MANILA - The Philippines and Japan have struck another agreement in principle aimed at boosting military ties and cooperation between the two countries amid tensions with China.
The agreement comes right after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting and just before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“We welcomed the agreement in principle on transfer of defense equipment and agreed to work together for the early signing of agreement and realization of cooperation in defense equipment. There was a request from President Aquino regarding the provision of large patrol vessels to the Philippine Coast Guard and Japan would like to consider the specifics of the matter," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday
In his statement after the bilateral meeting, President Benigno Aquino III said that the Philippines and Japan have taken a significant progress in strengthening the defense and security relations between the two counties.
"We have taken a significant step forward in enhancing our defense and security relations by agreeing in principle on the Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, and we are hopeful that we can conclude and sign this agreement sooner rather than later,” Aquino said.
“With the understanding that the progress of Japan, the Philippines, and all other nations in the region are founded on peace and stability, we likewise took the opportunity to discuss the security challenges that confront both our nations, and pledged to cooperate in advancing our shared advocacy for members of the international community to act responsibly," he added.
Abe said both countries share concerns on unilateral action of large scale reclamation in the West Philippine Sea.
"The President (Aquino) and I also had a candid exchange of views on regional peace and stability. We shared deep concerns over unilateral actions to change the status quo such as the large-scale land reclamation and building of outpost in the South China Sea. At the same time, we confirmed the importance of partnership in the global community based on the rule of law to protect open, free and peaceful seas," Abe expressed.
International relations expert Richard Heydarian, a professor at the De La Salle University, anticipated the agreement between the Philippines and Japan.
"Kasi, ‘yung agreements sa pagitan ni President Aquino at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ay ukol sa mga pwedeng ma-provide ng Japan na military aid,” Heydarian said.
“Isa sa titingnan nila ‘yung provision ng surveillance and reconnaissance so magbigay sila sa atin ng mga planes para pwede tayo mag-observe ng mga ano nangyayari sa South China Sea at ‘yun ang unang-unang magiginng military aid ng Japan since World War II. Napaka-symbolic din at mahalaga din ‘yun," he added.
Meanwhile, Abe continued to back the arbitration process. "Regarding the arbitration between the Philippines and China, which has entered into a new stage, we reiterated our position to continue to support dispute resolution based on international law."
Abe said he and Aquino also talked about the terrorist attacks in Paris last weekend.
“The terrorist attack in Paris on the 13th of this month was an outright defiance of the common values we uphold and tried to protect. We are united with the international community and strongly condemn such hideous act," Japan’s head of government said.
Abe also congratulated Aquino for the hosting of APEC this year.
"First of all, may I extend my congratulations to the success of the APEC Leaders’ Meeting and my deepest respect to President Aquino for your strong leadership that has guided the series of meetings to a great success," Abe said.
Aquino’s bilateral meeting with Abe led to the signing of two agreements: the agreement between the Philippines and Japan on social security and the exchange of notes on the North-South Commuter Railway Project, Phase I.
“The Social Security Agreement shall resolve the problem of double enrollment in pension plans by expatriates and we welcome its signing which has just taken place. To enable the people of the Philippines to offer housework support services in Japan’s special terms, both sides have agreed to work to establish the necessary mechanisms by the end of this year," Abe said.
Aquino also extended gratitude to Japan for its role in helping usher in development into the Philippines.
“Japan’s Official Development Assistance has been vital in helping improve our investment climate through infrastructure development. An example of this is the signing of the Exchange of Notes and the Loan Agreement for the North-South Commuter Railway Project, connecting Malolos to Tutuban, which we witnessed earlier,” Aquino said.
“This will certainly help us improve the land transportation capacity of the greater Metro Manila area and provide a more environmentally sustainable mode of transport. Moving forward, we hope to continue making concrete progress in our Cooperation Roadmap for Quality Infrastructure Development in the Transport Sector in Metropolitan Manila area," he added.
The two leaders expressed satisfaction with the progress achieved thus far in terms of the Cooperation Roadmap for Quality Infrastructure Development in the Transport Sector in the Metropolitan Manila area that seeks to attain modernizing the national capital region’s transport sector by 2030.
This program focuses on infrastructure and mass transit development to address the congestion challenges posed by urbanization.
The President acknowledged that Japan remains as the Philippines’ top trading partner since 2010 and consistently one of its top investors.
Abe also announced the grant of aid to Mindanao’s agribusiness sector, which was requested by the Philippine government.
“I reported to the President Japan’s decision to provide approximately 15-billion yen to support the agribusiness promotion project in Mindanao upon request from the Philippine government."
In their bilateral meeting, Aquino told Abe that with his continued leadership, the Philippines will continue to have a reliable friend and ally, and that the Philippines-Japan strategic partnership will most certainly be strengthened.
He said he hoped that the two countries will expand cooperation in terms of defense equipment and technology modernization.
The President thanked the Prime Minister for Japan’s assistance to the government’s efforts to attain enduring peace and long-term progress in Mindanao through the Japan-Bangsamoro Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development (J-BIRD II) program that seeks to promote capacity building for economic autonomy.
Aquino also congratulated Abe on his re-election as the president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
The President noted that the 60th anniversary of Philippine-Japan relations next year will be highlighted by the visit of Their Majesties, the Emperor and the Empress in January 2016.
He said he is eager to extend to them the same warm and generous hospitality they had accorded to him and his delegation during his visit to Japan last June.
"The visit to the Philippines by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress early next year will be an auspicious event to mark the opening of a series of celebrations for the 60th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations between our two nations,” Abe said.
“We look very much forward to cooperating closely with the Philippines to make Their Majesties’ visit a great success. It will be a gesture of new impetus for our friendship and I look forward to working further with the Philippines to make further contributions to the stability and prosperity of the region and of the world," he added.
BILATERAL RELATIONS WITH NEW ZEALAND
Before the meeting with Japan, Aquino also held a bilateral agreement with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.
Aquino said that, as the two countries look forward to the 50th anniversary of the Philippine-New Zealand diplomatic relations, he is happy to note that the countries’ relations have grown even stronger as they foster greater people-to-people interaction and economic ties.
He reiterated the Philippines’ commitment to uphold the memorandum of agreement concerning his state visit to New Zealand in October 2012 and thanked New Zealand for supporting the professional development of the Philippine military personnel.
Aquino acknowledged the significant contribution of approximately 40,000 Filipinos to New Zealand’s economic development.
He also welcomed the signing of the arrangement on the principles and controls on the recruitment and protection of Filipino workers in New Zealand, as this will be instrumental in ensuring the welfare of Filipino workers.
The two leaders noted that bilateral trade between the Philippines and New Zealand increased by 6.4% to $553 million in 2014 while investments from New Zealand approved by Philippine investment promotion agencies increased significantly by 71% in the same year.
Aquino said the Philippines wishes to expand economic cooperation in the areas of electronics and electrical equipment, automotive parts, IT-BPM and engineering services, and infrastructure and PPP projects.
He also told Key that the Philippines is launching intensive stakeholder consultations to address potential challenges and prepare specific sectors to optimize opportunities presented by the eventual flourishing of the TPP.
Aquino also expressed the hope that New Zealand will support the Philippines’ possible accession to the Agreement.
Aquino also thanked New Zealand for extending scholarship grants to Filipinos in the field of geothermal energy, noting that these scholars are now contributing to the Department of Energy’s renewable energy development program.
He likewise expressed appreciation for New Zealand’s assistance in developing the Philippine dairy industry through the establishment of focus farms and infusion of dairy animals.
Aquino said the Philippines hopes the project can be expanded to bolster the development of the Philippine dairy industry.
Lastly, Aquino thanked New Zealand for its support to the country’s disaster risk reduction and management efforts through its assistance to a capacity building program for cities and municipalities (Project Rebuild) and contributions to the Philippine Red Cross.
The two leaders expressed their shared hopes that a universal and binding climate change agreement will be reached during the COP21 meeting in Paris.