Aquino backs Abe's military ambitions

Aquino backs Abe's military ambitions

The Philippines and Japan both deal with the problem of China's expansionism and share a common interest in protecting their respective territories

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday endorsed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to amend Japan's constitution and expand the Japanese role on regional security amid China's expansionism moves.

The Filipino leader, after meeting with Abe, expressed his support for Abe's proposal to reinterpret Japan's pacifist constitution to allow its military to defend not only Japan but also its allies that are under attack.

"We believe that nations of goodwill can benefit only if the Japanese government is empowered to assist others and is allowed to come to the aid of those in need, especially in the area of collective self-defence," Aquino said in a statement after his talks with Abe.

"We therefore do not view with alarm any proposal to revisit the Japanese constitution if the Japanese people so desire, especially if this enhances Japan's ability to address its international obligations and brings us closer to … our shared goals of peace, stability and mutual prosperity."

Abe has proposed to revisit Article 9 of the Japanese charter, which bans the right to collective self-defence.

The proposal faces tough opposition from Japanese citizens who do not want their country to participate in a war, owing to their experience in World War II.

Japan is only one of two countries with which the Philippines has a "strategic partnership," the other being the United States, which is also a treaty ally.

Strategic partnership is a concept where countries work together to achieve long-term shared interests, from security issues to economic concerns.

Aquino and Abe both emphasised the importance of strengthening the two countries' partnership.

The Philippines and Japan both deal with the problem of China's expansionism and share a common interest in protecting their respective territories.

This has spurred regular dialogues between the Filipino leader and Abe, who have had four summit meetings in 12 months.

Aquino's remarks may pique China but the two leaders, in their statements, were careful not to mention their assertive neighbour.

3 principles

"In the face of the regional situation becoming increasingly severe, both nations are closely coordinating," Abe said in his statement.

"I reaffirmed with President Aquino today the significance of the three principles of the rule of law, which I outlined at the Shangri-La dialogue and at the G-7 meeting."

The three principles Abe referred to are: states shall make and clarify their claims based on international law; states shall not use force or coercion in trying to drive their claims; and states shall seek to settle disputes by peaceful means.

The President said both sides updated each other on the current situation in the South and East China Seas.

In supporting Abe's move to allow Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defence, Aquino said this would "redound to [the Philippines'] benefit."

He gave as an example the time when Syrian rebels kidnapped Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights last year.

"In a sense, to us, it is very real," Aquino said at a press conference. "There was an instance already that we conceivably could have needed their assistance and they would not have been able to [help]." Asked if the Philippines and Japan would forge a security cooperation, the President said the two countries were "advancing the dialogue to that."

He said the intention to discuss a defence agreement was signed in 2012.

Strategic partners

"We're getting one step further from that," Aquino said.

Will the Philippines and Japan have a defence tie-up similar to the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States?

Aquino stressed the importance of cooperation between two defence forces, especially in times of disasters, similar to the Philippine-US cooperation in coping with the destruction caused by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) in the Visayan region.

"If we have interoperability and we know each other's systems, we know each other's strengths and weaknesses," Aquino said.

"We have those practices with the Americans. It's more sporadic with the Japanese. Since they are our only two strategic partners, doesn't it behoove us to have more coordination with these two strategic partners?" the President said.

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