Japan to help PH Coast Guard patrol territory

By Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 10 2013 04:56 PM | Updated as of Jan 11 2013 07:21 PM

Aquino, Japan FM Kishida discuss China, West PH Sea

MANILA (2nd UPDATE)  - President Aquino met on Thursday with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida who is visiting the Philippines, his first overseas trip since his appointment.

Issues on the West Philippine Sea and maritime security were among the topics discussed in the meeting that also touched on economic cooperation.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Japan committed to assist the Philippine Coast Guard in its role in patrolling the country’s territory by providing training, access to multi-role response vessels, and providing communications system equipment for maritime safety.

The Philippines and Japan agreed to continue discussions on maritime issues and agreed that the country’s territorial dispute with China should be resolved peacefully.

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.

Speaking to reporters, del Rosario described China’s recent actions to assert its claim over the whole of South China Sea as “threatening,” including the establishment of administrative unit to oversee the area and reports that China’s law enforcers are being authorized to board ships that ply the South China Sea.

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.

Del Rosario said China’s nine-dash line claim is “excessive” and violates international law.

The Philippines has previously filed diplomatic protests against China’s actions, which according to Del Rosario, pose “threats” to the stability of the region.

“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,” del Rosario said.

Japan is also locked in a territorial row with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea.

“Because we do have this threat, and this threat actually is shared by many countries not just with 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,” he said.

"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."

Del Rosario said that Aquino agrees that a stronger Japan is needed to act as a “counterbalance” to China “to help promote stability for the Asia Pacific.”

Asked if the Philippines is willing to enter into a joint development of the disputed islands with China, del Rosario told reporters that service contracts should operate under Philippine laws.

“When we speak of what’s possible, there are service contracts there that have been put out by the government which is in accordance with Philippine law. Now, 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,” he said.

Trade, other issues

Aquino and Kishida discussed the possibility of further increasing trade, with the Philippines hoping to invite Japanese small and-medium-scale enterprises to invest here.

According to the DFA, Japan remains the Philippines’ number one source of approved investments since 2009, top trade partner, and top export market for 2012.

Japan, the Philippines’ top source of official development assistance, is extending a loan for the construction of LRT-1 South, LRT-2 East, and the new airport in Bohol.

The Philippines-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) continues to be under review and the Philippines is hoping that more Filipino nurses and caregivers would be accepted by Japanese healthcare institutions.

Tourism was also discussed as well as the Mindanao peace process, with Japan committing to help in development programs and in the government’s peace negotiations with the MILF as part of the international contact group and international monitoring team.

The President conveyed to the foreign minister his invitation for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit the Philippines.

Aquino also followed up on his invitation for the crown prince and princess to visit the Philippines.

Also present during Kishida’s courtesy call was Philippine Ambassador to Japan Manolo Lopez. - with a report from Kyodo News