Dynamic in South China Sea is changing through growing US and Japan ties, says Philippines president

A cooperation agreement by the Philippines, the United States and Japan will change the dynamic in the South China Sea and the region, the Philippine president has said, while seeking to assure China it was not a target.

“I think the trilateral agreement is extremely important,” Ferdinand Marcos Jr told a press conference in Washington on Friday, a day after meeting President Joe Biden and the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, in the nations’ first trilateral summit.

“It is going to change the dynamic, the dynamic that we see in the region, in Asean in Asia, around the South China Sea,” Marcos said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The three leaders expressed “serious concerns” about China’s “dangerous and aggressive behaviour” in the South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3tn of annual ship-borne commerce, with various maritime disputes between China and other countries.

Still, Marcos said the summit was “not against any country” but had focused on deepening economic and security relations between Manila, Washington and Tokyo.

(L-R): Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos Jr, US president Joe Biden and Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida meet in Washington this week. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

China claims almost the entire South China Sea despite a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal that found Beijing’s sweeping claims had no legal basis.

Philippine and Chinese ships have had a series of run-ins in the past month that included the use of water cannon and heated verbal exchanges.

Beijing on Thursday summoned Manila’s ambassador and a Japanese embassy official to criticise what its foreign ministry described as “negative comments” against China.

The deepening China-Philippines row coincides with an increase in security engagement with the US under Marcos, including expansion of US access to Philippine bases, as well as with Japan, which is expected to sign a reciprocal troop pact with Manila.

Biden has asked Congress for an additional $128m for infrastructure projects at the Philippine bases.

Marcos also expressed confidence that around $100bn in possible investment deals over the next five to 10 years from the summit will come to fruition.

While in Washington, Marcos also met the defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, who assured him of continued US support. “This whole cooperation is critical to our collective security and continued prosperity across the region,” Austin said, reiterating Biden’s strong defence commitment.


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