TOKYO: Senior officials of Japan, Australia and India agreed Friday on the importance of maintaining the rule of law in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), sharing “strong concerns” about tensions in the region amid China’s rising maritime assertiveness.
“We shared strong concerns about moves to unilaterally change the status quo that would lead to destabilization in the region,” Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki told reporters after talks with his Australian and Indian counterparts in Tokyo.
The three-way meeting comes as China’s deployment of an advanced surface-to-air missile system has stoked concerns the country is pursuing militarization in the South China Sea, adding to tensions already heightened by Beijing’s massive and fast-paced reclamation works in the sea.
China is also boosting its presence in the Indian Ocean, which provides essential maritime traffic access for the transportation of oil, gas and other resources from the Arabian Sea.
“We also shared the need to establish a new rule in the region to secure the rule of law and the freedom of navigation,” Saiki said.
Saiki was referring to the ongoing discussions between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to conclude the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, a legally binding document that could be used to resolve deadlocks, disputes and tensions in the sea.
Peter Varghese, secretary of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar took part in the three-way meeting, the second of its kind following a meeting in India last June.
The diplomats also discussed their responses to North Korea, following its nuclear test last month and long-range rocket launch earlier this month.
Given the likelihood that the UN Security Council may soon adopt a fresh resolution that would expand sanctions on North Korea, the three officials also agreed to steadily implement the sanctions to prevent North Korea from further promoting its nuclear development, Saiki said.
The trilateral framework is part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to promote a “security diamond” strategy connecting Japan, Australia, India and the US state of Hawaii to safeguard maritime interests stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific.
Abe introduced the concept in December 2012 to counter Beijing’s military buildup and perceived attempts to change the status quo in the South China and East China seas.
Ahead of the three-way talks, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told a press conference, “The trilateral cooperation covering the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean contributes to the peace and stability of the region.” “Japan seeks to further strengthen trilateral ties,” he added.