Filipino leader to discuss sea dispute with Japan

Spat between Manila and Beijing over reclamation of land in South China Sea to be on Aquino's agenda during Japan visit.

    Filipino leader to discuss sea dispute with Japan
    Aside from China and the Philippines, other Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam and Malaysia also claim parts of Spratlys [AP]

    Manila, Philippines - The ongoing dispute between the Philippines and China over territories in the South China Sea will be on President Benigno Aquino's agenda in his state visit to Japan, a spokesman of the Filipino leader has announced.

    Aquino is set to fly to Tokyo on Tuesday for a four-day visit, which includes bilateral talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a meeting with Japan's royal family.

    "The reclamation activity is a current issue, and it's a shared issue between our country as well as one of our strategic partners, which is Japan," Abigail Valte, a spokesman of Aquino, said in an interview with a local radio station late on Monday.

    "They will discuss it for sure. But we still don't know what direction the discussion would go."

    Valte was referring to the ongoing reclamation of land and reported construction of a runway in the Spratly Islands, which the Philippines asked China to stop.

    RELATED: War of words heats up over South China Sea conflict

    Last Thursday, Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin had announced that during Aquino's visit to Japan, officials from both countries would discuss the "probability of transferring military equipment" to Manila.

    The details of the agreement are still being "ironed out", Gazmin said, adding that the exchange could include "exchange of technology, exchange of personnel, and eventually transfer of assets and equipment".

    'Enhanced' defence cooperation

    Last week, the Philippine foreign ministry also said that although Manila and Tokyo are "not defence allies", the two countries expect defence cooperation "to be enhanced" during Aquino's visit.

    Japan invaded the Philippines during World War II. But following the war, the two countries have become allies, and Tokyo remains one of Manila's biggest trading partners and financial aid donors.

    In 2011, Aquino and then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced a "strategic alliance", which also covers political and security aspects, including "cooperation in the field of maritime affairs".

    US condemns China's land reclamation in South China Sea

    Japan also has conflicting maritime claims with its regional rival China over Senkaku, or Diaoyu in the East Sea. Last April, Abe proposed new legislation allowing Japan to supply the US military in the South China Sea, also referred to by Manila as the West Philippine Sea.

    While Japan and the US have no territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea waters, both have strategic interests in the area, which sees $5 trillion in maritime trade annually.

    On Saturday at a security summit in Singapore, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter condemned China's reclamation in the disputed area, and called for an "immediate and lasting halt" of its activities there.

    China's Admiral Sun Jianguo, however, dismissed the criticism saying, "there is no reason for people to play up this issue".

    Aside from China and the Philippines, other Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also claim parts of the Spratlys.

    Follow Ted Regencia on Twitter: @tedregencia

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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