Japan, Philippines to boost ties amid China rows

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida called Thursday for stronger ties with the Philippines to help ensure regional peace, amid tense territorial disputes by both countries with a rising China.

In his first foreign trip as top diplomat since last month's election of hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Kishida said such cooperation was dictated by big changes in the region's security equation, though he did not elaborate.

"As the strategic environment in the region is greatly changing, it is necessary for us foreign ministers to share recognition of the situation," Kishida said after meeting Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

Kishida said this also made it necessary to "enhance the strategic partnership between the two countries and cooperate in shaping (a) peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region. In today's meeting we agreed on this point."

He added: "On the political and security front we agreed on strengthening policy dialogue and enhancing maritime cooperation and other measures."

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 known as the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China.

The row between the Philippines and China is over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea, with two of the hotspots the Spratly islands and Scarborough Shoal.

Asked if Kishida's comments were references to increasingly assertive Chinese territorial claims in these areas, Philippine foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez said he did not wish to add anything.

Neither foreign minister took questions.

Del Rosario did not comment directly on the maritime tensions either, but said he and Kishida discussed Japanese help in improving the Philippines' coastguard capability.

"The acquisition of multi-role response vessels is undergoing serious consideration," del Rosario said, with talks also under way to improve its communications equipment and train its personnel.

The Philippine side wants to acquire through loans 10 new patrol boats from Japan to guard its territorial waters, after buying two refurbished coastguard vessels from major military ally the United States.

Kishida is also scheduled to meet President Benigno Aquino on Thursday.


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