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Biden commits to support Japan, Philippines as China pressures allies

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US President Joe Biden stated he was dedicated to “deepening maritime and security ties” with Japan and the Philippines, reassuring allies concerned about China‘s increasingly assertive actions in disputed waters, according to Bloomberg.

Before meeting with Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House for the first trilateral summit between the three countries, Biden said on Thursday that “the United States defense commitments to Japan and to the Philippines are ironclad.”

“Any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels or armed forces in the South China Sea would invoke our mutual defense treaty,” Biden noted.

Under Marcos, the Philippines has taken a more assertive stance toward the increasing number of Chinese patrols in the South China Sea, an area in which both countries have competing maritime claims. Tensions are focused around the Second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippines maintains a grounded World War-II era ship. Chinese vessels have used water cannons to block Philippine military operations that rotate and resupply troops on the ship.

A statement published Thursday evening stated that the leaders decided to step-up military exercises, which included plans for Philippine and Japanese Coast Guard members to patrol aboard a US Coast Guard vessel in the Indo-Pacific. The countries intend to carry out more training exercises at sea.

Following a series of events, including Chinese Coast Guard ships firing water cannons at a civilian Filipino boat last month, maritime security was the summit’s main priority. On Sunday, the three countries participated in drills in the South China Sea with Australia.

“We steadfastly oppose the dangerous and coercive use of Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea, as well as efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation,” the three leaders said in a joint statement.

In his speech at the White House, Kishida stated that “as the world faces a complex crisis, it is important that we work in a multi-layered effort with like-minded countries and allies to maintain and strengthen a free and open international order based on the rule of law.”

Biden and Kishida have worked to display solidarity with the Philippines as part of a larger US plan to build Indo-Pacific alliances and push allies to expand their own connections as concerns about China’s military and economic influence.

Following Biden’s meeting with Kishida at the White House on Wednesday for bilateral discussions, a joint statement was published that constantly addressed China.

Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke on the phone last week and reiterated their respective positions, and the Chinese understand that Thursday’s meeting is keyed to coincide with those recent incidents, a senior administration official said in an interview earlier this week.

Biden noted that the leaders would also discuss cooperation on technology, clean energy, securing semiconductor supply chains and telecommunications.

In the conclusion of the joint statement, the three leaders said: “A new trilateral chapter between our three nations begins today.”