President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Monday said he is open to discussions on a defense treaty with Japan as tensions over China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone in disputed maritime areas heighten.
The President is leaving for Japan for the 40th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)-Japan Commemorative Summit scheduled December 12-15.
Speaking to reporters, the President said the relationship between Asean and Japan is the “focal point of the engagement”, but if there are other issues, including China’s establishment of the air defense zone, then “we are certainly open to discussions.”
He said a defense treaty with Japan could also be discussed.
“There are only two strategic partners for the Philippines, and that is the United States of America and Japan. I don’t recall a defense treaty with Japan. I do recall a defense treaty with America,” Aquino said.
He said 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.”
The US and the Phiilppines are negotiating a military-to-military agreement to allow increased rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines and give them more access to military bases.
Asked if the Chinese air defense zone gives more urgency for discussions for the new military agreement with the US, Aquino said the negotiations are not geared against any particular country.
“This is a relationship between America and us. We didn’t set up the mutual defense treaty against anybody. That has been existing for the longest time,” he said
The President said the details of the agreement with US are being ironed out.
“I think even the disaster relief operations, all the foreigners that came in with their water filtration systems, their mobile hospitals, their airlift capability. Their ability to set up air traffic control also that enabled night operations shows us or the wide disparity between their capabilities and ours, and it should guide us as to which aspects of our defensive abilities we should be enhancing so that there is the possibility of good collaboration in case an eventuality that nobody wants to happen does happen,” he said.
CATHERINE S. VALENTE