PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday vowed to ensure maritime safety in the region, with Japan agreeing to help the Philippines acquire new vessels.
In a joint statement released in Tokyo, the Philippines and Japan said “maintaining open and stable seas is essential in the region,” and stressed the importance of a “rules-based approach to the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes without resorting to the threat or use of force.”
Duterte is on an official visit to Japan, which saw the Philippines getting Japanese commitment to help it boost maritime security.
“The two leaders emphasized the need to ensure maritime safety and security which are vital elements for the peace, stability and continued prosperity of both countries and of the region,” the joint statement said.
Japan will provide official development assistance to allow the Philippines to acquire large-scale patrol vessels, while the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force will transfer training aircraft TC-90s.
Japan plans to provide high-speed boats and other equipment “to enhance the Philippines’ anti-terrorism capabilities,” the joint statement said.
The two countries also agreed to help keep South China Sea open to navigation and overflight and to settle regional maritime disputes within the ambit of international law.
The statement cited the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UN Charter and other international agreements amid Beijing’s refusal to recognize an international arbitration ruling favoring the Philippines over China in the South China Sea dispute.
“The two leaders emphasized the importance of self-restraint and non-militarization,” the joint statement said, in apparent reference to China’s reclamation activities in the Kalayaan (Spratly) islands declared illegal by the July arbitration ruling.
Japan has a separate maritime dispute with China, and Duterte on Wednesday told an audience of Japanese businessmen that he did not enter into a military alliance with Beijing when he visited China last week.
“I went to China for a visit and I would like to assure you that what all there was was economics. We did not talk about arms, we did not talk about stationing of troops … we avoided talking about alliances, military or otherwise,” Duterte told Japanese businessmen.
Stronger economic ties
At the Philippine Economic Forum in Tokyo, Duterte wooed Japanese investors as he vowed to strengthen economic ties between the Philippines and Japan.
Duterte said his administration would boost infrastructure and rural development and spur the growth of small and medium enterprises.
“I wish to underscore that stronger economic ties with Japan has been and will continue to be a priority for the Philippines as we celebrate the 60th year of our bilateral relations,” the President told Japanese businessmen at the forum.
“We look to Japan as a steady fulcrum in our regional engagements as the Philippines’ first and only bilateral free-trade partner to date,” he added, referring to the Philippines-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement inked by Manila and Tokyo in 2006.
“We count on Japan to further extend its valuable support in our pursuits for promoting rural development, increasing agriculture productivity, accelerating infrastructure spending and investing in human capital development,” Duterte said.
The President told Japanese investors that his government was working to provide “an environment conducive for business.”
“We are putting in place policies aimed at ensuring stability in the macroeconomic policies, increasing competitiveness, improving ease of doing business, increasing spending in crucial infrastructure and investing further in the human capital development,” he added.
Duterte cited the need to decentralize growth through agriculture development, particularly in the rural areas. He cited Mindanao, which produces the country’s top agricultural exports such as bananas, pineapples, coconut and tuna.
“In this light, we appreciate Japan’s role in the peace-building efforts in Mindanao that is geared towards attainment of a more peaceful life for our country and the ending of vicious cycle of poverty and conflict,” he said.