The Philippines and Japan have underlined the need for countries to stop any activity that might provoke tensions in the disputed South China Sea, saying the agreement negotiated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China should be upheld.
At the same time, the United States said Friday it would deploy Coast Guard patrol ships in the western Pacific to counter “destabilizing and malign” activities by China in disputed fishing grounds of the South China Sea.
Accusing China of “illegal” and “unregulated” fishing, as well as “harassment” of fishing boats from regional countries, White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said in a statement that the US Coast Guard “is strategically homeporting significantly enhanced Fast Response Cutters...in the western Pacific.”
These Sentinel class vessels will carry out maritime security operations, including helping fishing boats “in collaboration with regional partners who have limited offshore surveillance and enforcement capacity, and ensure freedom of navigation,” he said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, in a video teleconference, also pointed out the importance of freedom of navigation in the disputed area.
“We call on concerned parties to desist from any action and activity that contravenes the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, as these generate tension, mistrust and uncertainty, and threatens regional peace and stability,” said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a stataement following the meeting.
In a separate statement, Japan’s minister of defense said apart from the South China Sea, the two officials also discussed the situation on the East China Sea “in light of the current events occurring in the region.”
Japan in May protested the sending of Chinese ships near the Senkaku Islands, a group of Japanese-controlled, Chinese-claimed uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.
“They oppose any attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by coercion or any activities that escalate tensions, and reaffirmed the importance of a free and open maritime order based on the rule of law,” the statement released by the Philippine Department of National Defense read.
The Philippines and Japan also affirmed their support for a peaceful resolution of territorial disputes in the resource-rich waters.
Lorenzana had earlier stressed the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea during his meeting with Australia’s defense minister also this week.
The Philippines and Australia reiterated that disputes on the area should be resolved in compliance with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The Philippines, three of its fellow ASEAN members (Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam), Taiwan and China have competing claims in the South China Sea.
Washington regularly accuses China of breaking international law by sending its warships as escorts for Chinese fishing vessels into the fishing grounds of other countries.
In July, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper slammed a “catalog of bad behavior” in the South China Sea over the previous months and accused the Chinese military of having sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat, harassing Malaysian oil and gas development and escorting Chinese fishing fleets into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.
O’Brien added that the Coast Guard, which is under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was also studying whether to permanently station several of its patrol ships in the area of American Samoa in the South Pacific.
Last month, Indonesia protested about an incursion by Chinese coast guard ships in its exclusive economic zone, which is situated between its own territorial waters and international waters and where the state claims exclusive rights to exploit natural resources.
China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea as its own, a claim contested by several countries including Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia.