President Aquino on Thursday expressed the view that a stronger Japan would be a counterweight to the “threatening” presence of China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), foreign officials said at the close of a two-day visit by Japanese Foreign Minister Fumiou Kishida.
In his first foreign trip as top diplomat since last month’s election of hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Kishida met with President Aquino at Malacañang after discussions with Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
At a joint briefing with Del Rosario, Kishida called for stronger ties with the Philippines to help ensure regional peace, amid tense territorial disputes by both countries with a rising China.
Kishida said Japan and the Philippines agreed to advance cooperation in expanding trade and investment by improvement of the business environment, improving infrastructure in the Philippines though official development aid (ODA), and accepting Filipino nurses and caregivers in Japan.
“As the strategic environment in the region is greatly changing, it is necessary for us foreign ministers to share recognition of the situation,” Kishida said.
Kishida said this also made it necessary to “enhance the strategic partnership between the two countries and cooperate in shaping [a] peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region. In today’s meeting we agreed on this point.”
He added: “On the political and security front we agreed on strengthening policy dialogue and enhancing maritime cooperation and other measures.”
Both countries are locked in separate territorial disputes with China.
Japan’s dispute is over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China.
The row between the Philippines and China is over rival claims to parts of the West Philippine Sea, with a group of islands in the Spratly archipelago and the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) as the hot spots.
Del Rosario said President Aquino and Kishida discussed “common challenges” that both the Philippines and Japan face with China’s increasing assertiveness in the West Philippine Sea.
Neither Kishida nor Del Rosario took questions.
Del Rosario did not comment directly on the maritime tensions either, but said he and
Kishida discussed Japanese help in improving the Philippines’ coast guard capability.
“The acquisition of multirole response vessels is undergoing serious consideration,” Del Rosario said, with talks also under way to improve its communications equipment and train its personnel.
The Philippine side wants to acquire through loans 10 new patrol boats from Japan to guard its territorial waters, after buying two refurbished coast guard vessels from major military ally the United States.
Kishida announced Japan’s decision to extend yen loans to two Philippine projects: the extension of Light Rail Transit Line 1 and LRT 2 and a new airport in Bohol province.
Details of ODA projects have yet to be released, but Del Rosario said Japan remained the leading provider of development loans to the Philippines. With a report from AFP