Sea dispute high on agenda of Duterte’s 7th meet with Abe
President Duterte will renew the Philippines’ pledge to uphold freedom of navigation and the exercise of self-restraint in the South China Sea when he meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo next week.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the President would be in the Japanese capital to participate in the 25th Nikkei Conference on the Future of Asia, where he would deliver a speech on Friday next week.
This will be immediately followed by a meeting with Abe, where they are to discuss the two countries’ strategic partnership in several areas, and developments in the South China Sea maritime dispute and the Korean Peninsula.
Meynardo Montealegre, the assistant foreign secretary for Asian and Pacific affairs, said next week’s meeting would be Duterte’s seventh with Abe since he took office in 2016.
It would also be the President’s third visit to Japan.
At a press briefing on Friday, Montealegre said the bilateral meeting would be an opportunity for both leaders to “exchange views on regional issues of mutual concern, including the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea.”
Aggressive China stance
Montealegre did not say what specific issues Duterte may raise in his talks with Abe, or if the President would seek Japanese support in the face of China’s aggressive stance in the disputed waters.
“Peace and stability in the region is a mutual concern to both the Philippines and Japan, and the South China Sea is central in this regard,” he said.
“The Philippines, for its part, has always affirmed its commitment to uphold the principles of freedom of navigation and overflight, freedom of commerce and other lawful activities, exercise of self-restraint, and the peaceful resolution of disputes,” Montealegre added.
While Japan is not a claimant state in the South China Sea dispute, it considers uninterrupted access important in the waterway, through which about $5 trillion in global trade passes each year.
Japan is also embroiled in a territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited chain of islands which Beijing calls the Diaoyu Islands, in the East China Sea.
Duterte and Abe are also expected to discuss the two countries’ strategic partnership in several areas.
“The President’s summit with the prime minister … will be an opportunity for the two leaders to take stock of the progress of our strengthened strategic partnership,” Montealegre said.
These are in the areas of defense and security, economic cooperation, infrastructure development, the entry of Filipino skilled workers in Japan and Japanese assistance for the development of the Bangsamoro region, the DFA said.
Business deals on table
There would be no government-to-government agreements to be signed by the Philippines and Japan, although the Department of Trade and Industry said at least 10 business deals were expected to be reached between Filipino and Japanese companies.
“There will be no agreements to be signed during this particular visit. The meeting between the two leaders is the key takeaway of this particular visit,” Montealegre said.
Duterte’s keynote speech at the Nikkei Conference on the Future of Asia will likely “assert Asia’s role in charting its own future” as the region affirms “the larger international frameworks and mechanisms that have been given to the Asian century we now enjoy.”
The President was invited by Nikkei Inc. to participate in this year’s conference, which gathers government and business leaders with a goal of charting Asia’s direction.
It will be held on May 30 to 31 at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, with the theme “Seeking a New Global Order—Overcoming the Chaos.”
Duterte will be accompanied by members of his economic and national security teams.
Other regional leaders who have confirmed their attendance in the Nikkei conference are Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith.
Filipino community meeting
The deputy prime ministers of Vietnam and Singapore will also be in attendance along with ministers from Japan, Brunei, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia.
The DFA said it had not received any official request from the other participating governments for a bilateral meeting with Duterte.
However, preparations are being finalized for a possible meeting between the President and the Filipino community in Tokyo.
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