West PH Sea disputes up for discussion in Japan-Asean summit
TOKYO—Territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea—that part of the South China Sea the Philippines claims to be belonging to its exclusive economic zone—the East Sea and Yellow Sea will be on the table as President Aquino joins fellow heads of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for a summit meeting with Japan.
The President is to arrive here on Thursday to attend the 40th Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit, a historic gathering that is expected to be closely watched by China, which has territorial disputes with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and several Asean member-nations, including the Philippines.
China, which has its own China-Asean Dialogue, will not be around as it has just concluded its own summit with Asean—the 16th Asean-China summit held in Brunei’s capital of Bandar Seri Begawan on the sidelines of the 23rd Asean summit last October.
The Asean-Japan commemorative summit will be the culminating event to a full year of activities commemorating 40 years of Asean-Japan relations.
Aquino has a two-pronged mission in his three-day visit to Japan—to advance a peaceful resolution of the Philippine maritime dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea through the adoption of a code of conduct, and to pursue closer ties between the Philippines and Japan mainly through defense and trade cooperation.
The summit comes on the heels of the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) adopted by China since last month, which has riled up its neighbors Japan and South Korea.
The escalating tensions could spill over to the West Philippine Sea as it has been reported that a similar scheme could be employed by China to aggressively assert its stake on islands and waters in the vast area being contested, wholly or in part, by the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
The list of topics during the summit include political and security cooperation, exchange of views on regional and international issues, cooperation of economy and emerging socio-economic issues, cooperation on people-to-people and cultural challenges, and adoption of medium-to-long term vision on Asean-Japan friendship.
Interviewed by reporters on Monday, Aquino himself attached great importance to the summit.
“Well, the purpose for the trip to Japan is the Asean-Japan commemorative anniversary. This is the 40th year. So the relationship between Asean and Japan is the focal point of the engagement,” he said. “Now, if there are other issues on a bilateral basis then we will—we are certainly open to discussions. My I remind everybody, there are only two strategic partners for the Philippines, and that is the United States of America and Japan.”
Asked about the need to fortify the Philippines’ strategic defense alliance Japan in light of the ADIZ proclaimed by China, he said: “So will that be part of the talks? Of course anything that creates tension and instability is a concern for all, and everybody should be focused on maintaining a stable region so that we have the necessary milieu for … expanding economies to the benefit of all our peoples.”
Foreign office spokesperson Raul Hernandez said in Manila that the West Philippine Sea issue “is an ongoing issue and has typically been addressed in the Asean forum. So this will be one of the things that could be discussed in that summit.”
He said the regional leaders would have a chance to exchange views on regional and international issues, “and they are free to raise any of these issues including the air defense identification zone.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs has lined up several events aimed at bolstering various aspects of Philippine-Japan friendship.
Touching base with the robust Filipino community here will be first on the list of Aquino, who will have a two-hour meeting with Filipino migrants, overseas workers and students at the Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.
During this event, the President will receive from the Filipino community the symbolic ¥1 million yen check for victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”
On Friday, the President will receive an honorary doctorate degree from Sophia University.
This will precede his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe which will take place during a working lunch at the prime minister’s official residence.
Philippine ambassador to Japan Manuel Lopez said only Mr. Aquino would have a working lunch with Abe.
While the rest of Asean leaders will have separate hourlong bilateral meetings with Abe, Aquino was the only one “accorded this kind of importance, so in a way the others are jealous.”
Without naming names, Lopez said: “One (top official of a) country said, ‘the prime minister and the president will have lunch together—he’s lucky.’”
Lopez said President Aquino and Abe will witness the signing of three exchanges of notes on a post-disaster standby loan worth ¥billion ($100 million), loan for multi-role response vessels for the Philippine Coast Guard worth ¥18.732 billion ($187 million), and a revised route schedule for the Philippines-Japan Air Services Agreement.
Lopez sees the air services agreement as an opportunity for Philippine carriers like Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific to increase the number of flights between different points in Japan and Manila.
“So this should really help our tourism industry with the doubling of flights,” he said.
Before dusk, the President will join fellow Asean heads of state for tea with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko at the Imperial Palace.
After the reception, Aquino will return to the prime minister’s official residence for dinner with Abe.
In between these official meetings, he will advance his economic and political mission: he will meet with the Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) at the Keidanren Kaikan, receive a courtesy call by Japan Philippines Parliamentarians Friendship League led by Minister of Justice Sadakazu Tanigaki, and a social call by Bank of Japan Governor and Mrs. Haruhiko Kuroda.
The one-day summit begins on Saturday at the Akasaka State Guest House, where the President will deliver a statement during the summit.
He and his fellow Asean heads of state will then take part in a lunch hosted by the Japan business community, including the Keidanren and the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
At the closing session of the summit, the heads of state will adopt two documents: Vision Statement of Asean-Japan Friendship and Cooperation and its Implementation Plan, and Joint Statement of the Asean-Japan Summit.
The vision statement and its implementation plan will focus mainly on medium- and long–term cooperation between Asean and Japan, while the Joint Statement will address regional and international issues beyond dialogue partnership, according to Hernandez.
Right after the closing session, the President will receive a flurry of courtesy calls from the top honchos of the Japanese business world: former Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) president Dr. Sadako Ogata, who is now advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and a special advisor to JICA President Akihiko Tanaka; representatives from the Sumotomo Mitsui Banking Corp. and officials of Nidec Sankyo Corp.
He will also witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding for an 850-room retirement community in Cebu City between Cebu City officials and I-Land Company, a Japanese real estate firm based in Fukuoka.
Capping the day will be a gala dinner to be hosted by the prime Minister and Mrs Abe for all Asean heads of state.
Aquino and his delegation will depart for Manila late Saturday night and arrive in Manila the following day.
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