Protect ‘freedom of the sea,’ Kishida urges PH Congress
MANILA, Philippines — Addressing Congress in a joint special session on Saturday, visiting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida committed Tokyo’s help in boosting the country’s security capabilities, as he called on allies to uphold freedom of navigation and the rule of law in the region.
“The international community is currently at a historic turning point, and the international order based on the rule of law that we have taken for granted is under serious threat,” Kishida said in a speech at the Batasang Pambansa that highlighted his two-day official visit in Manila.
“In the South China Sea, the trilateral cooperation to protect the freedom of the sea is underway,” he said, referring to security ties forged between the Philippines, Japan, and the United States.
He cited the first joint exercise in June between the coast guards of Japan, the Philippines and the United States, as well as the participation of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces in the joint drills between Philippine and US troops in October.
He also recalled meeting with President Marcos and US Vice President Kamala Harris in September last year as the three leaders “exchanged views for the first time and confirmed to enhance cooperation.”
Also recalling Mr. Marcos’ working visit to Japan in February, Kishida said they both vowed to work together “to maintain and strengthen the free and open international order based on the rule of law.”
“Through these efforts, let us protect the maritime order, which is governed by laws and rules, not by force,” he said.
Japan has no claim in the South China Sea but has a maritime dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Kishida reaffirmed his “strong determination to defend a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP),” which he first brought up during his visit to the United States in January.
He also recalled announcing “a new plan” in March to realize the FOIP, including “extending efforts for security and safe use of the sea to the air.”
“Yesterday, Japan agreed with the Philippines to provide coastal surveillance radars to the Philippine Navy as the first cooperation project in the world under Japan’s newly established official security assistance this year,” Kishida said (See related story on Page A2).
“Japan will continue to contribute to the enhancement of the Philippines’ security capabilities, thereby contributing to regional peace and stability,” he added.
Kishida also described his country’s relations with the Philippines as being in its “golden age,” which he also pointed out to Mr. Marcos during their state banquet on Friday night.
This stage in Philippines-Japan relations is secured by “heart-to-heart ties” established by his predecessors and their Philippine counterparts, he said.
He also noted that “Japan is the largest donor to the Philippines” and “one of the largest investors in the [country] on a private-sector basis”—as he cited, among other packages, “the construction of the Philippines’ first subway system with Japanese assistance,” the 600-billion-yen public-private assistance for the Marcos administration’s “Build Better More” program and a memorandum of cooperation on tourism between the two countries.
The Japanese leader said he wished to work with Marcos and other leaders in the region to see the “golden friendship” of Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations blossom into a “golden opportunity that leads to the next generation.”
Kishida is the sixth head of state to address Congress since US President Dwight Eisenhower’s speech in 1960. He delivered his 30-minute speech in Japanese but greeted lawmakers in Filipino at the beginning and end of his address.
He said he was “honored to have the opportunity to be the first Japanese prime minister to speak here at the Congress of the Philippines.”
Speaker Martin Romualdez, in an interview with reporters, described Kishida as “very much a man whose feet are on the ground. But he has a very good grasp of the worldview and how peace [can] reign in the region.”
‘Best friend’ to PH
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said, “We are very glad that the prime minister accepted our invitation to speak and address the joint session of Congress …. Japan is a best friend to the Philippines. The heart of the Japanese government and people are very close to our country.”
Kishida and his wife, Yuko, arrived in Manila on Friday afternoon. In a bilateral meeting in Malacañang, he and Mr. Marcos discussed strengthening security ties and taking them to a new level by starting negotiations for a Reciprocal Access Agreement (See related story on Page A2) on visiting military forces.
The two leaders also witnessed the signing of agreements on tourism, mining, climate action, and assistance to Mindanao.
In his toast with Kishida at the state banquet, President Marcos said “Japan has provided us [with] steadfast support and unwavering friendship through many decades.”
“With patient and undistracted focus, we are building our realm of freedom, prosperity, and security together in the Indo-Pacific,” Mr. Marcos said.