Nation



By Imee Charlee C. Delavin, Reporter


Philippines, Japan to enhance security ties




Posted on June 25, 2014


THE CHIEF EXECUTIVES of the Philippines and Japan yesterday wrapped up a brief bilateral meeting highlighting the “severe” situation in the South China Sea, even prompting Philippine President Benigno S. C. Aquino III to welcome the easing of the Japanese Constitution to allow Japan’s military to help the Philippines and other allies amid territorial disputes.

Mr. Aquino made the remark as both the Philippines and Japan continue to be embroiled in a territorial dispute over potentially oil-rich parts of the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.

Beijing and Tokyo also contest a string of Japanese-administered islets in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

“We... do not view with alarm any proposal to revisit the Japanese Constitution if the Japanese people so decide, especially if this enhances Japan’s ability to address its international obligations and brings us closer to the attainment of our goal of peace, stability, and prosperity,” he said in his joint statement delivered with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.

Mr. Aquino said it will only benefit the Japanese government if it is “empowered to assist others and is allowed to come to aid of those in need especially in the area of collective self-defense.”

Citing the situation of Filipino peace-keepers in Syria -- attacked but had no one to seek help from -- Mr. Aquino added that in such a situation, “one would want to be able to count on the allies.”

Mr. Abe is particularly pushing for a review of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which states “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation, and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”

“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized,” it adds.

Mr. Aquino also expressed his gratitude for Japan’s support after the onslaught of typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), mentioning that the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the disaster relief medical teams were among those in the international community that extended help during the typhoon.

Meanwhile, in his statement, Mr. Abe said they will further strengthen cooperation and security in disaster relief between the two countries.

“The President and I agreed to further strengthen our cooperation and security in areas such as disaster relief, building on the track record of cooperation such as that I have described,” the Japanese leader said.

Moreover, Mr. Abe said they will also boost economic ties with the Philippines as Japan eased its visa requirements for Filipinos.

“I also informed the President about the relaxation of visa requirements for the Philippines toward the promotion of human exchange,” he said.

“It is hoped that many tourists from the Philippines would visit Japan,” he added.

Messrs. Abe and Aquino met over lunch at the Japanese leader’s official residence in Tokyo before the Philippine leader headed to Hiroshima for a conference.

Meanwhile, Japan and the Philippines also jointly stressed the need to use “the rule of law” to solve regional disputes.

The comments highlight how regional neighbors are forging alliances to counter an increasingly muscular Beijing as it presses its influence in nearby waters.

Tokyo and Manila, former World War II enemies, have been drawn closer in recent years as they have tackled their parallel disputes with China.

“In the face of the regional situation becoming severe, both nations are closely coordinating,” Mr. Abe told reporters.

“I reaffirmed with President Aquino [yesterday] the significance of... the rule of law,” Japan’s conservative premier added.

Mr. Aquino also said his visit to Japan was focusing on “the challenge of safeguarding our regional security by advancing the rule of law to protect our global and regional common interest.”

Mr. Abe has repeatedly called for the rule of law to be upheld in the region as tensions simmer over territorial disputes, involving China and some Southeast Asian states around the South China Sea as well as between Tokyo and Beijing in the East China Sea. Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the shores of neighboring countries, and has become more aggressive in enforcing what it says are its historical rights.

ABE’S PLEDGE
When Mr. Abe visited Manila in July last year, he pledged Japan’s help in strengthening the Philippines’ maritime defense capabilities.

Part of that was a promise of 10 patrol boats for the Philippines’ poorly equipped coast guard, which is on the front line of Manila’s spat with China.

The Philippines has lodged repeated protests over China’s growing military and civilian presence on islands and in waters within what it considers its exclusive economic zone.

Meanwhile, relations between Japan and China have plummeted over their competing claims in the East China Sea.

After meeting Mr. Abe, Mr. Aquino moved to the western Japanese city of Hiroshima to attend a conference on a decades-long Islamic insurgency in the South of the country, as it seeks to implement a peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed this year.

Japan hosted secret talks between Mr. Aquino and MILF leader Murad Ebrahim in 2011, which later became recognized as a key moment in igniting the peace push.

Mr. Abe told the conference: “Japan will continue to provide support so that peace can be maintained.”

Mr. Aquino left yesterday morning for a one-day visit to Japan where he delivered a keynote address at an international conference titled, “Consolidation for Peace for Mindanao,” organized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Research and Education for Peace unit of Universiti Sains Malaysia.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had said earlier that the President will speak on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

As Japan and the Philippines discuss security cooperation, Chinese warships will join US-led naval drills off Hawaii for the first time this week, in a significant but mainly symbolic effort by the two powers’ fighting forces to make friends, not war.

Rising giant China and superpower the United States frequently find themselves at loggerheads as Beijing asserts itself in maritime disputes with neighbors and Washington seeks to shore up its influence in Asia.

Forging friendly ties -- or at least an understanding -- between the two heavyweights’ militaries is a key to preventing any unintended clashes from escalating, analysts say.

Yet “mil-to-mil” ties remain stunted by disputes and suspicions which have sharpened in recent years as each side accuses the other of inflaming tensions over contested islands in the East and South China Seas, aggressive cyber-spying and other issues.

“It’s pretty important,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the US-based Brookings Institution and author of a book on US-China relations.

“We have a situation where small crises or skirmishes blowing up into bigger things is one of our chief worries.”

Four ships of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy with an estimated 1,100 sailors on board -- a missile destroyer, missile frigate, supply ship and hospital ship -- will join the US and more than 20 other countries in the six-day “Rim of the Pacific” (RIMPAC) drills that begin in and around Hawaii Thursday.

The RIMPAC exercises, normally held every two years, began in 1971 but it is the first time Chinese vessels have taken part.

The head of US Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, said: “This was a big step for the Chinese to commit to this, particularly in an exercise commanded by a US commander.

“We just have to get past these issues that are historical in nature that are causing the region problems,” he added. “And if we keep working at it we’ll get through them.”

Beijing has also touted its participation, with the official Xinhua news agency running an essay by naval academy researcher Zhang Junshe saying it “will have great benefits for the elimination of misunderstandings, the avoidance of misjudgment, and the promotion of mutual trust.”

China’s involvement marks “a very good step”, Mr. O’Hanlon said in an e-mail.

“In isolation it doesn’t do a great deal of course, but it provides the basis for more,” he added.

LOWEST POINT
Beijing and Washington regularly pledge to strengthen ties across the board, and Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack H. Obama held an informal get-to-know-you summit in California soon after the Chinese leader took office last year.

Both militaries have extended other invitations, including tours of one another’s aircraft carriers and high-level meetings.

But despite the positive rhetoric, tensions have grown -- particularly over their roles in Asia -- and spilled into unusual public confrontations.

China has emphatically asserted its claims to islands claimed or controlled by Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, and desires greater global stature, stressing that its standing with the US must reflect a “new model of great-power relations.”

Washington announced a “pivot” to Asia in 2011, including a stronger military presence, with Mr. Obama declaring that his country “has been and always will be a Pacific nation.”

Mr. Aquino returned to Manila Tuesday night.

It was the fifth time that Mr. Aquino visited Japan since he assumed office in 2010. Japan is one of the two strategic partners of the Philippines apart from the United States. -- with AFP