Biden Vows to Back Japan, Philippines as China Jolts Allies

President Joe Biden said he was committed to “deepening maritime and security ties” with Japan and the Philippines as he sought to assure allies worried about increasingly assertive Chinese actions in disputed waters.

Bloomberg
First Published12 Apr 2024
Biden Vows to Back Japan, Philippines as China Jolts Allies
Biden Vows to Back Japan, Philippines as China Jolts Allies

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden said he was committed to “deepening maritime and security ties” with Japan and the Philippines as he sought to assure allies worried about increasingly assertive Chinese actions in disputed waters.

“The United States defense commitments to Japan and to the Philippines are ironclad,” Biden said Thursday before a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the White House for the first trilateral summit among the nations.

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

The Philippines under Marcos has adopted a more assertive footing to the growing number of Chinese patrols in the South China Sea, where both nations have competing maritime claims. Tensions are centered 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 missions that rotate and resupply troops on the ship.

The leaders agreed to step-up military exercises, including plans for Philippine and Japanese Coast Guard members to patrol aboard a US Coast Guard vessel in the Indo-Pacific, according to a statement released Thursday evening. The nations also plan to conduct more training exercises at sea. 

Maritime security topped the summit agenda following a series of incidents, including Chinese Coast Guard ships firing water cannons last month at a civilian Filipino boat. The three countries joined Australia on Sunday for military drills in the South China Sea.

“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,” Kishida said.

Biden and Kishida have striven to demonstrate unity with the Philippines, part of a broader US strategy to bolster partnerships in the Indo-Pacific and encourage allies to strengthen their own ties amid growing alarm over China’s military and economic influence. A joint statement issued after Biden met Kishida at the White House on Wednesday for bilateral talks mentioned China repeatedly.

The US sees China increasing the use of coercive tactics and a growing number of countries pushing back, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters Wednesday before the official announcements.

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

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

Those wide-ranging infrastructure commitments speak to efforts by the US and allies to offer an alternative to Chinese investments in developing countries through Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative. With the Philippines, there’s an opening for the US to offer more investment and security cooperation to a Marcos administration that is re-working its ties with China.

In an address to the US Congress earlier Thursday, Kishida pointed out “growing cases” of economic coercion and debt-trap diplomacy, in an apparent reference to China. He also nodded at further US-Japan work on emerging technologies, including in sensitive areas like quantum computing.

Marcos is back in Washington less than a year after his last White House visit, showcasing how the Philippines has become an important focus for the US as it seeks to improve its diplomatic footing in Southeast Asia.

“We seek to identify ways of growing our economies and making them more resilient, climate-proofing our cities and our societies, sustaining our development progress,” Marcos said.

The US is in early-stage talks with Manila to help develop its critical minerals industry, including nickel deposits, but there is no official announcement pending, a senior administration official said earlier this week. China is a major presence in the Philippine mining industry.

--With assistance from Peter Martin and Philip J. Heijmans.

(Updates with additional details in fourth paragraph)

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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