Philippine, Japanese leaders to push for ‘rule of law’ in South China Sea

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Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte will meet his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in Tokyo for talks on Friday, where one topic of discussion will be pushing for the rule of international law to be enforced in the South China Sea.

The two countries have competing claims with China in the massive body of water, most of which Beijing has claimed as its sovereign territory.

Takehiro Kano, Japan’s Deputy Head of Mission in the Philippines, said discussions on the South China Sea have always been on the table as both countries wanted a legal and peaceful resolution to the dispute.

“We are in no position to advise the Philippines [on how to deal with China], but as strategic partners, we would like to continue to discuss on those matters, based on our shared values of freedom, democracy and rule of law,” Kano said.

The Philippines adheres to the 200-nautical mile off shore exclusive economic zone as determined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

UNCLOS was used by the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration last year in rejecting China’s “Nine-Dash Line” theory, in which it claims most of the South China Sea.

Japan, meanwhile, controls the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, which China also claims.

In March 2016, Japan and the Philippines signed an agreement whereby Tokyo pledged to transfer Japanese military hardware to its Asian partner. As part of that agreement, Japan has since transferred at least 10 coast guard vessels and two large patrol vessels to the Filipino navy.

Both countries are aligned with the U.S., though for a time Duterte was leaning more towards favoring Beijing.

President Donald J. Trump is scheduled to make his first visit to China next month, where freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, along with trade imbalances and North Korea, is a likely topic.

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