Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana agreed with his counterparts from Australia and Japan that freedom of navigation should be maintained in the South China Sea, after military officials claimed that an alliance including the two countries was stoking tension in the disputed waters.
Lorenzana met with Australian Senator Linda Reynolds, who is also defense minister of her country, and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi in separate events on Thursday and Friday, according to the DND.
Just days earlier, Armed Forces chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay and Navy chief Vice Adm. Giovanni Carlo Bacordo claimed that actions by the U.S., Australia, Japan, and India — collectively known as the “Quad” countries — were contributing to tension in the South China Sea and even in the West Philippine Sea which is closer to the country.
Bacordo particularly mentioned the four countries’ “increased assertiveness” in their freedom of navigation operations and naval exercises as a factor for increased tension.
The four countries all have defense exchanges with the Philippines and have been supplying either equipment, training, or support to the AFP.
During their meeting at the Villamor Air Base, Lorenzana and Reynolds agreed on the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea as well as compliance with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the DND said.
Lorenzana also had the same agreement with Kishi during their online meeting Friday, but stressed that issues in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea should be addressed through peaceful means.
“We call on concerned parties to desist from any action and activity that contravenes the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, as these generate tension, mistrust, and uncertainty, and threatens regional peace and stability,” he said.
Lorenzana, meanwhile, thanked Australia for donations aimed at helping address the effects of COVID-19 in the defense and military establishments.
Kishi, for his part, expressed Japan’s willingness to share information on how to prevent cases of infection during disaster relief activities amid the pandemic.
He and Lorenzana also agreed to further bilateral defense cooperation, especially on technology transfer and capacity-building.