The US and Japan on Tuesday vowed to hold the line against Chinese actions they say are threats to regional peace and security, warning they are poised to push back if needed.
The vow came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met in Japan with their Japanese counterparts in what is known as a "2+2" gathering.
The trip is the first foreign visit by Austin and Blinken since they took office, largely because the coronavirus pandemic has stunted what would have otherwise been a busy travel schedule.
Shortly after their meetings, the US and Japan squarely pointed to Chinese actions in the region.
"China’s behavior, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents political, economic, military, and technological challenges to the Alliance and to the international community," the countries said in a joint statement.
"The Ministers committed to opposing coercion and destabilizing behavior toward others in the region, which undermines the rules-based international system," they said. "They reaffirmed their support for unimpeded lawful commerce and respect for international law, including freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea."
They were referring to China's maritime policies that have included manufacturing islands in the South China Sea to expand its sovereign territorial claims at the cost of its neighbors, particularly Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan.
China has further claimed sovereignty over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which it calls the Diaoyu Islands. Beijing on Feb. 1 implemented a new law allowing its Coast Guard to fire on foreign vessels China believes have entered its territorial waters.
The law appears to be aimed, in part, at the Senkaku Islands, and Japan has moved to implement its own law allowing it to fire on any vessel it believes is in the process of landing people on the islands.
The US voiced its "unwavering commitment" to ensuring Japan's defense under Under Article 5 of the Japan-US Security Treaty, which obliges Washington to intervene if there is a military attack on Japanese territory, including the islands.
"The United States and Japan remain opposed to any unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo or to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands," the joint statement said.
The meeting between the top officials comes after US President Joe Biden met virtually with his counterparts in Japan, India and Australia with a focus on China during the historic first leader-level meeting of the group known as the Quad.
"We believe that the U.S.-Japan cooperation should boost mutual trust and understanding as well as benefit regional peace and stability," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Tuesday during his daily press conference.
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