The Philippines and Japan agreed on Tuesday to boost naval ties and highlighted the importance of upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea amid mounting tensions with China.
After talks with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III who was in Japan on a four-day visit, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said that both countries pledged to bolster "cooperation between coastguards and defence-related authorities."
A joint statement said bilateral ties had moved towards a "strategic partnership" and called for more cooperation on "regional and global issues of mutual concern and interest," as well as frequent talks on maritime defence at higher levels and additional dispatches of the Japan Coast Guard to train their Philippine counterparts.
Even though the statement does not mention China, it is a large step toward a multilateral consensus in Asia on dealing with territorial disputes with China. The Philippines faces a maritime dispute with China over the Spratly Islands, an archipelago in the South China Sea, which geologists believe sit above large oil and gas reserves.
Likewise, Japan’s relations with China have soured over Japan’s arrest of a Chinese skipper whose trawler struck Japanese patrol boats near disputed islands in the East China Sea. The South China Sea also holds strategic importance for Japan, as crude oil from the Middle East is shipped through the South China Sea to Japan, which finds itself more dependent on thermal power generation after the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
"We share with the Philippines the basic sense of values as well as strategic interest," Noda said. "We've agreed on frequent dialogue between top leaders and ministers, launch of vice-ministerial strategic talks, and strengthening of cooperation between maritime safety authorities and defence authorities."
Aquino remarked, "I convey the Philippines' appreciation for Japan's capacity building assistance for the Philippine Coast Guard in terms of training and equipment, which boosts its ability to watch over our extensive coastlines."
The agreement emphasises the Philippines' and Japan's mutual interests, bringing the similar but separate maritime disputes with China under joint security cooperation.
In response, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei repeated its claim, "China has indisputable sovereignty over the island and surrounding waters of the South China Sea."
Report: Tokyo and Manila Strengthen Defense Ties With an Eye Toward China (Wall Street Journal, 28 Sep 2011)
Report: Japan, Philippines to step up naval cooperation (Reuters, cited by ABS-CBN, 28 Sep 2011)
Aquino returned to the Philippines on Wednesday, claimed that the Philippines has managed to "secure $1.4 billion in assured investments," adding that the funds would go towards the energy, manufacturing, and service sectors.
Japan also supported the Philippines' position of peacefully resolving the South China Sea disputes. Aquino and Noda voiced hope "for the early formulation of a legally-binding Code of Conduct that is consistent with established international law."
Report: Investments, stronger ties touted as Aquino ends trip (Business World, 29 Sep, 2011)