Japan, US, Australia stress rules-based maritime order in trilateral meet

TOKYO ‐ Japan, the United States and Australia stressed on Monday (July 25) the importance of upholding a rules-based maritime order in the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean, at the sixth Trilateral Strategic Dialogue meeting.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop met in Vientiane, Laos, on Monday on the sidelines of the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.

Unlike the Asean statement that did not explicitly mention the July 12 Arbitral Tribunal ruling on competing claims between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea, the trio in their joint statement “expressed their strong support for the rule of law” and reiterated that the decision is “final and legally binding on both parties”.

The ruling went overwhelmingly against Beijing in the case initiated by Manila, under the United Nations' 1982 Convention of the Law of the Sea, known as Unclos.

“The ministers expressed their serious concerns over maritime disputes in the South China Sea,” the leaders said in the three-page joint statement, as they welcomed the development of trilateral cooperation on maritime security capacity-building in South-east Asia.

They also vowed to advance cooperation on this front through information exchange and dialogue.

“The ministers underlined the importance of refraining from unilateral actions that cause permanent physical change to the marine environment in areas pending delimitation, and urged all states to refrain from such actions as large-scale land reclamation, and the construction of outposts as well as the use of those outposts for military purposes.”

Four Asean states ‐  Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei ‐ and  Taiwan have overlapping claims in the South China Sea with China.

Meanwhile, Japan is also embroiled in a separate dispute with China in the East China Sea over a crop of islets known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

The statement said, without naming countries: “The ministers also opposed any coercive or unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions in the East China Sea and will remain in close communication about the situation in the area.”

Japan has said its fighter jets scrambled against Chinese jets nearing its airspace a record 199 times in the April-June period, an increase of 85 on the same period last year.

Separately, the three ministers condemned in the strongest terms North Korea’s nuclear test in January and subsequent ballistic missile launches, as well as terrorism in “all forms and manifestations” in the wake of a series of recent attacks.

They also vowed to “redouble their efforts to complete respective domestic processes for an early entry-into-force” of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

The US-led pact, which covers around 40 per cent of the global economy, has become a lightning rod as America goes to the polls this year.