A Japanese Navy man stands beside a P3-C Orion surveillance aircraft as they prepare to take flight for a search and rescue exercise with members of Philippine Navy. Photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters
BEIJING - China's military on Thursday accused the Philippines of trying to "rope in" other countries to the dispute over ownership of the South China Sea and stir regional tension after Japan joined a military drill with the Philippines.
According to Japanese and Philippine officials, a Japanese surveillance aircraft, with three Filipino guest crew members, this week flew at 5,000 feet (1,524 m) above the edge of Reed Bank, an energy-rich area that is claimed by both China and the Philippines. It was accompanied by a smaller Philippine patrol aircraft.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun, who asked about the exercises, said that bilateral military cooperation between countries should benefit regional peace and security and not harm the interests of third parties.
"Certain countries are roping in countries from outside the region to get involved in the South China Sea issue, putting on a big show of force, deliberately exaggerating the tense atmosphere in the region," he told a monthly news briefing.
"This way of doing things will not have a beneficial effect on the situation in the South China Sea."
The exercise by Japan and the Philippines comes as Manila conducts separate drills with the U.S. military that began last week.
China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims
Japan worries that China's domination in a region through which much of its sea-borne trade passes would isolate it. Tokyo is also locked in a dispute with Beijing over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
A Japanese P3-C Orion plane is pictured in flight in Puerto Princesa. Photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters
However, China and Japan have been gradually rebuilding ties after Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held ice-breaking talks in Beijing last year.
Yang said that China and Japan had resumed discussions last week about setting up an air and maritime communication mechanism, designed to reduce the risk of accidents and misunderstandings.
Both countries agreed to step up preparatory talks on setting up this mechanism, he added.