Cooperate to protect established order with eye on China, Russia

An international order based on rules is essential to maintaining peace and prosperity in Asia. It is highly significant that Japan and the Philippines have agreed to promote security cooperation in earnest.

The governments of Japan and the Philippines held their first 2-plus-2 talks of foreign and defense ministers in Tokyo and issued a joint statement focusing on the promotion of security cooperation.

It is only natural that the joint statement harshly criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “a serious violation of international law prohibiting the use of force.”

In order to strengthen the pressure on Russia, the international community’s unity is important. In Southeast Asia, Singapore is the only country that has joined in the sanctions against Russia. Japan should continue to urge the Philippines, a fellow ally of the United States, to cooperate in moves against Russia.

“This aggression jeopardizes the foundation of the international order … thus affecting not only Europe but also Asia,” the joint statement also emphasized. In mind is the fact that China is attempting to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the East and South China Seas. This will likely serve as a check against China.

In March, a China Coast Guard vessel closely approached a Philippine patrol vessel in the South China Sea and the danger of a collision arose. The commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has reported that three man-made islands have been completely turned into Chinese military bases.

The Japanese and Philippine governments intend to begin discussions on specifics toward concluding an agreement to facilitate mutual visits by Self-Defense Forces units and Philippine military units, as well as an agreement for the mutual provision of fuel and other supplies.

If these agreements are concluded, joint training is expected to become easier to carry out, raising the capabilities of the Philippine military.

Tokyo is promoting cooperation among Japan, the United States, Australia and India to realize a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Building a multilayered cooperative relationship with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries will likely help strengthen regional stability.

Under the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Manila has adopted a conciliatory attitude toward Beijing. On the day before the Japan-Philippines 2-plus-2 talks, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a teleconference with Duterte and reportedly urged him not to lean toward the United States through military exercises and other activities.

The Philippines’ economic dependence on China should not lead Manila to tolerate Beijing’s hegemonic behavior.

A Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in 2016 clearly rejected China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

Duterte’s term as president will end in June and a new administration will take office. It is important for Japan to encourage the new administration to take action based on the arbitration court ruling and to further develop effective security cooperation with the Philippines.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 12, 2022)