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Japan backs PHL arbitration initiative vs China

MANILA – Japan on Thursday expressed its full support to the Philippines’ decision to bring its territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea before a United Nations arbitration tribunal, underscoring the need to adhere to international law to preserve regional peace and stability. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe conveyed this to Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who concludes Thursday his two-day official visit to Japan, during a meeting where they discussed current maritime security challenges confronted by the two Asian nations. “They noted the Philippines and Japan’s shared advocacy in promoting the rule of law,” a Foreign Affairs statement on Thursday said. “Along these lines, Prime Minister Abe manifested the Japanese government’s support for the Philippines’ initiation of arbitral proceedings last January, pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in its bid to clarify maritime zones and entitlements in the South China Sea,” it added. Both countries have had separate territorial disputes with China that have flared recently. The Philippines is locked in a long-running dispute with China over the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea while Japan and Beijing are contesting ownership over islands called Senkaku by Japan and referred as Diaoyu in Chinese. Japan’s position adds an important voice, aside from those of the United States and the European Union—which also threw their support behind Manila’s legal action against Beijing—to the Philippines’ stance that the territorial disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved peacefully within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Japan’s backing also came amid renewed tensions between Manila and Beijing as China re-asserts anew its claim over the resource-rich waters by sending three government vessels, including a warship, to escort a flotilla of 30 fishing boats to scour the area within Philippine waters for fish and other resources. Manila called China’s action “illegal and provocative.” Del Rosario, who also met his counterpart, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kihida, prior to his meeting with Abe, expressed the Philippines’ appreciation for Japan’s stance, stressing “the crucial role of international law in attaining a durable resolution to international disputes based on a level playing field.” Manila took a bold step when it initiated the arbitration process to try to declare as “illegal” China’s nine-dash claim, which covers almost all of the South China Sea. China has resisted the Philippines’ move to let a U.N. body intervene in the disputes, saying the Philippines’ case was legally infirm and carried unacceptable allegations. The South China Sea—a strategic waterway where a bulk of the world's trade pass—had been a source of conflict among competing claimants the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, China and Taiwan. Claimed by China nearly in its entirety, the sea is dotted with islands, reefs, cays, shoals and rock formations and is believed to be rich in natural gas and oil deposits. Analysts feared the competing claims could spark a military conflict in the region. Tensions in the area spiked anew last year after the Philippines and Vietnam separately accused China of fresh incursions in areas they say fall within their sovereign waters. — Michaela del Callar/BM, GMA News