MANILA denied Friday China’s claim that Japan and the Philippines ganged up against China at a regional security forum this week on the disputed South China Sea.
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Charles Jose said there was no team-up between Japan and the Philippines, saying it was simply what the two countries saw was happening in the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had said the two countries were ganging up on China and insisted that Beijing, which has been on a reclamation binge in disputed areas of the South China Sea, was not impeding the freedom of navigation in the contested waterway.
The Palace said that the Philippines and Japan merely shared common beliefs.
“Being strategic partners, the views expressed by both the Philippines and Japan in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) regional forum reflect the two countries’ shared beliefs on the importance of maintaining open and stable seas,” said Malacanang’s Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
Earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry had told the forum China was restricting navigation and overflights, and that its construction of facilities for military purposes on man-made islands in the South China Sea was raising tensions and risked militarization by other claimant states.
ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur said Thursday that land reclamation in the South China Sea has increased tensions in the region.
The declaration, contained in a final communique, followed a warning by Kerry that Washington would not tolerate any restrictions on freedom of navigation in the strategically important waters.
The Southeast Asian ministers’ joint final statement noted “the serious concerns expressed by some ministers on the land reclamations in the South China Sea.”
It said the land works “have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea,” without specifically singling out Beijing.
The communique was hashed out after two days of wrangling over how hard to pressure China on its controversial drive to expand tiny reefs and build military posts in the disputed waters.
The issue took center stage at the series of diplomatic meetings this week in Kuala Lumpur, hosted by the 10-nation ASEAN.
They also included envoys from two dozen other nations such as China and the United States.
Beijing claims control over nearly the entire South China Sea, a key shipping route thought to hold rich oil and gas reserves.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei -- all ASEAN members -- also have various claims, as does Taiwan, many of which overlap.
Even before the land reclamations, China had sparked rising unease over the years with actions interpreted as seeking to shore up its disputed claims, in violation of a pledge not to upset the status quo.
A day after voicing concern to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi over the potential “militarisation” of the South China Sea, Kerry said freedom of navigation must be maintained.
“Let me be clear: The United States will not accept restrictions on freedom of navigation and overflight, or other lawful uses of the sea,” he told reporters.
Diplomatic sources said the Philippines and Vietnam — which have been in the most direct confrontation with China had called for strong language.
But they said there had been pushback from Beijing’s traditional allies among the association. Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar traditionally side with China within ASEAN. – With Sandy Araneta and AFP
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