This weeks meeting of ASEAN meeting in Kuala Lumpur has not gone according to China’s plan. For one, as we wrote about earlier, John Kerry dropped by to chastise Beijing’s territorial aggression and to forcefully restate America’s current policy of ignoring China’s claims to exclusion zones around the islands it just finished building north of the Philippines. But even within East Asia, things aren’t going China’s way. Tokyo and Manila, old enemies, have come together to oppose China, and Beijing is loudly decrying them, as Reuters reports:
In a statement released just before midnight on Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry said the Philippines foreign minister “attacked” China’s South China Sea policy, and received support from his Japanese counterpart. […]China is the real victim in the South China Sea, [Foreign Minister Wang Yi] told the forum, pointing to what he said was the “occupation” of some of its islands there, including by the Philippines.“But to maintain and protect the peace and stability of the South China Sea, we have maintained huge restraint,” he added. […]Turning to Japan, Wang said Japan had built up a remote island in the Pacific called Okinotori to enforce Japanese territorial claims. […]“Before criticizing others, Japan must first take a good look at its own words and behavior,” Wang said.Chinese reclamation and building work on its islands in the South China Sea are to improve living conditions and provide facilities like light houses and weather stations, he added.
Minister Wang is not wrong (except on the claim that the installations are non-military; that’s complete bunk). Japanese-Filipino relations have been warming lately, and Tokyo just this week extended a $2 billion loan for rail and infrastructure development in the Philippines. That may sound like a pittance to some Western ears, but it’s a record-breaker for Manila, whose public transport systems are straining under the weight of a growing, increasingly urban population.What China is complaining about here is essentially what we’ve been covering as it unfolds: coalitions of China’s neighbors pushed together by the common threat Beijing’s expansionism represents. And arguably, Tokyo and Manila are the countries that stand to lose the most if Beijing gets its way, and to the best of their abilities they’re acting like it. But will solidarity with Japan be enough of a boon to the Philippines’s regional clout? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is certain: China is still on the march, and as the months and years go by the countries in its way look less and less like they plan on taking it lying down.