TOKYO – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte agreed Monday in Tokyo to work together on a host of infrastructure, counter-terrorism and public safety initiatives to support the Philippines’ development.
After their fourth sit-down meeting since Duterte took power in June 2016, the leaders released a joint statement laying out specific areas of cooperation following Abe’s pledge of 1 trillion yen ($8.8 billion) in aid over five years during his visit to the Philippines in January.
Japan’s assistance to the Philippines reflects the importance it places on maintaining bilateral ties as a counter to China’s expanding influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
“This is a partnership that has withstood the test of time, (and) today let me say with firm resolve that the Philippines is ready to work with Japan in building a golden age of our strategic partnership,” Duterte said at the outset of the meeting.
According to the joint statement, areas of infrastructure cooperation over the next five years will include the operation of a subway system in metropolitan Manila, increasing connectivity between regions through the construction of roads and bridges, and reinforcing rivers to manage the risk of flooding.
At the outset of the talks, Abe expressed his “respect” for Duterte’s leadership in light of the Philippine government’s recent declaration of victory over militants inspired by the Islamic State extremist group after a five-month battle in Marawi, a city in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.
The leaders agreed that Japan will “extend the utmost support” for the rebuilding and revitalization of Marawi and the surrounding areas, initially providing equipment for reconstruction before considering further help in line with a survey of the area’s needs to be conducted by the Philippine government.
Japan will also support counter-terrorism efforts to prevent extremist groups in the vein of IS from taking hold in Asia. Counter-terrorism is a key factor for Japan in its planning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
Abe said he and Duterte also agreed to cooperate with each other for the success of the Philippines’ hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders’ summit and East Asia Summit.
For Tokyo, a successful ASEAN summit would include commitments to make progress on territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
According to the statement, Japan’s assistance will include the improvement of the Philippines’ coastal surveillance capabilities to “ensure the effective cooperation” of patrol vessels provided by Japan.
While Japan is not a claimant in the disputes between China, the Philippines and four other governments in the South China Sea, it worries about the impact of China’s expansionary activities on crucial shipping lanes and faces a separate claim by Beijing to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Abe said he and Duterte also agreed on the need for the entire international community to increase pressure on North Korea in response to the threat from its nuclear and ballistic missile development.
According to the statement, the leaders also agreed that Japan will help prevent the use of illegal drugs in the Philippines and relapses by users under a medium- and long-term plan. This cooperation fits in with Duterte’s war on drugs, which has drawn criticism from human rights advocates overseas.
On Tuesday, Duterte will meet with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, an itinerary item that initially raised concerns among some in the Japanese government due to the Philippine president’s past controversial remarks and behavior, a government source said.
Duterte has expressed a strong desire to meet with the Japanese imperial couple for the first time after a plan to do so during his visit to Japan a year ago was canceled due to the death of Prince Mikasa, an uncle of Emperor Akihito, a diplomatic source said.
Duterte’s visit was originally scheduled to start Sunday but was shortened by a day to avoid Typhoon Saola.
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