West Philippine Sea

Japan, Canada join chorus of ‘concern’ over actions that increase tensions in South China Sea

Bea Cupin

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Japan, Canada join chorus of ‘concern’ over actions that increase tensions in South China Sea

CONFLICT. Chinese Coast Guard vessels fire water cannons towards a Philippine resupply vessel Unaizah on May 4 as it made its way to the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea on March 5, 2024.

REUTERS/Adrian Portugal/File Photo

(1st UPDATE) More countries issue statements after China’s actions on June 17 ‘severely injured’ a Filipino soldier and damaged a Philippine ship

MANILA, Philippines – Japan and Canada on Tuesday, June 18, joined the Philippines’ treaty-ally the United States and strategic partner Australia in expressing support for Manila following the latest – and worst, thus far – incident between Chinese and Filipino personnel and vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

“Japan reiterates serious concern over repeated actions which obstruct freedom of navigation and increase regional tensions including recent dangerous actions that resulted in damage to the Filipino vessel and injuries to Filipinos onboard,” the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said in a statement late June 18.

On June 17, a Philippine military mission to bring supplies for and rotate troops assigned to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal was disrupted by Chinese maritime personnel.

The Philippines’ National Security Council (NSC) said China used “dangerous maneuvers, including ramming and towing” in disrupting the mission. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), a day after the incident, confirmed that a soldier was “severely injured” because of China’s “intentional ramming.”

Japan, Canada join chorus of ‘concern’ over actions that increase tensions in South China Sea

Japan and Canada are the latest countries to issue statements in support of the Philippines after the June 17 incident in Ayungin Shoal. The US State Department and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also earlier released statements from Washington and Canberra, respectively.

In its statement, Japan said that issues in the South China Sea are “directly related to the peace and stability of the region and is a legitimate concern of the international community.”

“Japan opposes any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force as well as any actions that increase tensions in the South China Sea,” said the MOFA.

Japan also reiterated its concern over “unlawful maritime claims and steadfastly opposes the dangerous and coercive use of Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea.” A similar statement was made following the historic trilateral meeting between United States President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in April 2024.

Tokyo said it “appreciates” Manila “for having consistently complied with the [2016] Arbitral Tribunal’s award,” and for its “commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.”

Japan and the Philippines enjoy close economic, political, diplomatic, and security ties. Japan has helped the modernize the Philippine Coast Guard, among the units in the frontlines of the Philippines’ push to defend its sovereign rights and claims in the West Philippine Sea.

The two countries are also in the process of concluding a Reciprocal Access Agreement, a deal that would set terms for visits and deployment of troops to each others’ territories.

Canada also scored China for its “dangerous and destabilizing actions” against Philippine vessels during the June 17 resupply mission.

“The PRC’s use of water cannons, dangerous maneuvers and ramming of Philippine vessels is inconsistent with the PRC’s obligations under international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS],” said Global Affairs Canada in a statement on its website.

“Canada opposes escalatory and coercive actions, including the unilateral declaration of authority over disputed features. Disputes must be resolved through dialogue rather than through force or coercion,” added the North American nation.

“We call upon the PRC to comply with its obligations, including implementation of the 2016 UNCLOS arbitral tribunal ruling, which is binding on the parties.”

Ayungin Shoal is among a flashpoint in tensions between China and the Philippines. The June 17 incident is the first confrontation between the two since China unilaterally imposed a new “regulation” for its coast guard that allows it to detain for up to 60 days persons they deem as “trespassers” in waters they consider theirs.

Canada is among a growing list of countries that have been eager to further improve ties – particularly covering defense and security – with the Philippines. It recently gave Philippine maritime agencies access to its dark vessel detection system.

Ottawa is also keen on forging a visiting forces-like agreement with Manila, following the signing of a defense cooperation memorandum in January 2024.

Three days after Japan’s expression of concern over the situation in the West Philippine Sea, China called out the country, saying Japan is not a party to the issue and has no right to intervene in China-Philippines maritime matters.

“We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to the fact that the Japanese side has once again made erroneous remarks on the South China Sea issue that manipulate right and wrong, and make unreasonable accusations against China,” the spokesperson of the Chinese embassy in Japan said on Friday, June 21. – With a report from Reuters/Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.