- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2024

President Biden hosted the first-ever summit between the leaders of the U.S., Japan and the Philippines on Thursday in a major show of solidarity against China’s military aggressiveness in the South China Sea.

Mr. Biden began the meeting by reaffirming the U.S.’s commitment to its defense partnership with both countries.

“I want to be clear: The United States defense commitments to Japan and the Philippines are ironclad,” he said. “Any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels, or armed forces in the South China Sea would invoke our mutual defense treaty.”

A 1951 mutual defense pact between the U.S. and the Philippines requires both sides to defend each other if attacked by a third party.

The three leaders announced plans that their coast guards will hold joint patrols in the Indo-Pacific this year following drills carried out by the allies in 2023. In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard will welcome Filipino and Japanese coast guard members into its vessels during the patrol. All of the drills will take place near the disputed South China Sea, which Beijing has claimed it controls and has harassed Filipino ships.

In addition, the White House will announce a new infrastructure project that will develop a new rail and shipping corridor between two Philippines military bases, a move that is expected to increase Manila’s military capabilities.

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“This is a meeting that looks ahead as we deepen our ties and enhance our coordination,” Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said.

A day earlier, Mr. Biden held a one-on-one meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio. Mr. Biden also honored Mr. Kishida with a ritzy state dinner at the White House, a move reserved for only the U.S.’s closest allies.

Thursday’s talks come as the Indo-Pacific grapples with China’s aggressiveness toward Taiwan and in the South China Sea.

Mr. Biden has sought to blunt China’s provocations by building a coalition of allies in the region. He appeared to have willing partners, Mr. Kishida and Mr. Marcos, who both wanted closer ties to Washington.

Mr. Kishida shifted his country’s defense posture in recent years, committing to spending 2% of GDP on defense by 2037 and purchasing American Tomahawk missiles to increase its counterstrike capabilities.

Mr. Marcos has worked to bolster his country’s ties to the U.S., which had become tense under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who cozied up to China.

The Philippines is also seen as a key to fortifying the front line in an increasingly tumultuous region. Beijing lodged extensive sovereignty claims over the South China Sea, one of the world’s major shipping lanes, inflaming tensions with the Philippines and other countries in the region, such as Vietnam, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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