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EDITORIAL | Trilateral Defense an Apt Response to China's Sea Aggression

The Japan-US-Philippine trilateral focused on deterring China, which had trampled on international law in the South and East China Seas and the Taiwan Strait.



US President Joe Biden escorts Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to their trilateral summit at the White House in Washington on April 11, 2024. (©REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

There is a welcome new push for trilateral cooperation among Japan, the United States, and the Philippines. It covers a wide range of fields, including security and economics. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, US President Joe Biden, and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr recognized this when they recently held a summit at the White House in Washington DC. 

All three countries are maritime democracies in the Indo-Pacific region. Together, they have a combined population of over 500 million. Moreover, the US has separate security treaties with both Japan and the Philippines. Meanwhile, Japan and the Philippines have recently stepped up their bilateral security cooperation. 

The Washington Trilateral Summit

The three men met at the invitation of President Biden to protect the legitimate principle of freedom of the seas. They particularly focused on the South China Sea and East China Sea, where a rapacious China seems determined to pursue its self-interest by trampling on international law. 

China has been increasingly deploying its navy, coast guard, and maritime militia to pressure the Philippines in its own territory in the South China Sea. China Coast Guard vessels have used high-pressure water cannons and ramming to damage the Philippine side. This has caused human injuries and damage to the hull of a ship. It is a classic case of a tough bully harassing a weaker party. 

Meanwhile, China Coast Guard vessels continue to intrude on Japanese territorial waters in the East China Sea. They go marauding around the Senkaku Islands (Ishigaki City, Okinawa) while also pursuing Japanese fishing boats. 

The joint vision statement issued after the trilateral summit expressed "serious concerns about China's dangerous and aggressive behavior" in the South China Sea. It also took strong exception to China's attempts to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea. 

Chinese Coast Guard vessels fire water cannons towards a Philippine resupply vessel while its on a resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, March 5, 2024.(©REUTERS/Adrian Portugal)

Pushed Toward Greater Cooperation

In response to these dangers, the three leaders proposed expanding joint training by Self-Defense Forces units with the US and Philippine militaries. They also agreed to implement joint training among their respective coast guards and establish forums to discuss maritime issues. 

Japan is providing equipment and other assistance through the Official Security Assistance (OSA) framework to help strengthen the Philippine military. In addition, the parties should expedite the conclusion of the proposed Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA). This will facilitate smooth mutual exchanges between the defense forces of our two nations. 


Their joint vision statement also called for cooperation to accelerate investment in infrastructure in the Philippines. Furthermore, it calls for developing human resources for civil nuclear power projects. Steady progress is important in these areas as well. 

Philippine President Marcos, US President Biden, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attend a trilateral summit at the White House, Washington, DC. (© Kyodo)

'Peace and Stability' in the Taiwan Strait

The joint vision statement was especially noteworthy in emphasizing the "importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait."

Taiwan is situated between Japan and the Philippines. Furthermore, the South China Sea constitutes a critical sea lane for both Japan and the United States in terms of both security and trade. 

A Chinese invasion of Taiwan or China's control of the South China Sea would be totally unacceptable. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for Japan, the US, and the Philippines to work together to deter Beijing. 

In his speech to the US Congress, Prime Minister Kishida explained that Japan had transformed itself from being a "reticent ally…to a strong, committed ally, looking outward to the world."

Our commitment to cooperation with Washington and Manila is proof of that.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun