Aquino to undertake first state visit to Japan June 2-5
President Aquino is set to undertake his first state visit to Japan next week, a trip touted to boost the strategic partnership between the two nations.
The Philippine leader will be the first foreign head of state to be accorded such honor by Tokyo this year.
Security, trade and people-to-people ties are expected to be high on the agenda as Mr. Aquino blazes through a hectic four days of meetings with Japan’s top officials and the Japanese Imperial House, set on June 2 to 5.
The South China Sea dispute is also expected to be tackled during the meeting between Mr. Aquino and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as the two leaders face common challenges amid China’s aggressive military expansion in the Pacific.
Address before National Diet
In what could be a sampling of his final State of the Nation Address (Sona), President Aquino is scheduled to speak before the National Diet, the Japanese parliament, to talk about “developments in the Philippines,” said Minda Calaguian-Cruz, Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for Asia and the Pacific.
“…[T]he Diet is the highest state organ in Japan, and it is a very good platform by which the President can also put forward what have been the developments in the Philippines over a period of time, and at the same time also the linkages between both countries,” Cruz told reporters in a briefing at the Palace Friday.
“I think it is of interest for Japan to see how the Philippines has been doing because this will also be an opportunity whereby we can show to the rest of the stakeholders in the Japanese society opportunities that are available in the Philippines: what had happened over a period of time; what other vast opportunities of business there are; what opportunities are there also for people-to-people exchanges,” she said.
It would be the first time for Aquino to address the Japanese legislature, an opportunity given only to select foreign leaders who visit Tokyo.
Aquino is the third Philippine President in recent memory to address the National Diet; his mother, the late former President Corazon Aquino, spoke before parliament during her state visit in November 1986, while former President Gloria Arroyo also addressed a joint session in December 2002.
Cruz cited the strategic partnership between Philippines and Japan in the Japanese Diet’s invitation for the President to deliver an address. Japan is one of only two strategic partner nations of the Philippines, the other being the United States.
“I don’t know their criteria, but for us, it is important. And we feel that as a strategic partner, there is recognition on this, and this is also the reason why there is that opportunity given for him to speak before the Diet,” Cruz said.
President Aquino will be accompanied by a still undisclosed list of key officials during the visit, his sixth trip to Japan during his Presidency.
According to a list of presidential trips on the Official Gazette (gov.ph), Mr. Aquino visited Japan in 2010 for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, twice in 2011 for a secret meeting with Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim (August) and an official visit (September), in December 2013 for the 40th Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit, and in June last year for a working visit.
“This will be a state visit and it is one whereby the Japanese side had extended, and normally, state visits in Japan are only done twice a year. So this visit of President Aquino will be the first state visit in Japan, so there will be another one, we don’t know when will that be announced,” said Cruz.
The visit comes at “an auspicious time” said Cruz, as the two sides marked 60 years of diplomatic relations. The Philippines and Japan restored ties in 1955, nine years since the end of World War 2, which also ended the Japanese occupation in the country.
The Japanese Imperial Palace will open its doors to Mr. Aquino upon arrival in Tokyo, with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko leading the welcome. They will also host a state banquet in honor of the President.
Aquino is also slated to meet Abe, who made an official visit to the Philippines in July 2013.
“The two will talk about the enhancement of Philippine-Japan strategic partnership, and also exchange views on recent developments in the region,” Cruz said.
Asked whether the two leaders are expected to discuss the sea disputes, Cruz said: “The South China Sea issue is an issue that remains important to us and also, I think, to the rest of the region and the rest of the world. So we hope—we expect this issue to be discussed, and I think the Philippine position will always be reiterated on this, and I think it has been made very public what the Philippine position is as far as the South China issue is (concerned).”
The Philippines and Japan have many times condemned Chinese incursions into their respective exclusive economic zones: in the South China Sea, a portion of which the Manila calls the West Philippine Sea as part of its claim, and in the East China Sea, which is being claimed by Tokyo.
Japan has been seen to be reforming its pacifist policy, with Abe pushing for a rearming amid growing security threats.
Aquino is also set to court Japanese business leaders “to highlight gains and, of course to invite more Japanese investments into the Philippines, providing of course information on business opportunities in the country.” He is scheduled to address a special session of the Nikkei Future of Asia Conference.
Cruz said the President will also meet with the Filipino community in Japan.
Japan is among the Philippines’ leading trade partners and a major source of official development assistance, with loans focusing on promoting economic growth, infrastructure and community-building, Cruz said.
She said the two sides were working out an ODA package on infrastructure development.
During the President’s visit, the Philippines and Japan are also expected to sign a memorandum of cooperation that focuses on the universal healthcare system.
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