Pacific Rim Defense Chiefs Express Serious Maritime Concerns, Naming China; Coordinated Support Pledged for Philippines

The Yomiuri Shimbun
From left, the defense leaders of the United States, Australia, Japan and the Philippines attend a joint press conference at the United States Pacific Command in Hawaii on Thursday.

HONOLULU — Defense chiefs from Japan, the United States, Australia and the Philippines have expressed serious concern in a joint statement about the “repeated obstruction of … freedom of navigation” by China in the South China Sea.

The four defense chiefs — Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles and Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. — issued the statement after Austin hosted the defense chiefs at the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii on Thursday.

The meeting, the second among the four countries’ defense chiefs after one was held in Singapore last June, lasted about an hour.

In the joint statement, the four shared “serious concern about the situation in the East and South China Seas.” They also reaffirmed a policy of expanding joint drills by the four countries, saying that they would “further advance defense cooperation.”

As to increased activity in the South China Sea by the ships of China’s coast guard and maritime militia, a paramilitary group composed of Chinese veterans and fishermen, the four defense leaders said they “strongly objected to the dangerous use [of such vessels].”

After the meeting, a joint press conference was held by the defense chiefs, which did not occur at the previous meeting.

During the press conference, Kihara said the four countries are united and will continue to talk with the international community about realizing a rules-based international order and a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“We’re clear-eyed about the challenges that exist throughout the region,” Austin said. “We’ll need to continue to work together, to increase interoperability, to make sure that we share information, share intelligence.”

Kihara also met with Austin and Marles individually in bilateral talks, and there was a trilateral defense chiefs meeting for Japan, the United States and Australia.

At the Japan-U.S. defense ministers’ meeting, the two sides said they would advance talks on improving the command and control frameworks of the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. armed forces stationed in Japan, as agreed at the Japan-U.S. summit in April.

Supporting Philippines

“We’ve gathered here because we share a vision for peace, stability, and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific,” Austin stressed at the press conference.

In the meeting, the four defense chiefs reaffirmed the Philippines would receive coordinated security support. The four countries conducted a joint maritime drill in April and joint activities are expected to be conducted in waters close to the South China Sea, over which the Philippines and China have a territorial dispute. Tensions have been rising in the area due to such actions as the use of water cannon by China Coast Guard vessels against Philippine ships.

Defense cooperation among the four countries is rapidly developing to deter China. Japan and Australia concluded a Reciprocal Access Agreement last year that will facilitate exchanges between the Self-Defense Forces and Australian forces.

Negotiations for the same kind of agreement between Japan and the Philippines are also underway. The agreements are expected enable more multilateral and wide-area exercises to be organized, according to a senior U.S. official.

By strengthening its support for the Philippines, Japan hopes to demonstrate its determination to prevent China from changing the status quo in the East China Sea, including the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.