Japan, Australia share China concerns, augment defense ties

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, second right, and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, right, attend a video conference with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, left on screen, and Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton, right on screen, at Foreign Ministry in Tokyo during their two-plus-two ministerial meeting Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)
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Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Japan and Australia on Wednesday shared concern about China’s increasingly assertive actions in regional seas and expressed strong objections to “coercive or destabilizing” behavior.

Foreign and defense ministers from the two countries agreed in the online talks to strengthen their security ties as China presses its claims to contested areas in the Asia-Pacific region.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters after the talks that the officials shared their concerns about China’s activity in the East and South China Seas as a challenge to the international community. Motegi was joined by Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and their Australian counterparts, Marise Payne and Peter Dutton.

Japan regularly protests to China over its coast guard presence near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls Diaoyu. Chinese vessels routinely violate Japanese territorial waters around the islands, sometimes threatening fishing boats, Japanese officials say.

Japan and China are also in dispute over the development of undersea resources in the area.

“We reinforce our strong opposition to any destabilizing or coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tension in the East China Sea,” Japan and Australia said in a joint statement released after the talks. The behavior “undermines the rules-based international order,” they said.

In the South China Sea, China’s sweeping territorial claims have clashed with those of its neighbors, which accuse Beijing of militarizing one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.

The joint statement expressed “serious concerns about the recent negative developments and serious incidents in the South China Sea, including continuing militarization of disputed features, dangerous use of coast guard vessels and ‘maritime militia,’ and efforts to disrupt other countries’ resources exploitation activities.”

“We reaffirmed our strong opposition to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo” by China, Motegi said. He also added that the four ministers shared “grave concern” over China’s human rights abuses in Hong Kong and the western Xinjiang region, where Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities live.

The statement called on China “to grant urgent, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent international observers including the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.”

The meeting also reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, where China has recently stepped up a campaign of pressure on the self-ruled island.

China responded that it is determined to defend its sovereignty, security and development interests.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their nearby waters, and over the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islets,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a daily briefing in Beijing.

“Issues related to Xinjiang and Hong Kong are China’s internal affairs that no foreign country should intervene. China firmly rejects Japan and Australia’s efforts to smear China and interfere in China’s internal affairs,” Wang said.

Japan and Australia are in the final stages of a defense cooperation deal that will allow the Japanese Self-Defense Force to protect Australian military assets, which will be only the second for Japan outside of its alliance with the United States.