China row tops agenda of Japan minister’s visit

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01:13 AM January 9th, 2013

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By: TJ Burgonio, January 9th, 2013 01:13 AM

Japan Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. AFP file photo

Wednesday’s visit of newly appointed Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida gives the Philippines another opportunity to engage Japan in a solution to its territorial row with China, Filipino officials said Tuesday.

Kishida, on his first overseas trip since his appointment by newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Dec. 26, is scheduled to pay a courtesy call on President Aquino this afternoon.

But the crucial meeting is the one Kishida will have with Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario to discuss bilateral relations, regional issues and foreign policy priorities of the new Japanese leadership, the officials said.

Whether or not the Philippines could involve Japan in its multilateral approach to a solution to the row with China would depend on the outcome of the talks between the two foreign ministers, the officials added.

Malacañang spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the Philippines’ row with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) “will be discussed on the ministerial level but not, I suppose, with the President.”

“We will first see what the discussions will be about between the Japanese foreign minister and Secretary Del Rosario,” Lacierda said.

Kishida will be in Manila up to Thursday on an official visit.

At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Cambodia in November, Mr. Aquino underlined the Philippines’ multilateral approach to the row with China and stressed the importance of adopting a Code of Conduct in the disputed sea.

China is claiming sovereignty over nearly all of the West Philippine Sea, which is believed to hold vast amounts of oil and gas under one of the region’s most important fishing grounds and is a vital shipping lane for global trade.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan claim parts of the sea.

China and Japan, on the other hand, are disputing ownership of the islands known as Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China. Taiwan is also laying claim to the territory that lies between China and Japan.

Philippine foreign officials said Kishida’s visit would boost relations between the two countries dating back to July 1956 when diplomatic ties were forged. Japan is one of only two strategic partners of the Philippines and is one of its more important economic partners in terms of trade, investments and development assistance.

“The visit is an opportunity for both countries to advance the Philippines-Japan Strategic Partnership under the new Japanese administration,” said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in a statement.

Total bilateral trade between the Philippines and Japan was at $12.68 billion (P520 billion) in 2012, much lower than 2011 figure of $15.4 billion (P631 billion), according to the DFA.

Japan has also been a major Philippine partner in terms of people to people exchanges.  The DFA said that more than 219,000 Filipinos live in Japan as temporary migrants as of December 2011, while 17,700 Japanese nationals are registered as Philippine residents as of October 2011. With a report from Tarra Quismundo

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