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Chinese Coast Guard vessels fire water cannons towards a Philippine resupply vessel Unaizah May 4 on its way to a resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea. REUTERS/Adrian Portugal TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Chinese Coast Guard vessels fire water cannons towards a Philippine resupply vessel Unaizah May 4 on its way to a resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, March 5, 2024. REUTERS/Adrian Portugal

U.S. Ramps Up Ties With Japan, Philippines to Counter China at Sea

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April 11, 2024

By Michelle Jamrisko and Yoshiaki Nohara (Bloomberg) —

US President Joe Biden is set to unveil joint military patrols and training with the Philippines and Japan as the allies seek to counter an increasingly assertive China in the South China Sea.

Biden’s meeting Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will yield agreements on Coast Guard patrols, joint humanitarian and disaster relief efforts, as well as maritime training to be conducted in Japan, according to senior administration officials, who briefed reporters and held a separate interview with Bloomberg ahead of the summit.

Maritime security is taking center stage as Biden convenes a trilateral summit with the leaders Thursday. A joint statement issued after Biden met with Kishida at the White House on Wednesday pointedly mentioned China repeatedly, highlighting growing concerns over Beijing’s actions. 

The Japanese side agreed it was important to show unity with the Philippines, which has been the target of more frequent encounters with Chinese vessels in disputed waters, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to share details ahead of official announcements. The US sees China increasing the use of “coercive” tactics and a growing number of countries pushing back, according to the officials. 

Other security concerns the three leaders are expected to discuss include the Taiwan Strait, East China Sea, and Korean peninsula. 

Biden’s foreign policy has leaned on expanding partnerships with nations in the Indo-Pacific and creating new groupings of allies — in contrast with the bilateral dealmaking approach of his general-election rival, former President Donald Trump.

The first summit among Kishida, Biden and Marcos has been in the works since officials met in Tokyo last June, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in particular pushing for a forum to demonstrate support for the Philippine government.

Chinese Coast Guard ships last month fired water cannons at a civilian Filipino boat, causing damage and injuries. 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.

“The President has said that his alliances are not designed ‘against,’ they’re designed ‘for,’” Sullivan told reporters Tuesday, adding that modernizing alliances in the Indo-Pacific region now means “also reaching out to partners who are not traditional treaty allies of the United States.”

Economic Appeal

The leaders will also address economic security, part of a broader strategy to provide an alternative to China, which has made inroads on infrastructure investment in developing countries, including through Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative.

The US is set to announce a plan for port, rail and semiconductor supply chain projects, part of a corridor in and around the Luzon area of the Philippines, and separate efforts to deploy trusted technologies in that country, the officials said. US companies are expected to announce investment commitments in underseas cables, logistics, clean energy and telecommunications in the region.

Marcos’s return to Washington less than a year after his last White House visit also signals US efforts to strengthen its economic appeal to Southeast Asia, a region it has courted with checkered success. 

The region’s 10 countries were invited to the White House for a summit in 2022. But the administration’s bid has rung hollow to member nations without providing the market access those economies have sought.

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. China is a major presence in the Philippine mining industry.

Fresh US investments in Southeast Asia also represent an opportunity to counter negative perceptions of US foreign policy in the global south, particularly as Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza has roiled Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia. 

A slim majority of respondents in a region-wide survey of Southeast Asia now see China as the favored choice to align with if forced to choose between the two, in a shift from the previous years, according to the latest annual poll by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute published this month.

© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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