Security co-operation in the South China Sea . . .
Earlier this month, the foreign ministers of the Philippines and Japan hosted bilateral talks in Manila on security in the Indo-Pacific. Foreign ministers Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Toshimitsu Motegi discussed defence and security co-operation amid China’s growing influence in the South China Sea. Both ministers expressed their endorsement of FOIP, and Motegi identified the Philippines as “holding the key” to realizing this vision in the region. Locsin Jr. and Motegi also discussed other areas of bilateral co-operation, such as Japanese economic and military aid to the Philippines.
Echoing ASEAN’s outlook on FOIP . . .
These bilateral discussions reflect the Philippines’ endorsement of ASEAN’s position on FOIP, expressed in its 2019 Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. Similar to Motegi’s statement on the Philippines, the document identifies ASEAN as a central component for FOIP given its strategic position in the region. The outlook also emphasizes that the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean are a “closely integrated and interconnected region,” and that international co-operation, through ASEAN-led mechanisms as well as other frameworks, is needed to realize FOIP. ASEAN identified four areas of co-operation: maritime co-operation, connectivity, sustainable development, and the economy.
Leaning away from China . . .
In addition to encouraging co-operation in the Indo-Pacific, analysts view FOIP as a potential tool to counterbalance China’s regional influence. Several ASEAN members, including the Philippines, have competing claims on jurisdiction over the South China Sea, and analysts argue that FOIP is an opportunity to renew efforts to balance against China’s actions. Moreover, the Philippines’ discussions with Japan and endorsement of FOIP could be viewed as a move away from China. Since the 2016 Hague ruling, the Philippines has loosened its claims and moved toward closer ties with China. These recent discussions with Japan could signal the Philippines’ change of direction and a step towards reassertion of its claims in the South China Sea.
- Radio Free Asia: Philippines, Japan Discuss Strengthening Indo-Pacific Security
- Diplomat: Assessing ASEAN’s New Indo-Pacific Outlook
- East Asia Forum: The Philippines stays free and open in its position on the Indo-Pacific