Dangerous, destabilizing behavior: US, Australia, Japan’s defense chiefs back PH vs China’s repeated harassment

The defense chiefs of the United States, Australia, Japan and the Philippines have expressed serious concerns over the repeated harassments of China on local vessels, the latest was the incident near the Scarborough Shoal where two Chinese Coast Guard vessels used high-pressure water cannons on a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship.

In a statement released by the Department of National Defense regarding the Quadrilateral Defense Ministers’ meeting of the four countries in Honolulu, Hawaii, it said the four Defense chiefs described the repeated harassments obstruction of Philippine vessels' exercise of high seas freedom of navigation and the disruption of supply lines to Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal).

They described the repeated obstruction as actions that pose dangerous and destabilizing behavior.

“Expressing grave concern over the situation in the East and South China Seas, the Defense Ministers strongly objected to the dangerous deployment of coast guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea,” the DND statement read.

The DND said the four Defense chiefs also strongly objected to the dangerous deployment of coast guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea.

The Quadrilateral Defense Ministers’ meeting, held at the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) Headquarters in Honolulu, was attended by Defense Gilberto Teodoro, Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, Japanese Minister of Defense Kihara Minoru, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III.

The DND said the meeting underscored the deep collaboration among these four nations in advancing a shared vision for a free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

“The leaders discussed enhancing defense cooperation, including maritime activities and capacity building. Through collaborative efforts, the four nations reaffirm their commitment to upholding the rules-based order and ensuring stability in the region,” it said.

“Emphasizing the importance of upholding freedoms of navigation and overflight, and respecting international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), they called upon the PRC to adhere to the final and legally binding 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Tribunal Award and pledged to support states exercising their rights and freedoms in the South China Sea,” it added.

Rules-based international order 

In a press briefing in Hawaii, Teodoro emphasized that the Quadrilateral Defense Ministers’ meeting’s underlying principle is a shared respect for a rulesbased international order and the upholding of international law. 

The fact that four independent countries are voicing the same message, according to Teodoro, means “an important thing in the face of a unilateral declaration by a single theatre actor.”


“We are gratified to see that the Philippines' role at the forefront of severe challenges to its territorial rights, challenging the accepted norms of international law, are accepted by like-minded nations. We welcome their partnership and cooperation, not only to protect solely its territorial integrity and sovereignty, but to uphold, once again let me reiterate, principles of international law which guide the global order in the proper way that nations should live amongst each other,” said Teodoro.

“And this common understanding includes the interpretation of these bodies of law, which are commonly accepted against unilateral appropriations of singular interpretations for the benefit of any one country,” he stressed.

Teodoro said such an expression of support from other countries is essential for the Philippines, being a small, archipelagic nation that depends on the world's acknowledgement of its baselines under international law in preserving its integrity.

“On a more concrete note, this latest iteration will give birth to further cooperation and coordination and interoperability between four of our countries, which the four of us have committed to work closer together in order to have more synergies and partnerships in order to make this alliance that we have stronger and more sustainable in the long run,” he added.

Steering away from MDT

Teodoro also emphasized that the discussions on Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States should not be on the table in dealing with Chinese harassment on Philippine vessels within its Exclusive Economic Zone.

“I would like to steer away the discussion from a scenario where or in what occasions the MDT [Mutual Defense Treaty] may be invoked when our jobs are secretaries is make sure that there are no situations – through capability building, through deterrence – that an MDT situation would arise,” said Teodoro.

“And so we are very conscious of the fact that we need to assert our rights, but in a manner that safeguards the safety of each and every member of the Philippine Armed Force, which is the principal actor in the area,” he added.