MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide on Wednesday agreed to strengthen cooperation between Manila and Tokyo during a phone call, amid high tensions between neighboring countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Malacañang said the two state leaders had a 20-minute telephone conversation, initiated by Suga, to discuss bilateral ties between the Philippines and Japan, and recent developments in the Asia-Pacific region.
According to Malacañang, Duterte urged stronger cooperation between countries in promoting maritime domain awareness, maritime security, maritime connectivity and commerce, and freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.
Alliances and partnerships should lead to greater stability in the disputed South China Sea for the interests of Asia-Pacific countries, he said.
Suga expressed his appreciation for Duterte's first speech at the UN General Assembly, wherein the latter said his administration is keeping its commitment to international agreements with the territorial row in the South China Sea, and that the 2016 decision on the arbitration case by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which ruled the Philippines had exclusive sovereign rights of the area and invalidated China’s “nine-dash line” over it, "is now part of international law."
The Japanese prime minister, who recognizes the 2016 UN ruling, expressed concern over recent developments both in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
Beijing has territorial disputes with Tokyo in the East China Sea, and with several Southeast Asian neighbors — including Manila — in the South China Sea.
China has aggressively claimed areas and made incursions in both disputed waters, igniting outcries from affected countries.
Malacañang said both Duterte and Suga agreed to cooperate to "ensure security and stability in the region under the rule of law."
Suga, who was supposed to make a state visit to the Philippines but was postponed due to Japan's COVID-19 crisis, expressed his regrets for being unable to make the trip.
In response, Duterte thanked him for Japan's COVID-19 assistance to the Philippines, worth billions of yen, including cold chain development assistance.
According to Malacañang, the two leaders also talked about continuing security cooperation in the Sulu and Celebes Seas, increased engagement in the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area; the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao transition process; Tokyo’s support for the Build, Build, Build program; and the ongoing conflict in Myanmar.
Earlier this month, Japan began providing the Philippine military with lifesaving equipment adopted by the Self-Defense Forces, making it the first time that Tokyo has offered SDF equipment to a foreign armed force using its official development assistance.
The supply of the equipment, also available for civilian use, is intended to strengthen defense ties between the two countries, which are faced with Beijing's assertive claims in the East and South China seas.
—With a report from Kyodo News