Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to strengthen relations with the Philippines yesterday, while reassuring neighbors about Tokyo’s intentions amid growing territorial disputes with regional rival China.
“For Japan, the Philippines is a strategic partner with whom we share fundamental values and many strategic interests,” Abe told a joint news conference with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III after their meeting in Manila.
Abe said his visit was intended “to strengthen the relations with the Philippines in all areas,” including politics, security and the economy.
As part of Japan’s commitment, Abe said there would be “continued assistance to the capacity-building of the Philippine coastguard.”
The Philippine coastguard and navy have been at the forefront of encounters with navy and maritime surveillance vessels from China, which claims most of the South China Sea.
China seized the Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan Island (黃岩島) in Taiwan, a South China Sea outcrop just 230km east of the main Philippine island of Luzon, last year after Manila backed down from a lengthy stand off.
The Philippines has complained about Chinese navy vessels near Philippine-held Second Thomas Shoal (Renai Shoal, 仁愛暗沙) in the Spratly islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島).
Japan earlier this year said it would make loans to the Philippines to purchase 10 Japanese patrol vessels for its coastguard.
“The Prime minister and I agreed to strengthen maritime cooperation which is a pillar of our strategic partnership,” Aquino said yesterday.
Abe’s visit came as tensions have also risen between China and Japan over Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea.
Abe reiterated a call for a leaders’ summit with China to discuss their territorial dispute, and assured the rest of Asia that his vision for a more robust Japanese armed forces would not threaten the region’s peace and security.
He said yesterday his party’s decisive victory in the upper house election would help him pursue his vision of Tokyo’s role in the region.
“Against this backdrop I intend to further proceed with strategic diplomacy which will contribute to regional and global peace and security,” he said.