Japan, PH boost maritime ties amid China row

By Dario Agnote, Kyodo News

Posted at Jan 11 2013 01:06 AM | Updated as of Jan 11 2013 10:39 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The foreign ministers of Japan and the Philippines agreed Thursday to enhance their "strategic partnership," including by boosting maritime cooperation amid their territorial disputes with China, while Japan announced it will extend around 54 billion yen in low-interest loans for infrastructure development.

"On the political and security front, we agreed on strengthening policy dialogue, enhancing maritime cooperation and other measures," Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told a press conference after his talks with Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

"As the strategic environment 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 toward shaping peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region," Kishida said.

Del Rosario said Japan has already been helping strengthen the capacity of the Philippine coast guard through human resource development, while it has also been helping augment its communications system equipment for maritime safety.

He said the coast guard's acquisition from Japan of 10 multi-role response vessels is "undergoing serious consideration."
Later, at a working lunch, the two ministers voiced "mutual concern" over the developments in the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely as its own, del Rosario told reporters.

"We discussed the challenges and the manner in which we are pursuing a peaceful resolution (of territorial disputes with China) in accordance with the three-track approach that we have been pursuing all along," said del Rosario, alluding to the political, diplomatic and legal tracks that Manila is taking.

Asked if Japan has offered help in pursuing a case against China in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, del Rosario said, "We talked about making a study in terms of pursuing a legal route but they were interested in what we were doing."

Kishida announced at their joint press conference that Japan has decided to extend yen loans to two projects, including 43.3 billion yen for a light rail transit project and 10.8 billion yen for construction of a new airport on the island province of Bohol.

Del Rosario said the Philippines "looks forward to stronger cooperation with Japan," its largest source of loan aid, "in developing our country's infrastructure, particularly in the transportation sector".

He said he and Kishida also had "productive discussions" on such matters as trade, investment, tourism and people-to-people exchanges.

Kishida said the two sides agreed "to advance cooperation in expanding trade and investment," while he told del Rosario that Japan will accept more Filipino caregivers under the bilateral Economic Partnership Agreement that took effect in December 2008.

The Philippines, which began deploying health workers to Japan in 2009, has since sent 237 Filipino nurses and 396 caregivers.

Kishida said Tokyo and Manila "shared the common view about how to deal with nuclear and missile development by North Korea" and agreed on the importance of resolving the issue of Japanese citizens abducted to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

On the peace process in predominantly Muslim areas of the southern Philippines, namely on Mindanao island where insurgencies have simmered for decades, Kishida said Japan will continue to provide support.

Specifically, Kishida informed del Rosario that Japan plans to invite leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which last October signed a blueprint for a peace deal with the government, to visit Japan this year, according to Philippine Ambassador to Japan Manuel Lopez.

Quoting Kishida, Lopez said Japan wants to have a dialogue with MILF leaders "maybe to tell them what are the opportunities in Mindanao if the (peace) framework is finally signed."

Kishida is also scheduled to meet Thursday with Philippine President Benigno Aquino before departing for Singapore, the second leg of his four-country tour, which will also include visits to Brunei and Australia.

The Philippines is the first country Kishida has visited since being appointed foreign minister last month in the Cabinet of new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.