MANILA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Saturday to increase maritime cooperation with the Philippines amid growing territorial disputes with 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 III after they held talks in Manila.
“In order to further reinforce this relationship . . . we confirm continued assistance to the capacity-building of the Philippine Coast Guard.”
While Japan is being pressured by China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the Philippines is also having to deal with Chinese territorial claims.
Japan announced earlier this year it will extend yen loans to allow the Philippines to purchase 10 Japanese patrol vessels.
The Philippines’ ill-equipped maritime assets have been at the forefront of tense encounters with navy and maritime surveillance vessels from China, which claims most of the South China Sea, including areas close to the Filipino coast.
China seized the Scarborough Shoal, a South China Sea outcropping just 230 km east of the main Philippine island of Luzon, last year after Manila backed down from a lengthy standoff.
This year the Philippines has complained about the presence of Chinese vessels near 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 he intends to use his party’s decisive victory in the Upper House election last weekend to pursue his vision of Japan’s role in the region.
“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.”
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea besides having to deal with China flexing its muscles.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, who visited the Philippines last month, said the two countries will cooperate “in terms of the defense of remote islands . . . as well as protection of maritime interests.”
Summit in Singapore
Japan and Singapore have agreed to strengthen economic cooperation, confirming plans to jointly promote the export of infrastructure systems to other countries.
During their meeting Friday in Singapore, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also confirmed plans to coordinate moves in negotiating for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and another large free-trade bloc known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which encompasses East Asia.
Abe said at a joint news conference after their talks that he and Lee agreed to strengthen cooperation between the two countries’ defense forces, especially for disaster and rescue operations.
Lee said they exchanged views on “overlapping territorial disputes,” an apparent reference to China’s territorial claims.
“I expressed the hope that the countries concerned would manage these differences peacefully and in accordance with international law. . . . But I also expressed the hope that issues should not affect the overall stability of the region,” Lee said. “We all benefit from a stable Asia.”