MANILA: Amid China’s reported plan to build structures in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, the Philippines and Japan yesterday stressed that force should not be used to change the status quo in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The matter was discussed during yesterday’s meeting between Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Japan Minister-in-Charge of Ocean Policy and Territorial Issues Ichita Yamamoto in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
“We shared the view that any country should not pursue to change status quo unilaterally by force. Also the establishment of the rule of law is very very important,” Yamamoto told reporters.
“The establishment of rule of law is an important agenda which requires cooperation between Japan and the Philippines and we would like to continue to cooperate with the Philippines to send strong messages to international community.” Both the Philippines and Japan are embroiled in a territorial dispute with China.
The meeting came in the wake of reports that China has placed 75 concrete blocks in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales, an area within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
The placing of the concrete blocks has been viewed by officials as a prelude to a construction project.
Defence officials have said that measures would be undertaken to assert the Philippines’ territorial rights but declined to provide specifics.
Panatag Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, is located 124 nautical miles from the nearest point in Zambales. The area used to be a traditional fishing area for local fishermen until Chinese vessels illegally cordoned off the area last year.
Yamamoto declined to comment when asked whether Japan plans to send assets to the Philippines, saying the matter falls within the role of Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera. “However, I believe that the recent visit by defence minister Onodera set (the) quality (of) path on the future between Japan and the Philippines and I believe that further cooperation will be promoted along,” he said.
Onodera met with Gazmin last June to discuss common security concerns including territorial disputes in the region.
Japan has vowed to strengthen its security ties with the Philippines and to further cooperate on the defence of remote islands, territorial seas and maritime interests. China has occupied contested areas in the West Philippine Sea, including those within the Philippines ’continental shelf. Japan and China claim ownership of the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.
The Philippine star