National / Politics

Tokyo, Manila eye 'visiting forces' pact to rein in China

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

Visiting Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Friday that Manila and Tokyo will start discussions on signing a “visiting forces agreement” that could allow Japan to use bases there to refuel aircraft and vessels.

“We will be initiating all the diplomatic requirements to come up with a visiting forces agreement,” Aquino told reporters at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, adding that he discussed initiating talks on the subject during his summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday.

The pact would enable Japan to extend its military reach to the South China Sea, where Tokyo is reportedly considering conducting joint air patrols with the United States.

Aquino suggested that a nation with a strategic partnership needs to have a visiting forces agreement to address common purposes.

He noted that the Philippines has only two visiting forces agreements, with the United States and Australia. “We have only two strategic partners, the U.S, and Japan . . . it does not behoove a good partnership if you’re not able to work at interoperability with the other.”

In a speech just hours before wrapping up his four-day state visit to Japan, Aquino repeated that Manila is “gravely concerned” by the land reclamation work being undertaken in the South China Sea.

“Our maritime environment and its resources as well as the airspace above it are now under threat,” Aquino said.

He called for settling the dispute “in a manner compatible with international law.”

Keeping China in check was a main topic of discussion during his talks with Abe on Thursday. The two leaders pledged to promote defense cooperation and boost the capacity of the Philippine Coast Guard in the face of China’s growing naval ambitions.

“On the issues regarding the South China Sea, we express our concerns on the large-scale land reclamation works and reiterate our opposition to any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo,” Abe said, making a veiled reference to China, at a joint news conference with Aquino following the summit at the Government Guesthouse in Tokyo’s Akasaka district.

Abe also said the two leaders agreed to “thoroughly uphold the principle of the rule of law,” conveying Tokyo’s support for arbitration procedures by the Philippines.

Aquino noted they pledged to cooperate with each other to urge the international community to “act responsibly.”

“We believe this can be done through finding just and peaceful solutions to our territorial disputes and maritime concerns by upholding the rule of law, towards creating a secure and stable environment that serves as the bedrock of our collective progress,” Aquino said.

On the economic front, both leaders agreed to cooperate to implement a road map for transport infrastructure development in Manila and to promote the North-South Commuter Railway Project linking Malolos, located about 45 km north of Manila, and Tutuban in the capital. The total cost of that project is estimated to be about ¥300 billion.