MANILA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday pledged a ¥1 trillion aid package to the Philippines, including government aid and private investments, over the next five years to help its infrastructure development and strengthen strategic ties with the key Asia-Pacific nation.
“We will leverage Japanese technology and know-how to the fullest extent to positively cooperate for the improvement of infrastructure in Metro Manila and the whole of the Philippines,” Abe told a joint news conference in Manila after meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Abe, who met Duterte for the third time, is the first foreign head of government to visit the Philippines since Duterte took power last June.
Abe and Duterte said they agreed to enhance maritime and security cooperation in their talks at the Malacanang Palace. Abe said China’s military buildup in disputed waters of the South China Sea influences regional peace and stability, and is a global concern.
“We will continue to forge ahead with our efforts to advance the rule of law in order to secure the waters in our region,” Duterte said. “As maritime nations, the Philippines and Japan have a shared interest in keeping our waters safe and secure from threats of any kind.”
The two countries agreed to establish a joint committee on economic collaboration to help with Manila’s infrastructure development, Abe said. Such an effort by Tokyo is also apparently aimed at thwarting China’s growing influence on the Philippines.
Abe also said Japan will provide support for rehabilitation facilities for drug addicts in the Philippines.
Abe hopes the Philippines remains committed to an alliance with the United States in maintaining regional peace and stability, countering the growing assertiveness of China at sea, Japanese officials said.
Duterte, a former Davao mayor and prosecutor, has reacted angrily to concerns from Washington about extrajudicial killings in his anti-drug campaign. Duterte has also resumed talks with China, the world’s second-largest economy, to boost cooperation, and signaled that he is prepared to set aside territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
Abe’s meeting with Duterte came ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president on Jan. 20. It is unclear whether the Philippines’ relations with the United States will mend under Trump, analysts said.
Abe also promised Japan’s full support to the Philippines in chairing a series of meetings involving the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, expecting their efforts to address the South China Sea issue will be high on agenda.
Japan is not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes between China, the Philippines and four other nations, but it is concerned about China’s rising military presence in the resource-rich area and busy shipping lane.
Tokyo also faces challenges from Beijing related to China’s claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
During the Abe-Duterte summit, Japan and the Philippines exchanged papers on Japan providing high-speed boats to the Philippine Coast Guard in a bid to enhance maritime safety. The offer was announced by Abe when Duterte visited Japan last October.
Tokyo will also aid flood-prevention work in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao where Duterte is from.
Abe and Duterte will meet for breakfast at the president’s home in Davao in Mindanao on Friday, the officials said, as Abe seeks to build a close personal relationship of trust.
Abe will become the first sitting foreign leader to visit Davao, the officials said.
The Philippines is Abe’s first stop on a four-nation trip, which will also include Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam.