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Philippines, Japan vow closer defense ties

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, is welcomed to the opening plenary session by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Manila, Philippines, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. Asia-Pacific leaders called Thursday for increased international cooperation in the fight against terrorism as they held annual talks overshadowed by the Paris attacks. Mast Irham/Pool Photo via AP

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines and Japan have agreed to work together for the signing of a deal that would enable the transfer of defense equipment to the Philippine military in the wake of China’s aggressive expansion in the South China Sea.

In a speech he delivered after his bilateral meeting with Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday, President Aquino expressed hopes that an agreement to further bolster the Philippines’ defense ties with Japan would be sealed “sooner rather than later.”

 “We have taken a significant step forward in enhancing our defense and security relations by agreeing in principle on the transfer of defense equipment and technology,” Aquino said.

Abe, for his part, said Japan is ready to work with the Philippines to realize the agreement.

Abe said Aquino had requested for large patrol vessels for the Philippine Coast Guard and that Japan “would like to consider the specifics of the matter.”

During Aquino’s visit to Tokyo in June, he and Abe agreed to explore the transfer of Japanese military hardware and technology to the Philippines which is struggling to defend its territory in the face of China’s massive military build-up.

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They also agreed to start discussions on a visiting forces agreement in a move seen as a way to counter China’s muscle-flexing in the region.

Philippine defense officials, however, have admitted this may not be signed within Aquino’s presidency because of the lengthy legal procedures involved.

Aquino and Abe also expressed their concerns over China’s occupation of disputed reefs in the South China Sea, also being claimed by the Philippines.  

“We shared these concerns over unilateral actions to change the status quo such as the large scale land reclamation and building of outpost in the South China Sea. At the same time, we confirm the importance of partnership in the global community based on the rule of law to protect open, free and peaceful seas,” Abe said.

The Japanese leader also supported the Philippines’ move to bring its territorial dispute with China to an international arbitral tribunal.

“We reiterated our position to continue to support dispute resolution based on international law,” Abe said.

 While he was specific on the South China Sea dispute, Aquino issued general statements, saying that he and his Japanese counterpart merely discussed “security challenges” during their meeting.

 “With the understanding that the progress of Japan, the Philippines and all other nations in the region are founded on peace and stability, we likewise took the opportunity to discuss the security challenges that confront both our nations, and pledged to cooperate in advancing our shared advocacy for members of the international community to act responsibly,” Aquino said.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims. Japan and China are also embroiled in a row over the unoccupied Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Meanwhile, Abe announced that Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko would visit the Philippines next year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic ties.

 “We look very much forward to cooperating closely with the Philippines to make Their Majesties visit a great success. It will be a gesture of new impetus for our friendship,” the Japanese leader said.

 Aquino said he is eager to extend to them the same warm and generous hospitality they had accorded to him and his delegation during his visit to Japan last June.

 Abe also announced Japan’s plan to provide about 15 billion yen to bankroll an agribusiness project in Mindanao.

 After the bilateral meeting, Philippine and Japanese officials signed a social security agreement that would maintain the benefit rights of workers who have divided their careers between the Philippines and Japan.

 

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