Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged increased maritime cooperation with the Philippines on Saturday amid growing territorial disputes with regional rival China.
“For Japan, the Philippines is a strategic partner with whom we share fundamental values and many strategic interests,” Abe told a joint news conference with President Benigno Aquino 3rd after their meeting in Manila.
“In order to further reinforce this relationship . . . we confirm continued assistance to the capacity-building of the Philippine Coast Guard.”
Abe’s overnight visit came as tensions have steadily risen between China and Japan, which accuses its neighbor of sending an increasing number of ships to exert its claim over unpopulated Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea.
The Philippines has also charged that China is asserting claims in the conflict-riven West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Japan earlier this year announced it would extend yen loans to allow the Philippines to purchase 10 Japanese patrol vessels for its coastguard.
The poorly-equipped Filipino coast guard and navy have been at the forefront of tense encounters with navy and maritime surveillance vessels from China, which claims most of the West Philippine Sea including areas close to the Filipino coast.
China seized the Scarborough Shoal, a South China Sea outcrop just 230 kilometers east of the main Philippine island of Luzon, last year after Manila backed down from a lengthy stand-off.
This year, the Philippines has complained about the presence of Chinese navy vessels near Filipino-held Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly islands.
“The Prime Minister and I agreed to strengthen maritime cooperation which is a pillar of our strategic partnership,” Aquino said Saturday.
“We reviewed the security challenges that confront our nations and pledged to cooperate in advancing our common advocacy for responsible action from international players.
“We believe this can be done by upholding the rule of law in international affairs and finding just and peaceful solutions to our territorial disputes and maritime concerns.”
Abe said Saturday he intends to use his party’s decisive victory in the upper house of the Japanese parliament to pursue his vision of Tokyo’s role in the region, many parts of which were under brutal Japanese occupation in World War II.
The meeting comes as tensions have steadily risen between China and Japan, which accuses its growing neighbor of sending an increasing number of ships to exert its claim over unpopulated Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea.
The Philippines has also charged that China has used assertive means to exert claims in the conflict-riven South China Sea.
The first visit to Manila by a Japanese leader since December 2006 highlights the growing strategic partnership between the two Asian nations who were bitter enemies in the World War II era, officials said.
“Japan is one of our two strategic partners [besides the United States]. Certainly, it [Abe trip] would be a significant visit from a strategic partner,” Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters ahead of Abe’s arrival late Friday.
Foreign Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said the territorial disputes will be discussed by the leaders.
Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, who visited the Philippines last month, said the two countries would cooperate “in terms of the defense of remote islands . . . as well as protection of maritime interests”.
Political scientist Rene de Castro of Manila’s De La Salle University said the growing proximity was helping both nations overcome bitter World War II memories.
“As a liberal democracy, we recognize that Japan right now, is totally different from the Japan of World War II” when it occupied the Philippines, de Castro told Agence France-Presse.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, in an interview with the Financial Times last year said Japan would be a “welcome” counterbalance to China’s rise.
Abe has pledged to loosen limits on the military in Japan’s pacifist, post-war constitution and stand up to China over their East China Sea dispute.
“Against this backdrop I intend to further proceed with strategic diplomacy which will contribute to regional and global peace and security,” he said.
“I intend to attach particular importance to our relationship with Asean.”
Association of Southeast Asian Nations members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, as well as claims from China and Taiwan.