Aquino sees stronger Japan as ‘counterweight’ to aggresive China
MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III has expressed the view that a stronger Japan would be a counterweight to the “threatening’’ presence of China in the West Philippine Sea, foreign affairs officials said on Thursday, at the close of a two-day visit by Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
Kishida paid a courtesy call on the President after meeting Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on the last of his two-day official visit to the Philippines aimed at boosting the countries’ strategic partnership in the face of China’s growing power in the region.
Briefing reporters later, Del Rosario said the President and Fushida talked about the “common challenges’’ that both countries have been facing vis-à-vis a more assertive China, and learning from strategies of either country, among a wide range of regional issues.
“I think there’s a mutual agreement that we should pursue peaceful resolution to these disputes and we’re trying to find out what the right formulation is,’’ he said in Malacañang.
“Well, I think what we agreed on is that we would keep on—because we do have this threat and this threat actually is shared by many countries not just with Japan—that we should continue to talk and see to what extent and cooperate in terms of coming to a peaceful resolution of the disputes,’’ he added.
While the Philippines is locked in a standoff with China over the West Philippine Sea, Japan and China are also disputing ownership of the islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Taiwan also lays claim to the territory.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the West Philippine Sea, which is believed to sit atop vast amounts of oil and gas, aside from being one of the region’s most important fishing grounds and home to shipping lanes that are vital to global trade.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, and Taiwan claim parts of the sea.
Del Rosario indicated that Japan would be a natural strategic partner of the Philippines given the two countries’ shared values, interests and concerns.
“I think the reason we obviously have [become strategic partners] are common interests. We have common concerns, we have shared interests, and we have shared values. I think it is basically that which drove the spirit of putting us together as strategic partners,’’ he said.
Del Rosario said there was no discussion of the balance of power in the region during Kishida’s call, but believed that the President agreed that a stronger Japan would help foster stability in the Asia Pacific region.
“Well, I think the President is of the view that a stronger Japan, acting as a counterbalance in the region, would help promote stability for the Asia Pacific,’’ he said.
In the briefing, Del Rosario made repeated reference to the threats posed by Beijing, and ticked off three instances it had breached international laws.
“I think that, if you look at the posture of China in the South China Sea, their fixed posture is the foundation of their policy in those seas—that they have indisputable sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, OK?’’ he said.
“Now, this of course is an excessive claim. It’s in violation of international law—strike one, OK. Strike two, in order to be able to reinforce that, what they’ve done is that they have called for a reestablishment of an administrative unit to oversee the entire area which they consider as the nine-dash,’’ he said, referring to the administrative unit in Sansha City that has been exercising jurisdiction over Macclessfield Bank, Paracels and Spratly islands.
“So, first, they have an excessive claim; then they’re creating an administrative unit over those areas; and then they come up with this new law, which provides for enforcement in terms of interdiction of ships in those areas. So strike three already,’’ Del Rosario continued.
“And then, of course, they’re coming up with all kinds of infrastructure and releasing figures on budgets that they intend to use to be able to establish their presence there. So I think these are all very threatening and we have been protesting, as I said, these moves by China,’’ he added.
Macclesfield Bank is a huge underwater group of reefs and shoals located east of the Paracel Islands, southwest of the Pratas Islands and north of the Spratly Islands in the center of the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines claims Macclesfield Bank and administers it through the provincial government of Zambales.
Del Rosario said both Manila and Tokyo were aware of the magnitude of challenges they were facing against China’s power.
“I think we all understand that the assertions being made by China in terms of their nine-dash line claim, for example, they do pose threats to the stability of the region. We also need to be able to address the possibility that the freedom of navigation would be adversely impacted,’’ he said.
During Kishida’s visit, both countries agreed to bolster maritime cooperation, with Japan funding Philippine Coast Guard’s multi-role response vessels to police the country’s territorial waters, and the latter’s communication system for greater maritime safety, the Secretary said.
“We have these multi-role response vessels. Ten of them are being funded by Japan for our Coast Guard,’’ he said.
Kishida extended Japan’s invitation to President Aquino to attend the 40th anniversary of the Commemorative Asean Summit with Japan toward the end of the year, Del Rosario said.
“We’re still reviewing the schedule of travels for the President for 2013. But we believe that this is one of the events that we are recommending strongly,’’ he said.
The President took the opportunity to invite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a state visit, and followed up his earlier invitation to Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako for a visit, Del Rosario said.