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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

Editorial: Japan, Philippines must stay watchful over China’s maritime expansion

Countries concerned should take concerted action and strengthen their cooperation over how to handle China’s continuing self-serving maritime advances.

 

In Laos, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has held his first talks with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and unveiled a plan to provide two 90-meter patrol vessels to Manila. The vessels will be constructed in Japan, financed through yen loans totaling up to about ¥16.4 billion and delivered to the Philippine Coast Guard.

 

The poor maritime security capabilities of nations facing the South China Sea have allowed China to unilaterally establish a military foothold in the region. Duterte expressed gratitude for the new ships, saying they would enable the Philippines to strengthen its patrols and boost its presence in the area.

 

Japan also is providing 10 40-meter patrol boats to the Philippines. Combined with these larger vessels, which are capable of traveling long distances, they should be effective in keeping China in check to a certain extent.

 

During the Abe-Duterte talks, Japan formally decided to lend up to five of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s TC-90 training aircraft to the Philippines. Japan will also help train the flight crews and maintain the aircraft, which will be useful in disaster relief operations and transporting supplies. We hope this support will be expanded in the future.

 

During the meeting, Duterte said the ruling handed down by an arbitration court that rejected China’s claims over the South China Sea should be respected. However, Duterte also said he was willing to have talks with China.

 

Scarborough Shoal a concern

 

It is said that China has refused to recognize the ruling and wants to bring about an advantageous agreement through bilateral negotiations with the Philippines. If Manila easily yields concessions on this issue, China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, and the militarization of those islands, could become an accomplished fact.

 

Establishing the rule of law in the South China Sea will benefit the entire international community. The Philippines needs to work closely with Japan, the United States and other nations with a stake in this issue.

 

It is worrying that China has dispatched dredging vessels and other equipment near Scarborough Shoal, which is close to the Philippines. There are fears China might start reclamation work around the shoal and construct an artificial island.

 

If China installs radar installations and builds a runway on the shoal, the range of its fighter jets would grow to cover the entire South China Sea. It also could lead to the establishment of an air defense identification zone.

 

It was regrettable that a bilateral meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Duterte was canceled after Duterte insulted Obama with an offensive remark.

 

Strained U.S.-Philippine ties will only benefit China. We hope they quickly normalize relations.

 

Duterte’s foreign policies have yet to become clear, and a new administration will soon take office in the United States. It appears China is aiming to expand its maritime interests during this period.

 

The Obama administration has warned China that it will take unprecedentedly tough steps if China starts building an artificial island at Scarborough Shoal. To more effectively urge China to exercise self-restraint, it is important that the international community — not just the United States — shows unity and speaks up about this issue.

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