao.

The trilateral meeting between officials from Washington, Tokyo and Manila on the UNGA sidelines comes as the Philippines continues to forge stronger defence ties with military allies like the US, Japan and Australia to help counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

The increasing institutionalisation of this trilateral cooperation, along with the quadrilateral partnership with Australia, is a huge benefit for the Philippines, said Mr Gregory Poling, chief of the South-east Asia programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“It integrates Manila more into the regional alliance network, increases its leverage vis-a-vis China, and gives it greater say in the decision-making of Washington, Tokyo and Canberra, which is what more equal alliances are all about,” Mr Poling added.

Manila has been in talks with the US, Japan and Australia on the possibility of joint patrols in the eastern parts of the South China Sea that lie within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Filipinos officially call this area the West Philippine Sea, and a 2016 international arbitral tribunal ruled that the Philippines exercises sovereignty over the area.

Beijing, however, has refused to recognise the tribunal’s ruling and continues to assert its claim over most of the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have competing claims over the disputed waterway.

Source : The Straits Times