By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

COAST GUARD VESSEL. The Philippine Coast Guard newest vessel, BRP Melchora Aquino (MRRV-9702). The vessel is among the PCG’s ships that escort the country’s regular resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal. (PNA file photo)

MANILA – The Japanese government has praised the Philippines after showing restraint in the wake of the Chinese Coast Guard’s harassment in the West Philippine Sea.

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs made the statement on Dec. 13 as it raised “serious concerns” over a recent surge in tensions in the South China Sea.

“[J]apan highly appreciates the Government of the Philippines for having consistently complied with the Arbitral Tribunal’s award as to the disputes between the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China regarding the South China Sea and shown its commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea,” it said.

Japan said it continues to support Manila’s long-standing objections to “unlawful maritime claims, militarization, coercive activities and threat or use of force in the South China Sea”.

“Japan has consistently advocated upholding the rule of law at sea and re-emphasizes the importance of efforts toward a peaceful resolution of disputes based on international law,” it said.

The agency added that Tokyo will cooperate with the international community, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United States to protect free, open, and peaceful seas.

On Dec. 9, China made dangerous maneuvers and used water cannons against three Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels, the Datu Sanday, Datu Bankaw and Datu Tamblot while on a humanitarian mission to bring food and fuel to fishermen near the Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal).

On Dec. 10, Chinese vessels also illegally shadowed, used water cannons, and made dangerous maneuvers that led to collision during the country’s rotation and resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal.

READ: PH lodges diplomatic protest vs. China

In separate statements, the Canadian and Australian Foreign Affairs Ministries have also called out the pattern of dangerous actions being conducted by Chinese ships against Filipino vessels sailing within the West Philippine Sea.

The Canadian government said China’s actions “demonstrate a clear disregard for navigational rights and freedoms and are inconsistent” with its obligations under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

It reiterated that the 2016 ruling of the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal in the matter of the South China Sea is binding on the parties.

“Canada remains committed to the principle that disputes must be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law,” it said.

Australia, on the other hand, told China that actions by the Chinese Coast Guard such as water cannoning and ramming threaten lives and create risks of miscalculation.

“Australia has consistently opposed destabilizing and coercive actions in the South China Sea, such as unsafe encounters at sea and in the air and the militarisation of disputed features,” it said.

“Australia emphasizes the importance of all states being able to exercise rights and freedoms, including freedom of navigation, in a manner consistent with international law, particularly the UNCLOS,” it added.

Thankful

National Security Adviser (NSA) Eduardo Año, meanwhile, thanked his Japanese and American counterparts for their continued support to the Philippines in its lawful exercise of maritime rights within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“NSA Año thanked his counterparts for their unwavering support to the Philippines lawful exercise of maritime rights within its EEZ, in accordance with international law, particularly the July 2016 Arbitral Award,” the National Security Council (NSC) said in a statement Thursday.

On Wednesday, Año spoke with his counterparts Takeo Akiba of Japan and Jake Sullivan of the United States in a phone call, where he updated them regarding the “recent dangerous and illegal maneuvers of China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) ” over the weekend where at least three Filipino ships were damaged.

Año also highlighted President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s statement that the Philippine government remains undeterred in defending the nation’s sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the WPS.

“The three NSAs also discussed trilateral efforts to enhance cooperation on: maritime security through conduct of joint patrols and capacity-building on maritime domain awareness, among others; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection; and economic security,” the NSC added.

The three officials also agreed to continue coordination to ensure the implementation of these trilateral initiatives in the next few months. (with report from Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)