DAmerican President Joe Biden pledged US defense support to Japan and the Philippines at a three-way summit in Washington. America's defense commitments to the two Asian countries are unshakable, Biden said Thursday at the meeting with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The Japanese head of government previously appealed to the United States to continue to assume its global leadership role in the future. The meeting came amid heightened tensions with China.

“Any attack on Philippine aircraft, ships or forces in the South China Sea” would activate a mutual defense agreement, Biden said. China claims almost the entire South China Sea for itself. However, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea area. The tensions, coupled with China's increasingly aggressive behavior toward the self-ruled island of Taiwan, have prompted Biden to strengthen alliances in the region.

The three leaders described Thursday’s meeting as “historic”. Marcos, seen as more pro-Washington than his more China-aligned predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, said the leaders shared an “unwavering commitment to the rules-based international order.”

In a joint statement released later, the three leaders expressed their “grave concerns about China's dangerous and aggressive behavior” in the South China Sea. It was also said that the three countries would conduct joint naval exercises together with partners such as Australia.

Earlier on Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida, who arrived in the United States on Tuesday evening for a state visit, delivered a speech to both houses of the US Congress. “The leadership of the United States is essential,” he said.

Even though he did not mention the expected presidential candidate of the opposition Republicans, Donald Trump, the Japanese guest's appeal was unmistakably aimed not least at the former president. Trump stands for an isolationist approach to foreign policy and wants to keep the United States out of international conflicts and crises as much as possible.

Kishida continued that he recognized “an undercurrent of self-doubt among some Americans about what their role in the world should be.” He expressed understanding that the United States was exhausted by “being the country that has almost single-handedly maintained the international order.”

However, the Japanese Prime Minister also emphasized what he saw as the essential role of the United States in dealing with international conflicts. “Without U.S. support, how long would it take before Ukraine's hopes collapse under Russia's onslaught?” Kishida asked.

He also asked: “Without the presence of the United States, how long would it take before the Indo-Pacific faces harsher realities?” Kishida was referring to China's territorial claims in the Asia-Pacific region.

On Tuesday, Kishida and American President Joe Biden announced closer defense cooperation. So they presented plans to restructure the American military command in Japan. Biden also announced that Japan and the United States would establish a joint air defense network with Australia.

The Biden administration sees Japan as an important bulwark in the Asia-Pacific region against China. Kishida is the first Japanese leader since Shinzo Abe in 2015 to be honored with a state visit to the United States.