Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday called for stronger bilateral ties with the Philippines to help ensure regional peace amid an intense territorial dispute with China. Both countries are locked in separate disputes with China.
On his first official visit as Foreign Minister, Kishida told an audience in Manila that deeper bilateral cooperation between Japan and ASEAN has been dictated by “significant” changes in the region’s security equation.
Without making direct reference to territorial disputes with China, Kishida said it is important for Japan to proactively strengthen its alliance with the United States as well as “deepen collaboration with neighbouring countries which are developing under freedom, democracy and market economy,” – a strategy in line with Washington's efforts to strengthen cooperation among its regional security partners to balance Beijing’s growing military prowess and territorial ambitions.
Referring to the Philippines as a “strategic partner” and a close “friend”, Kishida said that it is important for both countries to cooperate for a “stable and prosperous Asia-Pacific region”, adding that one of the ways to do so was to strengthen existing economic ties.
Japan is the largest trade and investment partner of the Philippines, and bilateral trade reached $13 billion in 2012.
"On the political and security front, we agreed on strengthening policy dialogue, enhancing maritime cooperation and other measures," Kishida told a press conference after meeting with his Philippine counterpart Albert del Rosario.
"The Philippines wishes to maximise the opportunity to improve the Agreement and mutually reap its economic benefits," del Rosario said.
Kishida's visit to the Philippines, a country that also faces pressure from China's territorial assertions, marks the first visit in seven years by a top Japanese diplomat, a Japanese foreign-ministry official said.
Both countries are locked in separate territorial disputes with China: Japan’s dispute is over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, while the row between the Philippines and China is over claims to parts of the South China Sea. The disputed territories are believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves.
In December, the Philippines said it would strongly support Japan dropping its pacifist constitution to become a fully-fledged military force, a move that would allow it more freedom to operate and could possibly alter the balance of power in Asia.