Phl, Japan enhance maritime cooperation
Pia Lee-Brago, Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - January 11, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is pushing for more dialogue as well as greater maritime cooperation between his country and the Philippines, saying both nations should acknowledge the “changing strategic environment in the region.”

Kishida issued the statement yesterday amid tensions in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea sparked by China’s incursions into the territories of its neighbors.

Japan itself is in dispute with China over Senkaku or Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea.

“As the strategic environment in the region is changing, it is necessary for us as foreign ministers to share recognition of the situation, enhance the strategic partnership between the two countries, and cooperate towards shaping a peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region,” Kishida said.

Kishida was in Manila on his first foreign trip as Japan’s top diplomat since the election of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Kishida did not take questions after the foreign ministers gave their statements.

Although the Japanese official did not comment on the sea disputes, he discussed with Del Rosario his country’s assistance to the Philippines in terms of strengthening the latter’s coast guard.

“The acquisition of multi-role response vessels is undergoing serious consideration. There is also regular exchange of views and dialogue between officials of the two countries on maritime and ocean affairs,” Del Rosario said.

Kishida also paid a courtesy call on President Aquino in Malacañang yesterday.

In a briefing after the courtesy call, Del Rosario said there was a discussion with his counterpart on the common challenges “that we face in terms of the apparent assertions of China.”

“We talked about the possibility of trying to learn about the various strategies of Japan and the Philippines,” he said.

“We actually agreed...because we do have this threat – and this threat actually is shared by many countries not just Japan – that we should continue to talk, and see to what extent we can cooperate in terms of coming to a peaceful resolution on the disputes,” Del Rosario said, referring to China’s muscle-flexing in the region.

“As I mentioned, we talked about the challenges that we appear to be facing in view of the assertions being made by China and we did express, as I said in the bilateral meetings, what our strategies are and how consistent we were,” he said.

“I think there’s a mutual agreement that we should pursue peaceful resolution to these disputes and we’re trying to find out what the right formulation is.”

Asked about enhanced maritime cooperation, Del Rosario said there would be “expanded” forums under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“I think they were all aware of the magnitude of the challenge. I think we all understand that the assertions being made by China in terms of their nine-dash line claim, for example, they do pose threats to the stability of the region. We also need to be able to address the possibility that the freedom of navigation would be adversely impacted,” he said.

Del Rosario said the Philippines and Japan agreed to elevate bilateral relations to a “strategic partnership” after President Aquino made a state visit to Tokyo in 2011.

“I think the reason (is) we obviously have common interests. We have common concerns, we have shared interests, and we have shared values. I think it is basically that which drove the spirit of putting us together as strategic partners,” Del Rosario said.

Del Rosario also said Manila would support a stronger Japan although this was not discussed during the meetings with the Japanese foreign minister.

“I think the President is of the view that a stronger Japan, acting as a counterbalance in the region, would help promote stability for the Asia Pacific,” he said.

Asked if the Philippines and Japan would combine forces due to China’s “threatening actions,” Del Rosario said: “I think we’re already receiving a significant measure of assistance and support from Japan in terms of capacity building for the (Philippine) Coast Guard. I’m referring to the Coast Guard capacity building in terms of training and, as I said, we have this communication system that Japan will be funding that will provide for a greater maritime safety element as far as the Coast Guard is concerned.”

He said 10 multi-role response vessels from Japan that would be funded by a grant from Tokyo would be available to the PCG in 18 months.

But Del Rosario said there were no discussions on allowing Japanese surveillance planes over the West Philippine Sea.

“There have been no request that I know of and, until such time that there is a request, we’ll have to evaluate it,” Del Rosario said.

Del Rosario said the Philippines had been seeking peaceful resolution to the dispute with China despite the latter’s “fixed posture” that it has sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea.

Del Rosario also said any calls for joint development of the oil fields would have to be in accordance with Philippine laws.

“Provided they do a joint venture with a holder of this service contract, and they adhere to all the conditions of the service contract, which is consistent with Philippine law and not in violation of our Constitution, I think, that might be workable,” Del Rosario said.


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