Golden Age of Japan-Phl relations
(The Philippine Star) - January 8, 2020 - 12:00am

I will be visiting the Philippines on January 8th through 9th, for the first time since assuming the post of Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan in last September. President Duterte describes Japan as “a friend closer than a brother” in the current “golden age” of the relations between Japan and the Philippines. Ever since Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and Mrs. Abe got invited to President Duterte’s private residence in Davao for breakfast during their visit to the Philippines three years ago, the two leaders have been drawn together by their firm bond of personal trust.

The “golden age” of the Japan-Philippines relations manifested itself in an event last October during the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, held in Germany; A Japan-trained Filipino gymnast by the name of Mr. Carlos Yulo won the first-ever gold medal representing the Philippines at an international gymnastics competition. Mr. Yulo had moved to Japan in 2016 as a sophomore at high school. While training and living together with his Japanese coach, Mr. Yulo developed the skills of a world’s top athlete swiftly. Mr. Yulo’s next goal would be a gold medal in the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The “golden age” of the bilateral relations is also demonstrated in the fact that Japan has been the largest official development assistance (ODA) donor in support of the Philippines’ socio- economic development, with a cumulative contribution of US$34 billion, which has steadily taken shape and been part of the Philippine daily life. In order to achieve inclusive, sustainable economic growth, it is essential to actively promote infrastructure development. Thus, Japan strongly supports the “Build, Build, Build” program of the Philippine government. Furthermore, Japan has been advocating the development of “quality infrastructure,” and it is Japan’s delight to share its expertise and advanced technologies, acquired through many years of experience, on projects such as the highly anticipated Metro Manila Subway, the North-South Commuter Railway, and the rehabilitation of Line 3 of MRT.

Japan’s assistance to the Philippines is highly commended by President Duterte himself, who stated that Japan provides the “gold standard” of international cooperation in terms of quality, quantity, and speed. Based on such trust, Japan and the Philippines signed a Memorandum of Cooperation on the formulation of a Subic Bay Regional Development Master Plan, thereby enabling the two nations to aim for cooperation on a greater scale. Japan’s support, ranging from Philippine industrial development through investment and technology transfer to formulation of regional development master plans, will contribute to the continuous growth of the Philippines.

For Japan and the Philippines, natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes are common challenges. Taking advantage of my visit, I am planning to sign an agreement on an additional loan for the Metro Manila Priority Bridges Seismic Improvement project with Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin. In addition, Japan is cooperating with the Philippines in various fields such as early warning systems and flood control mechanisms that make use of Japanese technology. Leveraging Japan’s experience, Japan will contribute to the Philippines in building a disaster-resilient society.

Furthermore, in regard to the issue of marine plastic litter, Japan will support initiatives to reduce discharges of waste, including plastics, to rivers and the seas in accordance with the “Osaka Blue Ocean Vision,” spearheaded by Japan last June.

Japan is advancing its cooperation on the freedom of navigation as well. Japan has provided various assistance to the Philippine Coast Guard in the past 20 years. For example, ten 44-meter-class patrol vessels and 13 high-speed boats, which were handed over just recently, have been great assets to latest maritime law enforcement activities and rescue and search operations, conducted in the adjacent waters of the Philippines.

Japan has also been consistently supporting the Mindanao peace process for almost 20 years. At the time of the first plebiscite in January 2019, Japan dispatched the largest monitoring mission of all foreign governments. Subsequently, the peace process has broken new grounds with the establishment of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) last February. To boost the process, Japan has rendered support to decommissioning, capacity-building for BTA, road construction in support of people’s livelihoods, and establishment of vocational training schools. Japan will augment its support in response to the progress in the peace process.

People-to-people exchanges between Japan and the Philippines have been ever expanding, thereby becoming one of the main pillars of the Japan-Philippines relations. I believe that a mutually beneficial relationship can be nurtured between rapidly aging Japan and the Philippines with abundant young labor force. Last year, Japan launched a new status of residence, “Specified Skilled Worker.” More than 1,300 Filipinos have already passed the skills exams for several job categories including caregiving. I look forward to an increasing number of Filipinos fully demonstrating their abilities in Japan.

Furthermore, the number of Filipino tourists to Japan has been promptly growing in recent years as a result of the relaxation of visa requirements for Philippine nationals as part of Japan’s tourism promotion initiatives. In 2018, more than 500,000 Filipinos visited Japan, a six-fold increase in the last six years. In another development, more and more Japanese youths learn English online with Filipino teachers or enroll in language schools in cities like Cebu and Baguio.

Southeast Asia encompassing the Philippines is located at a compound crossroads, connecting the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, and the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The region plays a pivotal role in realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP),” advocated by Japan. Against such backdrop, there is enormous unexploited room for deeper cooperation between Japan and the Philippines as partners that share common values and strategic interests.

In 2019, ASEAN announced the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP),” based on the principles of ASEAN integrity and centrality. Japan fully supports the policies stated in the AOIP, specifically because the AOIP contains elements common to those of Japan’s vision, including the rule of law, freedom of navigation and maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.

Japan hopes to work with the Philippines toward realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” through exploring synergy between the AOIP and FOIP, and mutually sharing wisdom as the friend closer than a brother. -Toshimitsu Motegi FOREIGN MINISTER OF JAPAN

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