MANILA, Philippines – Japan and Philippines, who both share a rival claimant in China, stepped up their “strategic partnership” in the field of defense, particularly in maritime affairs, after defense ministers of both countries met at Camp Aguinaldo on Thursday.
Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin met at the Department of National Defense Headquarters for more than an hour, where they discussed the strengthening of defense cooperation and issues they were both facing.
The strengthening of maritime cooperation of both countries will include reciprocal visits between the Chief of Staff Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Flag Officer-in-Command of the Philippine Navy; holding of maritime chief of staff meetings; and port calls by JMSDF vessels in the Philippines.
The partnership between the two countries will be given a boost through capacity building, especially in humanitarian assistance and disaster response, as well as cooperation in the field of flight safety, air rescue, and aviation medicine between Japanese Air Self-Defense Force and Philippine Air Force; holding of high-level and working level meetings; increase of information, education and training exchange; and exploration of the possibility of convening a vice-ministerial meeting.
Onodera emphasized that they were “very concerned” with the Philippines’ situation in West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and supported its position that the territorial dispute may be solved through international arbitration and not through the use of force.
“During the meeting I have talked with Secretary Gazmin about the situation and shared information regarding South China Sea, which is very similar situation which is seen in East China Sea, for Japan, and Japan side, I said that Japan side is very concerned that this kind of situation in South China Sea could affect the situation in East China Sea that includes Japan, and I have heard from Secretary Gazmin about the various activities taken by the Philippine armed forces in this matter and i have told him that Japan side will cooperate with Philippine side in this matter, and i have also learned about the Philippines efforts for the United Nations arbitration process in the principle that the Philippine side seeks to solve this problem based on the rule of law and I have told that the Japan side is totally supporting this kind of efforts to resolve this problem,” he told reporters through a translator in an interview after the meeting.
Japan and China are also engaged in a dispute over an uninhabited, energy-rich island chain, known in Japan as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu in the East China Sea.
“I also like to emphasize here that the current situation should not be changed with the use of force, but should be done through the rule of law and I think this is the concept that is agreed upon in international community these days,” Onodera said.
Meanwhile, Gazmin also acknowledged Japan’s support of solving the territorial disputes through peaceful means.
“We are very happy to note that the Japanese government is supportive of our peaceful resolution of the case through the arbitration and we have agreed to continue our exchanges of information, exchanges of technology, to help each other, come up with, make the defense relations,” he told reporters.
Onodera clarified that they were “not aiming at protecting from any specific nation,” but emphasized their stance of [keeping out] their “territorial space, territorial air and sea space well protected… according to the rule of law.”