Philippines a strategic regional partner: Japan minister

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has underscored the Philippines' role as Japan's strategic partner in the Asia-Pacific as he called for a deeper relationship between the two countries amid the challenges facing the region.

In a message to Filipinos released ahead of his arrival in Manila today, Kishida affirmed Japan's commitment to supporting the Philippines' development through stronger defence, economic and humanitarian ties.

"Our strategic partnership is in great progress, and I hope to further deepen our cooperation in such areas as the economy, maritime cooperation, peace in Mindanao and response to natural disasters, among others," he said.

Kishida's Philippine visit is the first leg of a week-long Asia-Pacific tour that includes Singapore, Brunei and Australia. It is his first overseas trip since becoming foreign minister on December 26 under Japan's new leadership.

He visited the country in July 2008 as Japan's then Minister for Science and Technology Policy.

In his message, Kishida cited the importance of Japan's Asian neighbours, particularly the Philippines, in advancing the security alliance between Japan and the United States, a partnership seen to balance the power setup in the region in the face of China's rise as a major military power.

"Currently, the strategic environment of the Asia-Pacific region continues to change significantly. Japan, as a responsible democracy, will play a proactive role in the stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region," he said.

"I believe that it is important to strengthen the Japan-US alliance and deepen collaboration with neighbouring countries which are developing under freedom, democracy and market economy," he said.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier expressed his support for the rearming of pacifist Japan, a complete shift in dynamics between two countries that were enemies in World War II.

Del Rosario reaffirmed this view Wednesday, saying "a stronger Japan would be a balancing force and could contribute in a great way to stability in the region."

Japan has become an important defence partner of the Philippines and is finalising a loan agreement for the Philippines' procurement of 10 multi-role response vessels for the Coast Guard. This will be one of the matters that will be discussed in Del Rosario's meeting with Kishida Thursday.

"Japan attaches importance to the enhancement of the maritime security capabilities of the Philippines, and does not begrudge it of assistance and cooperation for that purpose," Kishida said.

Del Rosario said the meeting this morning will also cover the territorial disputes that the Philippines and Japan have with China. The Philippines has conflicting claims with China over territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) while Japan has been asserting ownership over islands in the East China Sea.

Japan is the Philippines' biggest trading partner, with total bilateral trade amounting to US$12.68 billion from January to September 2012.

Kishida said Japan was keen to tap the Philippines' labour force for its industries and also participate in infrastructure development in Metro Manila.

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