Philippines says decision to strengthen ties with Japan, US a ‘sovereign choice’

April 18, 2024 - 2:52 PM
U.S. President Joe Biden hosts Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a trilateral summit at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2024. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

The Philippines’ decision to ramp up ties with Japan and the United States at a recent summit was a “sovereign choice” for the country, its foreign ministry said on Thursday in response to China’s comments opposing the trilateral meeting.

U.S. President Joe Biden hosted Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Washington last week where the three leaders jointly expressed their “serious concerns” over China’s actions in the South China Sea.

The Philippine foreign ministry said the trilateral grouping would promote peace and economic growth in the Indo-Pacific and should not be considered a threat. China’s “excessive maritime claims and aggressive behaviour”, on the other hand, are undermining the peace and stability in the region, it said.

“The source of tension in our region is well known to all. China should reflect upon its own actions in the South China Sea,” the ministry said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said last week it opposes “forming exclusive circles in the region” and any “acts that stoke and drive up tensions”.

Mao also accused the U.S. of clinging to the “Cold War mentality” of threatening rivals by coalescing with regional allies.

“Unwarranted references to the Cold War sensationalize the situation and misrepresent the peaceful purpose of the trilateral cooperation,” Manila said in response.

The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Relations between Manila and Beijing have soured over the past year over maritime run-ins in disputed atolls and shoals in the South China Sea as well as heated exchanges between their officials.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual ship commerce. Its territorial claims overlap with waters claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.

— Reporting by Mikhail Flores; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Lincoln Feast.