Sea row tops agenda of Aquino visit to Japan
President Benigno Aquino III is set to make his first state visit to Japan next week, a trip touted to boost the strategic partnership between the two nations as the Philippine leader becomes the first foreign head of state to be accorded such an honor by Tokyo this year.
Security, trade and people-to-people ties are expected to be high on the agenda as the President blazes through a hectic four days of meetings with Japan’s top officials and the Japanese Imperial House, set for June 2 to 5.
The South China Sea dispute is also expected to be tackled by Mr. Aquino and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, amid China’s aggressive military expansion in the disputed sea.
Providing a possible glimpse of his final State of the Nation Address (Sona), Mr. Aquino will speak before the Japanese Diet, or parliament, on “developments in the Philippines,” said Minda Calaguian-Cruz, the foreign office assistant secretary for Asia and the Pacific.
Opportunities in PH
“(The) Diet is the highest state organ in Japan and it is a very good platform (from) which the President can put forward what have been the developments in the Philippines over a period of time, and … also the linkages between both countries,” Cruz told reporters on Friday.
“It is of interest for Japan to see how the Philippines has been doing because this will be an opportunity (to) show to the rest of the stakeholders in the Japanese society the opportunities available in the Philippines: what vast opportunities of business there are; what opportunities are there for people-to-people exchanges,” she said.
It would be the first time for Mr. Aquino to address the Japanese legislature, an opportunity given only to select foreign leaders who visit Tokyo.
3rd Philippine leader
Mr. Aquino would be the third Philippine President in recent memory to address the Japanese Diet. His mother, the late former President Corazon Aquino, spoke before parliament during her state visit in November 1986, while former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo addressed a joint session in December 2002.
Cruz cited the strategic partnership between the Philippines and Japan as shown in the Diet’s invitation to the President to deliver an address. Japan is one of two strategic partners of the Philippines, the other being the United States.
“We feel that as a strategic partner, there is recognition of this, and this is also the reason why there is that opportunity given him to speak before the Diet,” Cruz said.
Mr. Aquino will be accompanied by a still undisclosed list of key officials during the visit, his sixth to Japan during his presidency.
Mr. Aquino visited Japan in 2010 for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit and twice in 2011, including a secret meeting in August with Moro Islamic Liberation Front chair Murad Ebrahim and an official visit in September.
He was also there in December 2013 for the 40th Asean-Japan commemorative summit, and in June last year on a working visit.
“This will be a state visit,” Cruz said. “Normally, state visits in Japan are done twice a year. So this visit of President Aquino will be the first state visit. There will be another one. We don’t know when that will be announced.”
The visit comes at “an auspicious time” as the two sides mark 60 years of diplomatic relations, Cruz said. The two countries restored ties in 1955, nine years after the end of World War II, which also ended the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.
The Japanese Imperial Palace will open its doors to Mr. Aquino upon his arrival, with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko leading the welcome. They will also host a state banquet for the President.
Mr. Aquino is also to meet with 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 would discuss the South China Sea dispute, Cruz said: “(This) is an issue that remains important to us and to the rest of the region and the rest of the world. So we expect this issue to be discussed. I think the Philippine position (on this) will be reiterated.”
The Philippines and Japan have condemned Chinese incursions into their respective exclusive economic zones—Manila claims the West Philippine Sea portion of the South China Sea, while Tokyo claims the East China Sea.
Japan is also seen to be reforming its pacifist policy, with Abe pushing for rearming amid growing security threats.
Mr. Aquino is also expected to court more Japanese investments into the Philippines, providing 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 would also meet the Filipino community in Japan.
Big source of aid
Japan is among the Philippines’ leading trade partners and a major source of official development assistance (ODA), 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 Mr. Aquino’s visit, the Philippines and Japan are also expected to sign a memorandum of cooperation on the universal health-care system.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.