The Philippine president is on his sixth visit to Japan in less than five years, signaling his country's deepening ties with Tokyo amid increasing concerns by both sides about China's assertiveness in regional seas.
In a speech in Tokyo on Wednesday, President Benigno Aquino III criticized what he called China's “unlawful territorial claim,” and praised Tokyo for demonstrating solidarity with the Philippines in advocating the problem.
During his four-day visit, Aquino will hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe focusing on defense and security ties. The two leaders are expected to sign a deal confirming Japan's provision of 10 patrol vessels to the Philippine coast guard to bolster its patrolling capability around Manila-claimed South China Sea islands.
Since both countries are U.S. allies and share concerns over China's maritime activity, the Philippines is extremely important to Japan, said Kenko Sone, spokesman at Japan's Prime Minister's Office.
Foreign Ministry officials said Monday that Abe and Aquino were also expected to expand their defense cooperation in other areas, including the transfer of Japanese military equipment and technology to the Philippines, possibly related to maritime reconnaissance. Tokyo eased its self-imposed ban on military exports last year.
In a speech to the upper house of Japan's parliament, Aquino said that the maritime and coastal stability in the region is “at risk of being disrupted by attempts to redraw the geographic limits and entitlements outside those clearly bestowed by the law of nations.”
He said “a country that we both have had difficulties with” was responsible for the problem, without mentioning China.
Under Abe's push to expand Japan's international defense role, Japan has been expanding its defense cooperation with a number of countries to complement its cornerstone alliance with the U.S.
Manila has protested over China's stepped-up reclamation work on Philippine-claimed islands and maneuvers against Filipino air patrols and fishermen. During an international defense conference last week in Singapore, U.S. officials said China's expanding reclamation work could be for a military use.