Japan to take Phl's side in South China Sea dispute
MANILA, Philippines - Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Thursday assured the Philippines that Japan will be on its side in defending disputed territories in the South China Sea.
|File photo of Japan's Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera at a Pentagon honor cordon last April. AARON HOSTUTLER|
Onodera, who is in a two-day visit in Manila, told Department of National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin in a courtesy call that Japan will cooperate to resolve the sea row with China.
"We agreed that we will further cooperate in terms of defense of remote islands as well as the defense of territory, or territorial sea as well as protection of maritime interest ... We will cooperate with the Philippine side in this matter," Onodera said.
The Japanese official said that both countries are facing "common concerns" as China feuds with different states over territorial claims in overlapping waters.
"I also said that Japan(ese) side is very concerned that this kind of situation in South China Sea (as it) could affect the situation in East China Sea," he said.
Onodera also said that peaceful means over military might should remain paramount and that the rule of law must be considered in seeking arbitration.
"I would like to emphasize here that the current situation should not be changed with use of force ... I think this the concept that is agreed upon in international communities these days," he said.
Likewise, Onodera lauded the Philippines' action in seeking arbitration to resolve the matter.
“I have also learned about the Philippines’ efforts for the United Nations (UN) arbitration process in the principle that the Philippine side seeks to solve this problem based on the rule of law. Japan side is totally supporting these kinds of efforts,” he said.
He added that Japan's priority, meanwhile, is to keep and protect its own territorial space in sea or air more than to get involved in international matters.
Onodera visited U.S. naval base at Subic Bay before meeting with Gazmin, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intends to visit the country in July.
Japan claims that China had intruded into the Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu Islands.
The Philippines for its part, accuses China of intruding into various areas that are within its exclusive economic zone
Chinese intruders have strengthened their presence in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales and Ayungin Shoal off Palawan.
They have also built structures in the Mischief Reef or Panganiban Reef, which is about 70 nautical miles from Palawan and Subi Reef, an islet 12 nautical miles southwest of Pag-asa Island in the same province.
The Philippines has been advocating a multilateral rules-based approach to settle the West Philippine Sea dispute. It has also
China, however, insists that the row be addressed through direct bilateral negotiations.
A report from the newspaper The Japan Times said the meeting between Onodera and Gazmin was meant “to keep China in check.”
The report also quoted an unnamed source as saying that Onodera and Gazmin would work out a “coordinated response” toward China.
Onodera clarified that their security efforts are not directed against a specific country.
“The Japanese government is not aiming at protecting from any specific nation but our stance is that we keep out territorial space, territorial air and sea space well-protected. This should be done according to the rule of law,” he said.
Last January, the Philippines challenged China’s territorial claim to most of the West Philippine Sea before an international tribunal of the UN.
China claims almost the entire West Philippine Sea and the East Sea. The area, delineated by a so-called nine-dash line, covers more than 100 islets, atolls and reefs.
The Philippines believes China’s nine-dash line, which outlined its claims over most of the sea, is illegal. China’s claims also overlap with those of the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and Vietnam.